BT National League Division 1
Saturday 7th April 2018
Musselburgh V Gala
Report by Ian Donaldson
The conclusion of an exciting, but extremely fraught season saw the visit of Gala, themselves no doubt, still smarting from ‘Burgh’s 41-39 win at Netherdale earlier on in the season.
The day also represented a parting of the ways for several ‘Burgh players, but particularly for the ever-reliable James Doig and coaches Grant Talac and Mark Steedman, who have all given the club great service over many years. We also trust that they may still make it along to the games, even if it is just to cheer the lads on! Cory Vela, Ben Hibberd and Brad Graham also depart to carry on their travels and Steven Crawford leaves to continue his studies. We wish them all well, they will be fondly remembered at Stoneyhill.
Despite the continued absence of William Fleming and Neil McNairn through injury, ‘Burgh supporters were pleased to see the figure of the “lesser spotted” Declan Slaven making his welcome return to the first team after a long period of injury.
Musselburgh kicked off and were so quick out of the traps, they would have left Usain bolt on his blocks! The ball was passed wide to Sandy Watt on the wing, and with a great deal to do, he bounced his way through several tackles and over for a fine opportunist try which was superbly converted by Danny Owenson for 7-0 with only 1 minute on the clock.
The physically larger looking Borderers looked somewhat shell-shocked by such a dynamic start by ‘Burgh, which added the necessary confidence to the home side. They therefore continued to press and looked extremely lively, led by, Skipper James Doig whose running looked as though he was shedding the years.
The early pressure produced another score in the left-hand corner for Sandy Watt in a move which was similar to the first, but this time Owenson was very unfortunate with the difficult conversion attempt, but 12-0 after only 9 minutes and the winger on for a “hat trick” this early on was more than many could have hoped for against a side of Gala’s pedigree. At this stage, so rattled were the visitors, that they were twice in quick succession penalised for “talking out of turn” to the referee, who set his stall out early and made it clear that he would not be standing for any nonsense.
The visitors did, however, settle somewhat and began to make inroads and only three minutes after ‘Burgh had gone 12-0 up, came back into the game after a pushover try by prop Terry Logan, which stand-off Dean Keddie converted for 12-7 after 15 minutes.
As the rain came down the Borderers began to look more assured and the half back pairing of Johnston and Keddie set their heavier pack to work and full back Craig Robertson looked dangerous with ball in hand. A further four minutes of pressure led to winger Steven Patterson going over in the corner for an unconverted try to level the score at 12-12 after only 19 minutes.
Musselburgh’s games this season could be described as many things, but on no occasion, could they be described as “dull”. As a side who have scored plenty of tries, but also conceded, they have attained the mantle of “The great entertainers” this season. Reinforcement of that fact was duly provided when a slick handling moves put James Doig over in the corner, to bring the “house down” with his final try for ‘Burgh, which was the fifth try of the game after only 24 minutes! Danny Owenson made a magnificent attempt at the conversion from way out on the touchline and was so unlucky to see his kick rebound from the upright.
At 17-12 ‘Burgh had got their noses back in front, before a sickening collision required a full ten minutes of treatment by physiotherapists and other medical staff on Michael Fleming, before he was removed from the field of play. Thankfully the precautionary measures taken were just that and he has made a full recovery. This injury saw Declan Slaven make, an earlier than anticipated comeback to the fray.
Following the interruption in play, there was a period of toing and froing between the teams as they again began to settle. The tackles continued to be hard and fast, but to no avail and at half time the score remained at MUSSELBURGH 17 GALA 12.
The traditional fight shown by Border teams was further exemplified by Gala’s flying start to the second half, which was even better than ‘Burgh’s start to the first half. From the re-start by Keddie, they pegged ‘Burgh back with fullback Robertson always willing to run, ably supported by his wingers Patterson and Turnbull, with the back row of Tod, Irvine and Cairns scrapping for everything as tackles by Doig, Arthur and Graham momentarily kept ‘Burgh’s line intact. However, the pressure eventually told on 46 minutes when winger Patterson went over from close range, followed by a fine conversion by Keddie to give Gala a 17-19 lead, which put ‘Burgh in arrears for the first time.
Four minutes later worse was to follow for ‘Burgh as another sprint to the corner put Patterson in for his second try in four minutes, which was unconverted, but gave Gala a lead of 17-24 with 50 minutes gone. It was now ‘Burgh’s turn to feel what Gala must have felt in the first half, especially having seen a five-point lead turned into a seven-point deficit.
The again, as befits ‘Burgh’s entertaining tag they came back to level the score after 54 minutes after a period of pressure and several drives for the line were concluded when Craig Owenson went over at pace from close range, before brother Danny converted to leave us all square again at 24-24.
The visitors line-out appeared at times to be very untidy with mis-timed jumps and fumbles, that on occasion ‘Burgh could not capitalise on. Conor Slaven and Brad Graham were getting through a power of work in the loose as well as tackling everything in sight.
At times, as had happened so often this season, it looked as if a try was going to be scored every time a ball was lost. The referee’s watch, which had yet to reach the hour mark, had seen both sides register their four try “bonus points” and the game was very much alive and swinging from end to end.
The weather further deteriorated as the “Maroons” went for the kill and right on the hour mark, Keddie and Johnston played the ball out to the wing and found flanker Irvine, loitering with intent to go over for an unconverted try and 24-29. Irvine now seemed to be playing out on the wing, which was very confusing, but this was further complicated by No 8 Cairns taking the kicks – how to confuse the match reporter?
‘Burgh made a change at fullback when Rory Smith replaced the retiring James Doig, and the home support gave this Musselburgh stalwart a warm round of applause as he left the field for the last time.
‘Burgh now, again faced the possibility of losing a game they once felt they had control of. As the clock wound down the game became a bit fraught with tempers fraying, which maybe showed what it still meant to the players, despite it being the last game of the season.
Musselburgh were now hammering into Gala in the attempt to save the game as Gala’s no 16 – Stewart was shown a yellow as the pressure mounted and the penalty count rose. Heavy carries by Craig Owenson, Young and Graham all put ‘Burgh in good attacking positions, but Gala scrapped and looked like holding on till the whistle.
The visitor’s defence was now working overtime, especially so, being down to 14 men, as ‘Burgh kept up the momentum.
Many may have given up hope, but in the 80th minute Rory watt eventually went over near the corner after another bout of recycling to level the score at 29-29. Like the last time these teams met Danny Owenson had the unenviable task of a difficult conversion attempt in horrendous weather conditions to win the match, but he was unfortunate in that his fine kick went narrowly past.
To the surprise of many the referee restarted the game, as many thought Owenson’s kick would be the last action, and Cammy Pryde may, particularly be aggrieved he didn’t, as he was yellow carded in injury time, but Mr Clark finally blew and honour was saved on both sides!
The end of the season and the end of an era for some, but great entertainment yet again, another ten try game and total unpredictability for all concerned.
As a post script to the season, I would like to ask if anyone has ever known ‘Burgh to have had 3 draws in 4 games before? Personally, I can’t remember any team do that before. - Ian