FROM THE OFFSIDE LINE. REPORT BY STEPHEN BRUNSDON.
FOUR tries from winger Gregor Tait helped Musselburgh secure a hard-fought victory over struggling Aberdeen Grammar to move them closer to the top of the table, albeit having played one game more than both Currie Chieftains and Glasgow Hawks.
Coming off the back of a heavy defeat away to Hawks last weekend, Musselburgh coach Graeme Paterson demanded a vastly improved performance from his side, particularly at the start of the game. He got exactly that as Burgh stormed into a 14-0 lead thanks to Tait’s early brace. The winger bagged two more in the second half as returning talisman Danny Owenson once again steered the ship superbly to put Grammar to the sword.
Burgh started and finished the better side, but Grammar had their purple patches on more than one occasion as the game ebbed and flowed in tricky wet-dry conditions. For the hosts, it was a performance Paterson described as “book-ended” but one which ultimately satisfied the head coach.
“We were really strong at the start and at the end, and in the middle kind of fell away in terms of attitude. Mentally, maybe we thought we had the game won after the two early tries so it was a bit book-ended, the match,” Paterson told The Offside Line.
“But fair play to Aberdeen, they came right back into the game and put us under a lot of pressure, and thankfully we turned it around in the end.”
For the opening quarter of an hour, Musselburgh looked like they were going to run away with the game, such had been the ease with which they had scored. Tait’s first came as a result of Grammar winger Craig Shepherd knocking on while trying to keep Paul Cunningham’s clearance kick in play. Burgh used their scrum to their advantage and quickly found themselves on the Grammar line, before a brilliantly weighted Cunningham cross-field kick left Tait in acres of space for the score. Owenson’s touchline conversion was equally measured, and Burgh took a 7-0 lead.
It wasn’t long before Tait and Burgh were in again, as this time Grammar full-back Ross Cameron spilled another up-and-under from the restart. Owenson’s quick tap from the resulting scrum penalty put the hosts back on the front foot, with prop Colin Arthur getting within inches of the try-line. Tait, off his wing, then picked up from the ruck to dive over, with Owenson again slotting the extras.
This had been a nightmare start for the visitors who had barely been able to fire a shot due to handling errors and indiscipline. But when Ali O’Connor’s men did get their hands on the ball, the attacking threat was particularly evident, with their riposte coming soon after Burgh’s second score, through second-row Scott Renfrew.
Fly-half Sam Knudson’s break in midfield got the ball rolling before captain Tom Aplin got close. The forwards then took over from the penalty line-out, with Renfrew barging under the posts from short-range.
Proof of Grammar’s quality was that for the next quarter, they dominated the game, with potent attacking threats coming from back-row Corey Buchan – always elusive in the loose – and Aplin, while Knudson secured valuable territory from the boot.
Knudson and Aplin combined superbly for the second try for Grammar, with the out-half going over in the corner after Aplin got dragged down two yards out. Aplin missed the conversion, but it mattered little as Grammar stunned the home support by scoring a magnificent set-piece try on the brink of half-time, courtesy of Cameron.
Almost against the run of play, Grammar held the lead having been shocked into a reaction, which had pleased head coach O’Connor at the break.
“Again, we started slowly and conceded two easy tries due to poor kick reception, with the wind in your face, it just gave them a head start,” O’Connor explained.
“So that was far from ideal, but the character shown by the boys [was great]. They stuck in, and we turned it around by playing some really good rugby, especially in the first half. But you can’t win games by only playing for 60 minutes and that is what cost us.”
With the wind behind them in the second half, Grammar looked to use that advantage in their first attack, but gave away a cheap interception to Owenson, who unselfishly handed Tait his hat-trick score, which the scrum-half converted to bring Burgh back level.
Burgh were lucky not to concede a penalty try following what could only be described as a stodgy period of the game in which indiscipline and inaccuracies crept into both side’s play. Tait quickly turned from hero to villain after copping a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on.
Despite being a man down – they were in fact temporarily reduced to 13 men after an injury to hooker Ross Gregor – Burgh responded by not only staving off a lengthy period of Grammar pressure, but by scoring their bonus-point try through Rory Watt.
Grammar retaliated like they had done in the first half, with Cameron touching down, but the visitors began to show signs of fatigue and were duly punished by Owenson. Now at 10, he linked up perfectly with Watt, who in turn sent in Tait over for his fourth try.
Two more tries followed as Grammar’s set-piece began to fall apart in the closing stages, with Rory Hindhaugh crossing with a minute remaining. Despite being something of a hit and miss performance from Burgh, the importance of a win of any kind was not lost on Paterson.
“We know we’ve got some big games coming up [Marr, Hawick and Currie before the end of the month] and we knew that this game and next week’s against Jed were going to be really crucial,” he said.
“So, to get one win chalked off today, that gives a good confidence boost going into next weekend. We’ve given ourselves a wee bit of breathing space from the bottom of the table. Our aim was to kick on and we did that today.”