BT National League Division 1
Saturday 20th January 2018
Stewart’s Melville FP RFC V Musselburgh RFC
Report by Ian Donaldson
The time lapse following ‘Burgh’s heroic win over Gala at Netherdale seemed longer than usual following the subsequent postponements of the Selkirk and Kelso matches, the winter break and two heavy defeats to Edinburgh Accies and GHA, this necessitated a “must win” quality to todays game with fellow strugglers, Stewart’s Melville.
There were still further doubts that the game would be on, but following an 11 o’clock pitch inspection the match went ahead, and due credit must be given to the hosts ground staff for getting the match on in the frosty conditions.
Musselburgh brought back the “auld heads” in Doig, Cook, Willie Fleming and Craig Owenson in the hope that their experience would bring about the desired effect, in what was sure to be a crucial relegation battle.
The hosts stand-off Roddick got proceedings under way and duly put his team on the offensive, penning Musselburgh into their own half for the first twenty minutes. Their pack, featuring a heavy front row of Scott, Michell and Morgan made their presence felt and were ably assisted by a lively looking back row of Wood, Howie and Boyle as they took the game to ‘Burgh in the early exchanges. Their wingers, Somerville and Murchie also had several darts into dangerous positions as ‘Burgh scrambled and clung on, with Danny Owenson and Gareth Pritchard under great pressure to clear their lines.
A very encouraging start by the home side was only mitigated, from ‘Burgh’s point of view, by the fact that they were unable to cross the line, due to stubborn ‘Burgh defensive resistance. ‘Burgh’s tackle count rose as Arthur, Hutson, Fleming and Craig Owenson, among others kept Stewart’s Melville out. The home centres of Symes and Ferguson also made a few good breaks, but ‘Burgh’s line remained intact and after a twenty-minute opening onslaught, ‘Burgh finally secured some possession in the opponent’s half.
Danny Owenson then started to run at the home defence and the back row of Graham, Milton and Hutson began to punch holes in the hosts defence. A couple of penalties were kicked into the corner and on the second of these, ‘Burgh’s efforts bore fruit, as Willie Fleming, as always, took the line-out and after several drives for the line were repelled, Owenson played the ball through the hands for Ruairidh Young to go over for the opening score after 25 minutes, Owenson converted for 7-0 and ‘Burgh having been under the cosh for the opening quarter, suddenly found themselves with their noses in front. In a basically untidy looking match ‘Burgh began to display a little more assuredness in their play and got themselves into more attacking positions, no doubt brought on by the confidence that scoring the opening try can give a team.
Ruairidh Young, in particular, was causing Stewart’s Melville problems, breaking into the line with power and pace to great effect and complimenting the “hard yards” which were now being gained by the pack in their opponent’s half. As the visiting pack at last began to dominate the home side were forced to concede a few penalties here and there and after 38 minutes Danny Owenson kicked ‘Burgh 10-0 up via one such penalty and just before the interval he repeated the dose to give ‘Burgh a handy 13-0 interval lead and a reasonable platform from which to attack the second half.
‘Burgh started the second half still in the ascendancy, which was reassuring to all those of a Stoneyhill persuasion, given that the last few weeks have been somewhat trying for all concerned and that the possibility of a win, however narrow, would be gratefully received.
The conditions and crucial nature of a relegation battle, did not make for precise open rugby and play was often scrappy and fragmented, as these occasions can sometimes be, but both teams gave it their all with gutsy, determined performances on both sides. The attritional nature of the game was emphasised when ‘Burgh made three changes after 50 minutes as Stott, Kennedy and Slaven replaced Gregor, Pritchard and Arthur as fresh legs were required.
As Stewart’s Melville had done in the first half, Musselburgh attacked the opponents line and like Stewart’s had, got no immediate joy in crossing the line, but in games such as these ‘Burgh’s 13-point lead was a major source of comfort. They then introduced Cammy Pryde for Graham McKinstry, further freshening the pack as they drove on. Fullback Young continued to be a thorn in the flesh for Stewart’s Melville, having a fine game and causing them anxious moments as he constantly came into the line with only last-ditch home tackling preventing further scores.
‘Burgh then replaced the diminutive figure of James Doig with “Big Ben” Hibberd in a further attempt to ram home their advantage, but again, as in shades of the first half, the team under pressure, broke away to score. The ball was won in a deep position by Stewart’s and with ‘Burgh committed upfield in attack an overlap was created and winger Sean Murchie went over for an unconverted try, after a long run to the corner and after 66 minutes the fat was back in the fire at 13-5.
This, momentarily lifted the spirits of the home side as they sought to engineer a comeback. Half-backs Roddick and Porteous began to put their heavy pack into some interesting positions and Boyle and Wood in the back row took the fight to ‘Burgh, who were, nonetheless covering their lines well with some heavy talking by Hutson, Fleming and Craig Owenson. The confidence boost gained by the try brought a few attacking waves by the home side which stoic ‘Burgh defending eventually stemmed before the visitors got back onto the front foot and began to assert control and Danny Owenson’s constant sniping was coupled with the darting runs of Young, Milton and Rory Watt pushing the hosts back on the defensive.
The latter stages of the game were completed with Musselburgh virtually camped on Stewart’s line but they were just unable to apply the finishing touch as drive after drive came up agonisingly close on many occasions until virtually the last move of the game when replacement Cammy Pryde finally went over and as Owenson converted for a final score of 20-5 in ‘Burgh’s favour the referee blew the whistle on a tough encounter which was by no means “pretty” but which gave ‘Burgh a vital four points in their on-going battle to preserve their league status.
This was a gritty, determined performance by a ‘Burgh side desperate to put the trials of the last few weeks behind them and credit must be given to all concerned for grinding out the desired result.
Next week sees ‘Burgh at Stoneyhill for a further tough match against Border side Jed Forest who are sitting second top, just behind Edinburgh Accies, with 13 out of 14 wins so far this season. Hopefully the win against Stewart’s Melville will give ‘Burgh confidence and self-belief ahead of yet another important game.