Jan. 6, 2019, 3:58 p.m.
BT National Division 1
GHA v Musselburgh
Saturday 5th January 2019
Report by Ian Donaldson
The festivities over, Musselburgh’s league campaign restarted with the previously postponed fixture at Braidholm against a high flying GHA side who had won the corresponding fixture at Stoneyhill earlier in the season. With several players unavailable Musselburgh had to make changes, mostly positional, with the most obvious being No 8 Luke Hutson being deployed at inside centre.
On a dull, overcast afternoon the hosts got the game underway and their heavy pack immediately went on the offensive, but as it transpired folks the weather was the only aspect of the game that could be described as dull! In a season of great results and performances ‘Burgh gave a heroic display, as good as any seen this season, and secured a bonus point win in an absolute belter of a game! This game had everything, tries galore, great attacking play from both sides and a conclusion that had fingernails bitten “up to the elbows”, on both sides. If more people could only see the high quality of rugby at this level surely the gates would increase.
Despite the early home possession ‘Burgh grabbed the early lead, when Danny Owenson, who was to have a great afternoon with the boot, put ‘Burgh ahead after 7 minutes via a penalty after the home pack infringed, 0-3. The home side continued the offensive with their heavy props Carson and Fox especially prominent. ‘Burgh, at this stage were fighting a rear-guard action as the tackles flew in from Bowman, Maltman and Pryde. Willie Fleming got the line-out ball and Colin Arthur used his subtlety at close quarters to dissuade the hosts. GHA had fine centres in Ross Finlay and Max McFarlane and a real flyer in Bed Addison on the left wing, and it was Addison’s pace which eventually told as he opened the host’s account with a try in 23 minutes which Finlay converted for 7-3.
At this stage, given all the ball that GHA had had they must have thought that the lead was well merited, but on 27 minutes ‘Burgh hit back when our No 8 come centre, Luke Hutson sprinted into the corner for a try which was magnificently converted by Danny Owenson giving ‘Burgh a 10-7 lead. On the restart the hosts continued in the ascendancy despite being behind on the scoreboard with the speedy Addison a constant threat to ‘Burgh. Wave after wave of home attacks were repulsed as the ‘Burgh defence held firm with the whole pack working like demons, it would be unfair to single anyone out, suffice to say ‘Burgh’s fitness and commitment was highly commendable.
The home side tried everything in an attempt to open the visiting defence from Spowat to Addison on the wings, Finlay and McFarlane in the centre to their heavy pack, but ‘Burgh held firm and just when it looked as though ‘Burgh would make it to the interval with the lead intact, GHA centre Max McFarlane went in under the posts for a try which Ross Finlay converted on 39 minutes for a half time score of GHA 14 Musselburgh 10.
‘Burgh started the second half with a couple of changes with past captain James Doig making an unexpected return in place of Luke Hutson, James Ferguson moving to centre and Doig to full back, just like old times! For the duration of the match Michael Maltman thundered into contact with the GHA pack, making the hard yards, and his pack were following his lead and after 43 minutes the home pack under pressure coughed up a penalty which Owenson kicked, reducing the deficit to 14-13. As play began to open up, ‘Burgh almost regained the lead when Gregor Tait took off like a scalded cat up the wing, only for play to be called back for an infringement, but the supporters of both sides didn’t have long to wait as there then followed a crazy, brilliant (if you were neutral) period of play, which resulted in four tries in six minutes.
A prolonged period of possession by GHA resulted in centre Ross Finlay going under the posts, making the conversion easy for Murray Houston and 21-13. ‘Burgh then replaced Ross Gregor with Neil McNairn and on 52 minutes the excellent Kyle McGhie got ‘Burgh’s second try of the day by going straight through under the posts before Danny Owenson converted for 21-10, then three minutes later, on 55 minutes ‘Burgh regained the lead after a sparkling attack at pace up the right wing by GHA resulted in Stuart Thomson sprinting over, which was rounded off by an other superb conversion from Danny Owenson, who had obviously been eating his carrots on Christmas day, judging by his deadeye kicking display. 27-21 to ‘Burgh was a score that barely lasted 60 seconds before the hosts had their noses in front again as an interception put centre Max McFarlane in for a score which was converted by Houston to put GHA back in the lead at 28-27 on 56 minutes.
‘Burgh then replaced Michael Fleming and Cameron Pryde with Jack Anderson and Paddy Brown. After GHA having had the lion’s share of possession in the first half, the second half proved to be much more even with ‘Burgh taking the chances that came their way. With ten minutes to go the Musselburgh travelling supporters were highly delighted when Graeme Bowman, who had another fine game, powered over from close range before Owenson converted yet again and ‘Burgh’s bonus point try was on the board and a lead of 34-28 after 70 minutes of exciting rugby by both teams.
Not unnaturally, GHA now threw everything at ‘Burgh in an attempt to pull the game out of the fire. The final minutes of the game should have carried a government health warning as it was so dramatic and exciting that blood pressures were rising, and fingernails were being bitten by the supporters of both sides. The defensive play by the visitors was superb under the heaviest of pressure, as it was all hands to the pumps to try and hold on to what would be a precious away win. Again, it would be unfair to single out any one of them as they tackled themselves to a standstill and often against the backdrop of a referee who appeared to give countless penalties against them.
With score at 28-34 with only about 2 minutes remaining the ‘Burgh contingent maybe just began to think that they were home and dry, but this game had yet more excitement in store as GHA fullback Grant Mollison went over in the corner with a minute to play, leaving the home side 33-34 behind with the conversion to come. The thought of losing to the final kick of the ball virtually was extremely galling, given the effort expended, but fortunately for ‘Burgh it was a difficult kick which the unlucky Houston made a fine attempt at, but which came up short. It was now a one-point game as the referee played injury time with the ‘Burgh coaching team shouting in unison throughout “Nae penalties ‘Burgh”. At long last the whistle sounded on a nerve tingling great game of rugby.
With a final score of GHA 33 Musselburgh 34, great credit must go to both sides for putting on such a great display of rugby. After the news of this great display by ‘Burgh gets out, hopefully the crowds will arrive in numbers for the next match against Gala at Stoneyhill on Saturday 12th January.