1st XV vs Hillhead Jordanhill: Match Report
The aim for the first part of the season was to qualify for the play-offs in January, and, as a consequence of Saturday’s result, that has been achieved. The game itself showed glimpses of why we are sitting on top of the table – and also why Hillhead had never previously lost a game by more than seven points in this campaign.
Inverleith looked perfect – the pitch pristine and freshly marked; the crowd healthy; the day, although windy, beautiful. Stewart’s Melville played the first half towards the castle with Lingard and Borthwick restored after injury and unavailability respectively, and the early signs were encouraging from a home point of view. But, from a line out where we failed to deal with loose ball on the half way, Hillhead went through a few phases to allow Haddon McPherson to slip over from close range.
McPherson was to prove a thorn in our side all afternoon, and, in the days when rugby seems to favour brawn, an athletic but slightly built player can still find space and penetration where the traditional battering ram is often gobbled up by the waiting defence.
Borth and Matt then combined beautifully, with Matt finishing with real pace to allow Mike Hanning to convert his try, and we were in front. Mike accepted the challenge of his first home start with alacrity and possesses the correct instincts – namely, when to pass, when to kick and when to break – and, at the moment, rugby must seem a simple game for him.
From the restart Hayden broke the initial defence to link with Sangster and Hare, then, after several clever offloads, Hayden announced his return to the team with a try. There were complaints from the visitors about a knock-on, but the ball had come off a Hillhead player and the referee correctly awarded the try.
Back came Hillhead, however, strangely refusing to take the 3 points from a very kickable penalty and opting, instead, for a scrum. The subsequent, disrupted set piece provided encouragement for the home side, but Hillhead were undeterred, and McPherson once again proved elusive as he touched down and narrowed the gap.
Riddell and Borthwick then combined cleverly, with Richard showing all his ability to stand up his opposite number and then trust his pace before dotting down beside Willie’s house. Half time, 19-10 up – wind at our backs in the second half – opposition with a man in the bin. What could possibly go wrong?
Hillhead narrowed the gap shortly after the break with a penalty, but we responded with a rolling maul, possibly learning our lesson from the previous week. We controlled the ball over the line to allow Ethan Brown to score and put us into bonus point territory. Ethan is a talented rugby player, often showing the commodity of pace which can be so unexpected and useful for a tight forward. The rolling maul has been a feature of our play this season, and, if everyone concentrates, it is very difficult to defend against.
Just when it seemed that Hillhead were down and out, they engineered a length of the field try on the far side using guile in their backs that had hitherto gone untapped. 24-18 with ten minutes to go, and our lead looked fragile. Holes in our defence again allowed Hills a 50 yard break, and now alarm bells were going off all over the place. We started looking for MDO’s and, once again, found none. The Hillhead pack had matched our efforts all afternoon, and they were desperate to give their backs another chance to run at us.
Home nerves were eased on the stroke of full time when Rob Patterson took full advantage of stretched defence to gallop over from close range.
The reward for the victory is the play-offs in January, and we will prepare carefully for that – but that is in the future. The challenge for the next two games is to seal the Premier 2 title and finish the campaign undefeated. The immediate challenge is next week at Myreside – with Watsonians still striving for a top four finish themselves.
Derek Busby (Hillhead coach)
‘I love coming through here – it is such a great place to play rugby. You know we were missing several players, but I am not using that as an excuse. We were disappointed not to get something (from the game). We are still in the hunt for a top four place, so be sure and win your remaining matches.’
‘We just did enough, though it got a bit tight at the end. There was a reaction to last week’s efforts at Jed – but, after a bonus point win, who’s complaining?’