Rugby: Howe of Fife 17 Stewart’s Melville RFC 36
The disappointment of last Saturday’s big game against Highland being postponed was soon eclipsed by what could only be described as an incredible comeback by Scotland. Whilst many felt gutted that we didn’t win, settling for a draw in the circumstances was, once the dust had settled, the more pragmatic option. We know all about ‘could have’ games at Stew Mel!
Great conditions for a display of running rugby at Duffus Park on Saturday. Bright sky, no wind, no rain – what more do you need?! A few changes were noted as Kyle Dixon replaced Adam Greig on the left wing, while, with Happy in the far-flung rainforests of Asia, Geoff Angco took up the inside centre position. Cormac McCracken came onto the bench, Ally Scott came in for our leader Momo and a special mention must be given to Ruaridh Stewart at number 8, making his return after his season was unceremoniously put on hold during the home game against Peebles. It takes a great deal of courage to come back, so well done!
Our last meeting with Howe was very much a one-sided affair as they struggled, initially, to raise a team, and, thereafter, injuries left them with only 12 players on the park, and, eventually, led to a premature final whistle. I was sure on Saturday that they would not want a repeat of their player number issues – and, more importantly, the scoreline! Howe have a proud tradition and throwing in the towel was never going to be on the agenda this time.
Stew Mel kicked off (I guess) northwards, playing ‘downhill’, and, from the start, our dominance was evident in the opening exchanges. That said, kicking appeared to be the preferred tactic of both teams from the outset, with either the bounce of the ball creating uncertainty or clearance kicks not quite finding touch. Stew Mel also conceded several penalties in the early stages, giving Howe some respite. It was a scrappy start, but, eventually, after around 10 minutes. a lucky bounce was well retrieved by Chris Baikie, who touched down by the posts. The successful conversion by Euan Bowen made it Howe of Fife 0 Stew Mel 7.
The ball was well taken at the restart by Matt Sanderson and some territory was gained with the assistance of Doug Randall. A knock-on from Howe gave Stew Mel the scrum and an impressive drive over the half way line resulted in a wrestling match in midfield but little fluency behind the scrum. Quicker ball soon came, giving Kyle Dixon the opportunity to make progress down the left wing; debutant Geoff Angco followed suit in midfield, and, with James Ferguson close at hand five meters out, the try was inevitable. With 25 minutes played it was Howe 0 Stew Mel 14, Euan again being successful with the conversion.
Joe Baillie, this time, took the ball well at the restart and made further inroads, aided by Ally Scott. James was involved again as Stew Mel encroached on Howe’s try line once more and Matt Sanderson was unlucky not to get over, some good defending from Howe preventing another score. There was a brief injury stoppage but momentum was soon regained and Ruaridh Mitchell, positioned fortuitously on the right wing, drove over. 30 minutes played, Howe 0 Stew Mel 19. Another couple of good phases by both forwards and backs followed the restart this time, releasing Kyle Dixon on the left wing to get the bonus point try. 35 minutes played, Howe 0 Stew Mel 24.
The lead appeared comfortable at this stage. James retired early with a calf injury to be replaced by Seb Trotter, though, and Howe suddenly took the initiative, throwing caution to the wind, and, with kick & chase and strong running, gaining good field position for the forwards to drive over. They did this not once but twice in succession, aided and abetted by a poor Stew Mel restart. That made it Howe 10 Stew Mel 24 at half time.
Despite having ‘allowed’ Howe back into the game, Stew Mel started the second half brightly, with some good hands amongst the forwards giving Fraser quicker ball to play with. This pressure resulted in a lineout on Howe’s 22; although they eventually managed to kick to touch in desperation, this only served to bring the lineout back to a similar position. Further pressure ensued, but, unfortunately, a knock on prevented any immediate progress.
Stew Mel were dominant in the scrum by now, driving the Howe pack back, disrupting their ball and making it harder for them to launch any effective attacks. Howe had, however, certainly upped their tempo and were attacking effectively whenever the opportunity arose, putting together some reasonable phases with 60 minutes on the clock. A facial cut to Chris Baikie saw Connor McKay entering the fray, and, as always, his presence was felt by the opposition. A penalty eventually came Stew Mel’s way, and, after some good forward play, Ruaridh Mitchell once again found himself on the right wing with a similar outcome. 65 minutes played, Howe 10 Stew Mel 29.
Our scrum dominance at this stage was key to turning the tables and putting more pressure on our hosts. Kyle Marshall replaced Doug Randall, fresh legs always being welcome at this stage. Perhaps the best and most ‘typical’ Stew Mel move of the match eventually saw Jamie Sword cantering over for another try and a successful conversion. That made it Howe 10 Stew Mel 36 with 70 minutes gone. With the clock counting down, Howe again emerged from the ashes and produced a strong finish, eventually being awarded a penalty try after a string of penalties against Stew Mel. Final score Howe 17 Stew Mel 36.
It was, perhaps, not the performance we were hoping for, but a bonus point win will do even if the term’ winning ugly’ is an apt description of our afternoon at Duffus Park. There were spells where we showed what we are capable of, but, also, some very scrappy play where ball retention was difficult and too many basic errors were made. You can, of course, only perform as well as your opponents allow, and Howe certainly made it hard at times. A ‘Noddy’ guide to not conceding penalties would also have been a useful read prior to this encounter. Bottom line, we conceded too many, whether justified or not. The consolation penalty try was clearly the end result.
That said, there were still some outstanding individual performances from, in particular, Matt Sanderson, who was building an ‘interesting’ relationship with his opposite number. Euan Bowen was creative at 10 and Ruaridh Stewart showed no ill effects from his layoff, whilst Kyle Dixon, Ally Scott, Geoff Angco and Cormac McCracken all played their part. Howe clearly have some good players and are, I think, still very much in the development stage, mixing youth with more experienced personnel. We have been there, too, and it does come good in the end!
Our game against Falkirk on Saturday was supposed to be our last but the season drags on. See you then!