Peebles RFC v Stewart’s Melville RFC : Saturday 5 September
Peebles 12 Stewart’s Melville 18
This was, in several ways, an unusual day at the office for the 1st XV.
Firstly, we continued our winning start to the season, whereas we typically take a few games to build up a head of steam.
Secondly, we recorded a win at the Gytes, a ground we have tended to struggle at of late.
And thirdly, the Gytes felt almost Mediterranean, the grass lush and the weather warm – whereas we always seem to head to Peebles in the depths of winter when it’s hard to see where the Tweed stops and the pitch begins.
In fact, for the first ten minutes of this game, you would have sworn we were the All Blacks if it wasn’t for our smart new away jerseys, as we launched wave after wave of attacks and the Peebles players struggled to get a hand on the ball. It was, however, a false dawn, and the tide gradually turned against us, with only some stout defence stopping Peebles from crossing our line.
We did, however, manage to start the scoreboard ticking over while we had the upper hand, with Cash (once again starting the game at 12) landing successful penalties after 4 and 8 minutes. The first of these came after the first of several incisive breaks by diminutive winger Ross McCann, with blindside flanker Jamie Berisford and returning lock Scott McColl also involved in the move.
Our All Blacks interlude concluded with Angus Rennie, Cash’s partner in the centre, breaking deep into the Peebles 22, with some patient recycling unfortunately leading to nothing more than a scrum in our favour.
Possibly frustrated that our initial domination had only yielded 6 points, we then started to force the game; this led to some sloppy handling and a lack of precision at the breakdown that was meat and drink to the streetwise Peebles pack. A penalty awarded against us after 16 minutes saw Peebles off the mark (3-6), and we went on to spend the next ten minutes camped in our 22, fending off wave after wave of attacks.
The fact that Adam Howie saw yellow for not releasing during this time didn’t exactly help our cause, while we then lost Rhys on the half hour mark after our born again hooker took a nasty blow to the throat that saw him first struggle for breath then re-examine his pre match snack (mango, for the completists amongst you!)
Just as it seemed inevitable that our line would be breached, Ross McCann turned the game in the blink of an eye. As one of the hefty Peebles forwards lumbered into our 22, Ross tackled him, stripped the ball cleanly and hared off towards the scoreboard end. There were a few defenders between him and the open pastures, but he managed to step out one of one despairing tap tackle then turned on the afterburners to run in for a fine individual score.
Cash missed the kick, but, despite that, we made it to the break with an 11-3 lead and, just as importantly, Adam restored to the ranks.
The Peebles coach must have come up with a few choice words over half time, as the home team were back on the front foot for the opening 10 minutes, our ongoing indiscipline at the breakdown allowing them to kick two long range penalties that made it a 2 point game. You could understand why Bruce, pacing around behind the posts at the town end, felt moved to shout ‘Keep ball! Keep ball!’ at this point.
Bruce and Neil freshened things up with a couple of changes after that, Tom Croy replacing Jamie Berisford in the back row and Alasdair Pollock replacing Scott McColl in the row.
It was, however, three members of our starting XV who combined for our second try on 55 minutes, Fraser Strachan making the initial break before sending Ross McCann hurtling down the left wing.
As the Peebles defenders back pedalled frantically to shut Ross down, he neatly popped the ball up to his right, where it was gratefully accepted by Ciaran Whyte who was running in support. Ciaran pinned his ears back and enjoyed a reasonably unchallenged run in for the score (albeit there was a bit of stramash in the in goal area after he touched down!)
Cash’s simple conversion took the score to 18-9 in our favour. While Peebles managed to peg us back via another penalty on 70 minutes, that was the end of the scoring, thanks to some more fine defence from us and (more importantly) a marked improvement in our discipline at the breakdown.
Cliché time – the mark of a good team is that they can win without playing particularly well. We made plenty of mistakes on Saturday, but, that said, we were much better against Peebles than we had been against Howe the previous week.
The scrum was solid, there were distinct signs of improvement at the lineout (care of both Rhys and replacement chucker-in Ruaridh) and some fine battling performances from the likes of Matt Stevens, Willie Aitken and Fraser Christie (who seemed to have been nominated as Punchbag Of the Day by the Peebles pack!)
Behind the scrum, Fraser Strachan looked very tidy at 10, while Angus did a power of work in the centre both with and without the ball. Both he and Ciaran walked – well, hobbled – away from hits that would have broken the average footballer in half, while Ciaran improvised well to clear our lines whenever home stand off McGahan tried to unlock our defence by kicking for the corners.
The jury is still out on whether Nick is better at 10 or 12 for us – he ended up at 10 once again on Saturday after Ziggy replaced Fraser Strachan late on – but there’s no doubt that he asks a different set of questions when he has the whole midfield to play with.
And as for Ross McCann … he may be a raw talent, with a tendency to drift in off in his wing when we don’t have the ball, but he’s already demonstrated enough raw pace, quick thinking and hunger to suggest that he’s going to be a major player for us this season.
Can’t wait to see what he does to the Rodneys at Invers this Saturday!