Match Report vs Whitecraigs RFC | Saturday 1st September 2018
The league campaign has kicked off! The team taking the pitch was more or less similar to last Saturday’s, with the exception of Alex Wainwright coming in at 7 for Nick Winton, Murray Hanning at stand off instead of Jack Calder and positional changes in the back three, James Ferguson reverting to his familiar wing berth and Seb Trotter at full back.
Whitecraigs are a bit of an unknown quantity in this league, although, having been there once, their pitch has a similar feel to our own, being large and conducive to open rugby – although that is where the similarity ends! Inverleith is without question one of the finest pitches in Scotland – if not the finest – so, with that in mind and reasonable weather conditions, there was certainly an anticipation of a competitive game and a positive start to the league campaign.
The match report was, of course, not made any easier by the fact that there were two Murchies on the park, albeit unfortunately/fortunately on opposite sides. I was more concerned about texting in the score and scorers at the end of the game with, hopefully, only an ‘S’ preceding the surname!
A perfect day and perfect pitch, then – although a bit blowy on the east side. Whitecraigs kicked off towards Ferry Road; the kick was well taken by Stew Mel, who drove up the centre of the pitch, however the ensuing pass out wide was adjudged to have been forward. This led to the first scrum of the afternoon; Whitecraigs put in and Stew Mel were penalised, although the resulting line out was lost by the visitors. More Stew Mel pressure unfortunately only resulted in us conceding another penalty within easy kicking distance. 3 points duly came the visitors’ way with only 5 minutes played.
After the restart Whitecraigs moved the ball well down the left side, and, after some frantic passing, still managed to keep possession – although Stew Mel soon turned the tables and cleared their lines. Good defending and a strong run from James up to the halfway line ended with a penalty within the Whitecraigs 22. After a successful lineout the Stew Mel pack drove forward and over the line but were adjudged to have been held up. The resulting scrum 5 ended with Duncan Wood making a classic Number 8 pick up and offloading to Momo for a try converted by Cameron Leask. Stew Mel 7 Whitecraigs 3, 10 minutes played.
Whitecraigs restarted and a good take and drive from Alex Rappestad saw us making further territory through Jamie McGurk. We then, unfortunately, lost the ball in the tackle, with another penalty being awarded to Whitecraigs, 22 metres out. Cue another 3 points courtesy of the boot of Stephen Gillies. Stew Mel 7 Whitecraigs 6 with around 20 minutes on the clock.
At this stage of the game, the pattern of play was ebbing and flowing between the two areas of the field, mainly on both sides of the halfway line, although Stew Mel were managing to keep possession for significant periods, and, again, after some good forward play, Thor managed to drive over to score, the conversion being unsuccessful. After 30 minutes played, Stew Mel 12 Whitecraigs 6.
At the restart, again Stew Mel collected well and a combination of Thor, Momo and Matt Sanderson took the ball deep into Whitecraigs territory. Both teams were, however, conceding penalties at this stage for what appeared to be infringements in the scrum and offside. This continued for the remainder of the first half, with some good phases between the forwards and backs developing on both sides, although Whitecraigs appeared to be running out of ideas and were relying more on their forwards rather than moving the ball wide to their wings. My prediction at this stage was that, if they did, their number 11 Adekhe appeared capable of causing some damage!
Half Time Stew Mel 12 Whitecraigs 6.
Some changes early in the second half saw Fraser Strachan come in at 9 and further positional shifting around, with Seb at 10 and Cameron covering at full back. Whitecraigs started well and retained possession, enabling them to get their back line mobilised. Their full back then scored a well worked try to give Whitecraigs the lead for the second time. Stew Mel 12 Whitecraigs 13 with around 50 minutes played.
Things were getting a bit tense at this stage, although I felt that Stew Mel were beginning to show a bit of dominance, and some good hands from both Jamie and James found S Murchie on the right. Sean still had a bit of work to do before eventually touching down between the posts, the successful conversion by Cameron making the score Stew Mel 19 Whitecraigs 13.
It wasn’t long before Duncan added another try, bringing the score to Stew Mel 24 Whitecraigs 13 with approximately 20 minutes left to play. Was this a comfortable margin? Some may have thought that – until my prediction became a reality as the Whitecraigs number 11 received the ball and powered his way over the line out wide. The conversion bounced back off the posts to make the score Stew Mel 24 Whitecraigs 18 with 65 minutes played.
This was now too close for comfort, with both teams receiving yellow cards, but you have to have confidence on what was becoming Stew Mel’s afternoon, more pressure leading to a kickable penalty which gave us that cushion as time was on our side. Whitecraigs continued to fight back, and, to their credit, managed to put themselves in a position where they opted to take the 3 points rather than risk not getting that losing bonus point.
Final score Stew Mel 27 Whitecraigs 21.
A good result – four tries and a bonus point – although it has to be said we were not at our best. To call it winning ugly would be too harsh, but we were, at times, desperate to perform – which is commendable, but can lead to mistakes.
The forwards are gelling well as a unit; the front three are solid in the set piece and mobile around the park, Connor McKay being the epitome of a modern day Prop. The second row of Thor and Matt are good ball carriers but their athleticism is also evident. The back row speak for themselves: Momo the leader, the 30 years young Duncan popping up everywhere and new recruit Alex Wainwright a chip off the old block!
Behind the scrum we have some excellent players, ‘Work In Progress’ perhaps the best description as they settle into their positions. There is a good combination in midfield with Jamie and Will, an attacking back three who can also defend (the kicking will come) and the options at half back are all positive. That partnership will ultimately settle. There is strength in depth and healthy competition for places which is a great position to be in with some key players still to return.
I felt, on balance, that Stew Mel were probably the stronger side and deserved the win – although it would also be fair to say that Whitecraigs were always in the game and scored two good tries, possibly ‘assisted’ by some uncharacteristically poor Stew Mel defence – but I guess that’s how many tries are scored!
Inverleith was buzzing after the match and supporter numbers were good. Was this due to the free entry, the free beer or just down to what I would refer to as the Fingood Factor? I think the latter.
A short trip beckons on Saturday to the market town of Biggar. Make no mistake, this will be a tough game, and this is going to be a tough league. Biggar also won their first game, away to Dumfries, so will be relishing their first home game with, no doubt, a good home support.
Reflecting on our game as I was driving through the south of Ireland on Sunday, I was conscious of the buzz that surrounded the All Ireland final between Dublin and Tyrone, Dublin picking up the silverware for the fourth consecutive time. Every pundit I listened to was of a similar opinion as to why they have been so successful, trotting out the old clichés of retaining possession and adhering to their game plan. I am no expert on Gaelic Football, but, if it works for them – it will work for us!
See you at Hartreemill on Saturday.
Kevin Murchie (reporting from Munster, home of rugby, ROI)
Match photo care of Fred Palmer / 39 Design Photography