1XV V Stewart's Melville match report

BT National League Division 1

Musselburgh v Stewart’s Melville FP

Saturday 30th September 2017

Report by Ian Donaldson 

Both this weekend’s opponents, Stewart’s Melville and Musselburgh have had a somewhat difficult start to the league season and both had high hopes of recording that elusive first win today.

Musselburgh’s injury list was slightly eased from last week with the return to the starting line-up of Willie Fleming and Craig Owenson, whose brother Danny made the long-awaited comeback on the bench after his injury lay-off, and Grieg Leitch back at full back.

Stewart’s Melville stand-off Scott Docherty got the game underway and immediately put the visitors on the offensive. The Edinburgh men moved the ball well with close quarter handling, especially from centres Ferguson and Morrison. He pack being led by Duncan wood at flanker, who was also team captain, looked lively in the early exchanges. Half backs Porteous and Docherty gave good service and only stubborn ‘Burgh defence kept the line intact and Hutson, McKinstry and Fleming all made vital tackles.

There were 10 minutes on the clock before ‘Burgh made a foray into the opposition’s half. Drives from Arthur, Graham and Crawford, who was especially quick off his mark sent the visitors backwards as Gareth Pritchard began to find some attacking touches. Once ‘Burgh had found themselves on the attack and in possession it was encouraging how quickly they opened the scoring, a slick handling movement which put John Coutts over in the top left corner before Pritchard made an excellent job of the conversion for a 7-0 lead after 15 minutes. ‘Burgh were now enjoying the bulk of the possession and wingers Vela and Hibberd both went close as the pack with Owenson, Fleming and Hutson, in particular took control. Chances were produced and on occasion, disappointingly missed as a combination of slack passing at crucial moments and desperate Stewart’s Melville defence kept ‘Burgh out.

On 25 minutes, after the visitors had conceded a penalty in attempting to clear their lines, Gareth Pritchard’s attempt at goal was unsuccessful and ‘Burgh remained within one score of their opponents despite being well on top. Cory Vela continues to look the part with clever elusive running and last week’s debutants Donald Kennedy and Stephen Crawford were both playing well and looking completely at home after fine displays in Glasgow last week. On his return from an injury break, Willie Fleming was his usual reliable self on the touchlines, as the pack and the back line were linking well at this juncture, but frustratingly, in ominous shadows of last week, they couldn’t seem to get over the line and confirm their superiority.

The visitors meanwhile scrapped well and defended with some desperation with forwards Wood, Howie and Sword always to the fore and often when they did escape with the ball, their “back three” of Murchie, Somerville and Ross often chose to run it from deep.

Then, with ten minutes to the break ‘Burgh increased their lead when Donald Kennedy picking up from the back of an attacking scrum, went over in the corner for his first try for Musselburgh and a 12 – 0 lead as the conversion was unsuccessful. In the moments up to half time ‘Burgh continued in the ascendancy and Stephen Crawford particularly stood out with a superb driving run from deep, breaking several tackles. However, the score remained at half-time as Musselburgh 12 Stewart’s Melville 0.

As of two weeks ago when Selkirk were visitors, at half-time heavy rain arrived and the waterproofing of the new strips was again tested to the full!

But, regardless of the difficult conditions, ‘Burgh made the perfect start to the second half, attacking from the whistle and within 3 minutes, having already been rebuffed by the visitor’s desperate defence, Brad Graham eventually made the line, with Gareth Pritchard adding the extras for a 19-0 lead and 43 minutes on the clock and the potential for a fourth and bonus point on the horizon again as last week.

Musselburgh rang the changes as Cook, Milton and Danny Owenson replaced Pritchard, McKinstry and Coutts. Despite engineering for themselves a clear lead at 19-0 and three tries to nil, ‘Burgh squandered several scoring chances to gain a much-needed bonus point and the visitors began to take heart and apply some pressure of their own as their pack held ‘Burgh out, their backs began to show their pace and to use their adhesive hands on a now very slippery ball. Docherty and Porteous were releasing their backs who all handled well, but when their try came, it was fittingly scored by stand-off Scott Docherty following a jinking, darting run which took him through the home defence, he then converted his own try foe 19-7 after 62 minutes.

The visitors then took control of the later stages of the game as ‘Burgh having earlier had a comfortable lead, at times struggled to keep them out.

Their pack was winning more ball now as captain Duncan wood led his men well and the pace of their backs often troubled ‘Burgh. By this time the roles had been reversed and ‘Burgh were now on the back foot and a series of fine defensive blocks by Hutson, Crawford and Graham among others kept the line intact until two minutes from time when the men from Edinburgh finally capitalised on their pressure and centre James Ferguson went over before Docherty converted for 19-14.

The last few minutes and injury time offered ‘Burgh the nightmare scenario of a defeat after being 19 points up, should the visitors get a late converted score. This thankfully, for all those of a Musselburgh persuasion, did not come to pass, but it was a mighty close thing, another ten minutes or so and a brave Stewart’s Melville side could well have completed the recovery and pulled the match out of the fire.

Congratulations are due to ‘Burgh on their first league win of the season and hopefully it is onward and upward from here. Great credit must also be given to Stewart’s Melville for a particularly sterling second half performance, almost snatching a result after being 19 points down.

Next week sees Musselburgh travel to Riverside Park, Jedburgh to face Jed-Forest in what will certainly be another tough encounter.

Posted on: October 1st, 2017

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