by Stephen Brunsdon
EDINBURGH ACCIES bounced back from defeat last weekend with a resounding bonus point victory over Musselburgh, which not only boosted the home side’s top three Premiership ambitions but also secured their name on the Bill McLaren Shield.
Having endured what head coach Iain Berthinussen labelled “our worst performance for a few years” away to Jed-Forest seven days ago, Accies made amends in fine fashion by asserting the sort of dominance at Raeburn Place that has come to define the capital squad this season. Four tries, all in the first half, were enough to secure victory in the penultimate game of the calendar year.
“The Bill McLaren Shield has been a really big goal for us as a club, with the heritage that we have,” said Berthinussen. “We’ve now got a real opportunity to make Raeburn Place a bit of a fortress, even though we still need to find our feet away from home.”
Pre-match, it seemed as though Christmas had come early as heavy snow and sleet engulfed the warm-up. The weather abated slightly as the game kicked off, and neither side appeared put off by the already diminishing light and average visibility.
Much like they had done a week prior, Accies got off to a flying start and had the first score inside two minutes, as winger Ross Lile brilliantly chased a probing grubber from fly-half Jamie Loomes to out-pace opposite number Sandy Watt to touch down. Loomes’ touchline conversion was equally impressive, handing Accies a 7-0 lead with Burgh barely having touched the ball.
The reaction from the visitors was, however, positive and despite being starved of the early possession, Burgh made good ground with what munitions they did have in the opening quarter of an hour.
A miss-pass from out-half Paul Cunningham released Tom Foley, who in turn sent winger Watt charging down the near touchline, before being dragged down just short of the Accies line. A penalty followed and from the subsequent scrum, Cunningham chipped in behind the Accies defensive line and followed up to touch down under the posts.
Burgh stalwart Danny Owenson added the extras to level the scores somewhat against the run of play.
Although Burgh – led this week by backs coach David Officer in the absence of Graeme Paterson – had found parity on the scoreboard, Accies quickly asserted their dominance in the set-piece and squeezed two penalties in quick succession to get back into Burgh’s half.
The home side soon got their second try from a penalty line-out deep in Burgh territory, with centre Neil Armstrong crashing over from short-range following an initial driving maul. Loomes was again successful from the tee, and Accies re-established their seven-point advantage.
Burgh’s task was made all the more difficult thanks to a severely misfiring line-out limiting their options in attack. On a day where territorial kicking proved an effective tool, the visitors could hardly regain any of the set-piece ball at the line-out, with Accies back-row Ruari Campbell wreaking havoc on the turnover count.
Burgh soon found themselves further behind after coughing up a promising attack via a charge down from Accies’ centre Richard Mill and conceding a penalty on their 22 line for holding on.
Owenson negated Loomes’ three points with his own penalty after 25 minutes but Accies continued to punish Burgh indiscipline with their third try of the match from hooker and captain Callum Black at the half-hour marker. Keen to make their entries into the Burgh 22 count, Loomes had kicked for touch, with the powerful Accies line-out driving maul doing the rest.
Loomes’ touchline conversion strayed wide of the uprights, but by now, Accies were firmly in control.
That control was solidified just before the break, as Burgh’s scrum now came under ferocious attack from the Accies pack. Owenson just about escaped from the five-metre scrum without getting turned over but, with the ruck deemed to be over, Accies flanker Matt Walker dived onto the ball over the line to score his side’s fourth – and bonus point – try.
Loomes was again successful with the conversion, to give Accies a comfortable 29-13 lead at the half-time break.
“After last week, we knew we had a lot of things to fix for this game,” Berthinussen said. “Musselburgh have been a thorn in our side for the last few seasons in the Premiership and they put one over us earlier in the year. So, we knew we had to get a good start and not let them back into the match, which I think we did well in the opening period.”
After an enterprising opening 40 minutes, the second half was always going to struggle to match the same intensity.
Although they trailed on the scoreboard, Burgh had been unlucky not to add to their try count in the first half, with prop Colin Arthur getting close to the line before being stripped of the ball, while Sandy Watt needed just one support player inside him to turn his burst down the touchline into points.
Officer’s side came out firing in the second half, with far more possession and momentum than they’d achieved in the opening 40, but were left with just three points through Owenson’s boot at the start of the half to show for their effort.
Indeed, Owenson’s penalty was the only score of a second half which Accies controlled masterfully.
It wasn’t a pretty spectacle in the end, particularly with the yellow carding of Accies lock Jake Mills and Burgh’s Colin Owenson as tensions began to rise, but Accies did what they needed to do to get the result.
“We didn’t have much ball in the second half, and we maybe didn’t get to play as much as we’d have liked to, but the main thing for us was that we didn’t let Musselburgh get back into the match,” concluded Berthinussen.
For Burgh, it was a case of what could have been had the set-piece not dismantled as it did. Officer’s side won the second half and forced Accies into an unfamiliar kicking game which bore fruit on the penalty count. But a poor start ultimately left the Stoneyhill side with too much ground to make up.
“We were just too passive in the first half, we struggled to get down into their half and, fair play to them they got a bit of momentum and turned it into points,” Officer said.
“In the second half, we played a lot more, but we just didn’t have the set-piece platform to play from which was frustrating. I asked the boys at half-time to step up to the plate in the second half, and come out with a bit more aggression, and they did that. We got more penalties and turned them over more, but we just couldn’t really execute as well.”