EDINBURGH ACCIES produced a whirlwind second-half performance to inflict yet more pain on a youthful Musselburgh side, with winger Kerr Gossman bagging four tries as the capital side ran riot.
There was no escaping the fact that both sides came into the sixth weekend of the Premiership season enjoying vastly differing form so far. Second-placed Accies were aiming for a fifth win of the campaign while Derek O’Riordan’s Burgh just wanted to get off the mark.
The hosts remained in touch at the break, just, but Iain Berthinussen’s squad stamped their authority on the match in the second period to run out convincing victors.
“Really happy with the result and really happy with the performance,” said a matter-of-fact Berthinussen post-match. “We’ve shown a lot of depth so far in the squad this season and we’re starting to gel properly. We’ve used over 37 players already and it’s a credit to the boys, because there is a lot of competition for starting places.”
From the off, it was clear that Accies were in no mood for sympathy at Burgh’s difficult start to the season – in which the number of injured players has reached double figures. Proof of that came at the first scrum – a result of a misfiring Burgh line-out – as Accies back-rower Ruairi Campbell picked up and fed scrum-half Ben Grainger. From there, Grainger burst down the blindside before sending winger Gossman in for a try notable by its relative ease in the corner.
If Burgh’s set-piece was to be a worrying theme in the match, perhaps the home side were spared slightly on the scoreboard by the similar trend of Accies totally misfiring off the kicking tee. Fly-half Ben Appleson missed the touchline conversion after two minutes and would struggle to hit his marks for the remainder of the game.
Having started slowly, Burgh did get on the scoreboard with a Danny Owenson penalty to reduce the deficit to two points after 12 minutes, but one imagined more had to be done in order to seriously trouble the visitors.
Accies had near total dominance at the scrum and used it to great effect: a number of penalties gave them the territory they needed to launch more attacks on the Burgh line. Campbell extended his side’s lead with a simple pick-up over the line as Burgh’s pack began to crumble.
That made it 10-3 and, despite another conversion miss, it was evident the floodgates were creaking open. They burst open after Burgh lost a third lineout from a restart clearance, leaving Campbell in the clear down the blindside touchline. His pass to Gossman sent the winger in for his second, Accies’ third, to make it 15-3.
Burgh’s biggest problem was making good use of the ball, when they got it. That was a rarity in itself, but strong Accies defence meant the hosts could not get their strike runners into the space they needed to penetrate the gain line.
Gossman then completed his first-half hat-trick following a terrific move through the Accies backline, suggesting already that it was very much game over.
Burgh hit back though through a short purple patch of their own approaching the end of the opening period to offer a glimmer of hope. Scrum-half Fionn Call brilliantly stole possession from his opposite number Grainger to get his side back on the front foot. Quick hands thereafter sent Accies into scrambling defence and conceding a trio of penalties in succession.
After strong carries from Jack Haynes and Callum Champion, the ball was whipped out to full-back Matthew McMillan who went over for the score. Owenson’s conversion, which followed a feeble attempt at a mass brawl, brought Burgh to within 10 points of Accies at half-time.
Burgh were in the mix, even if the 10-point deficit still left the challenge more of a mountain than a hill. But at least the first-half performance was night and day compared to the dismal showing last weekend against Hawks.
“I think the main thing for me was our complete change in mentality this week,” O’Riordan said. “Last week we were beaten everywhere, whereas in the first half we stayed in touch for large periods of the game, showed what we are about. We couldn’t get our set-piece to work and that was a real learning for us. Sometimes you need to take these beatings to develop as a team and I think that will help us.”
Pragmatism runs deep in O’Riordan’s coaching and he knows it’s a long road ahead, having produced a similar resurgence in form with Accies previously.
The Accies of today, though, remained their ruthless best and didn’t long to add another score on the board at the start of the second half. Clem Lacour burrowed his way over the line to touch down, while Gossman bagged his fourth after great interplay with Robbie Kent from the restart.
Cole Imrie got Accies’ seventh try from an unstoppable rolling maul, but the score was significant in that Appleson finally found success with the conversion taking the score to 37-10 after 55 minutes.
Accies added another three scores, divided up between Campbell – who scored his second after a lovely one-two with Kent in mid-field – Max Love and Richie Thompson.
For Burgh, the scoreline did not reflect just how competitive they had been in the second period. There was far more urgency after the break, with Owenson able to bring his attack runners onto the ball more regularly than he had managed in the first half.
Finlay Thomson and Calum Marshall in particular caused problems for Accies and showed the sort of attacking flair which made Burgh such an exciting side to watch last season.
For their efforts, they did get a second try, through replacement forward Paddy Brown following a strong period. But this was little else than consolation, in the end.
For Berthinussen, it was another job well done, with a trip away to the in-form Glasgow Hawks next on the agenda. “Stoneyhill is a place where, two of the last three times we came down, we lost, so we’re very happy with how we managed the game,” he added.
“Our scrum was excellent today: we talked about finding a hook in the game and making the most of it and the scrum was one of those. I thought we exploited that well and that probably shows on the scoreboard.
“We made them play from deep a lot and put them under a lot of pressure, which ultimately got us a couple of scores in the second half.”
For O’Riordan, it was a tough day at the office, but one which brings certain positives ahead of a “cup final” match with Heriot’s next weekend.
“We need to win that match to turn around our season, and they have to do the same,” the Burgh coach added. “The reality for us is to be able to take the lessons this season and to learn from them, so I’m looking forward to the game. It’ll be a hell of a scrap and we need to come out of the blocks quickly.”