Original report by Lewis Steven.
MUSSELBURGH were left kicking themselves as the chance of their first win of the season evaporated in a flurry of late points. GHA came back from 17 down at the break to take the lead for the first time with 90 seconds to go, somehow collecting a scoring bonus point in the process.
It was, admitted head coach Trevor Carmichael, a game they could easily have lost after a slow first half. “We got out of jail big time,” he accepted. “We had pressure in the first half but did not really have any bite or spark in attack. We just seemed to go right to left, right to left without any real control.
“They scored some good tries but we just weren’t at the races in the first half. We had to bite down and work hard. We got an early score in the second half and that gave us a bit of momentum. To come away with five points from this was a huge bonus for us.”
As for Musselburgh, it was a bitter, bitter pill to swallow. The strange thing is that they look like a team that are almost clicking but couldn’t turn the screw when it mattered. At 20-3 up at the break, the game was theirs for the taking if they had only believed it themselves.
The constituent parts are all there – a strong pack whose work in the tight deserved better, a controlling pair of half-backs and some pace where it mattered. Somehow, though, when the pressure came on, the parts seemed to function in isolation from each other.
“It was a sore one to take,” said assistant coach Calum Gauld. “We were hurting last week (when they lost by eight to Heriot’s), but this feels even worse. We had it in the bag but let it slip.
“We knew there would be a momentum swing but we were our own worst enemy in the second half, trying to play too much, particularly in the middle third of the pitch, instead of pinning them back.”
The only minor consolation for Musselburgh was that at least it was a moment of pure brilliance nobody could have done much about that turned the game against them.
They had come out after the break looking to grow their 17 point lead and seemed to be building pressure when they kicked deep into the GHA half. What nobody was prepared for was George Baird, the visiting scrum half, volleying the kick down the touchline and haring after it.
Though the Ruaridh Young did get back to cover the kick, Baird timed his arrival well and reclaimed the ball. With the home backs all over the pitch, it then took a perfectly placed cross kick from replacement fly-half Gregor Drummond to full-back Luca Bardelli to claim the score.
Suddenly, Musselburgh’s players and supporters were looking optimistically at the scoreboard. With Chris Hyde‘s conversion, they were only 10 points behind and you could see confidence growing among the GHA players as it wilted in the home ranks.
Even so, it was well into the final quarter before skipper Dario Ewing barged his way over from the back of a rolling maul, and into the final 10 minutes when Bardelli found space on the left to put replacement wing Andrew Spowart over for the try.
With Hyde missing both conversions from wide out, the sides were level with the seconds ticking away until Drummond found a gap and from the resulting forward drive, lock Adam Kerr forced his way over to set off celebrations in his camp.
It had been a dramatic turnaround. In the first half, GHA looked toothless and all the decent rugby was coming from Musselburgh. They rode some early pressure without any real alarm and exploited some sloppy defensive work to move the ball wide and send centre James Ferguson over for the opening try.
It was soon even better when Craig Owerson, who had started at prop but moved to hooker, barrelled his way through and showed a back’s skill in sending wing Tom Foley in for the second try.
A third score on the stroke of half-time from scrum-half Fionn Call after centre Findlay Thomson had created the space seemed to have put them in a strong position going into the second half.
After a winless season, perhaps that was a bit much to ask, though. In the end it only took one moment of magic to see momentum and confidence both do a 180 degree turn against the home side.
“I felt we needed to control things a bit more,” added Carmichael. “We hadn’t had that edge in attack, we were going through phases without creating space but in the second half we controlled it better and took our chances. I’m over the moon for the boys. In the second half we had to step up to the plate but I imagine that is a sore one for Musselburgh.”