Well, for all those “stay-at-homers” this Saturday afternoon (cos the 1st XV match was cancelled- boo-hoo!), all we can say is “You missed out – big style!”
This was a cracking league match, full of good old fashioned “blood and guts”, moments of sheer class (from both teams), howling errors (from both teams), lively chat (from both teams), good humour on the touchline, and all marshalled by a ref (who, in this scribe’s opinion) nearly knew what he was doing!
Though EK might be under a blanket of hard-packed snow right now, Robert Cheape and his merry band supplied a NA pitch that would have surpassed even Gregor Townsend’s expectations for a Heineken Cup fixture at this time of year. Running, expansive rugby was on the cards and so it proved, once we got going.
EK had the early pressure after the 2pm whistle sounded but huffed and puffed a bit with a series of pick and drives that were repelled with a series of equally strong tackles from Accies forwards and backs alike.
The first real attack for Accies came in the 10th minute when, after a hard fought turn-over ball was won by the forwards in our own 22, the backs decided that attack was the best form of defence. With the touchline holding it’s collective breath, Stewart “Seato” Seaton made a decisive break carrying the ball into EK territory for the first time in the match: the off-load to Jack “China” Walker was simple and effective, and he carried into the opposition’s 22 before being engulfed by a scrambling defence. The ensuing ruck saw an Accies knock-on and the EK clearance from the resulting scrum was reasonably effective.
Being inside EK’s half seemed to suit Accies and their play grew in confidence: Alan “Aldo” Wilson at no.9 made a series of sniping breaks, both on the open and blind sides showing that there’s life in all old dogs! One particular move, combining with Jamie “Doigo” Doig in the 12th minute, almost led to a spectacular try had it not been for some determined defence from EK.
No score yet, but it was coming: after 20 minutes, a searing break by EK’s no. 13 gave them back territorial advantage and, after a great cover tackle by Ross “Rosco” Chassels who drove the EK winger into touch, the ensuing line-out was won cleanly by Accies. The backs marched promptly back into EK’s half and a scrum was won through some great scrummaging by Dave “DC” Calder: China picked, drove and off-loaded, and a try by by any one of 3 backs seemed certain. But EK remained resolute, repelled the attack once again and won a turnover enabling a clearance kick to be made. And just when the touchline was getting excited about a possible break-through, we promptly lost the ensuing line-out and allowed EK to drive through 3 phases and gain 10 or so meters. Though they knocked on and we were awarded a scrum, was it going to be one of those days?
Well, in short, the answer’s “No”. After a touchline barracking from the Obersturmmbahnfuhrer, the forwards scrummaged well, secured the ball, Aldo went off sniping, off-loaded to Doigo who timed a neat pass to Mike Hermes to touchdown in the corner. 25 minutes gone, and 5-0. Gamely, Doigo stepped up for the conversion but his heart wasn’t in it and it fell short.
I could tell you that after the damn had been broken, it was plain sailing thereafter – but that wasn’t the case. EK fought hard and their pack tried to raise the intensity of their game with a series of pick and drives. But, in truth, this was becoming a little too predictable and our back row, ably supported by the 2 second-rowers, had their measure.
In the 34th minute, Aldo again went off on a charge after seeing a gap in the defensive line, got clobbered but managed to off-load to Seato who delivered a beautifully weighted and timed pass to Mike Hermes to go over for his second. Doigo attempted the conversion but he’d a hard week and his attempt went wide.
At 10 – 0, Accies were in control at this point and in the 38th minute, after the forwards had gained territory through sheer hard work, Aldo dug the ball out of the bottom of a ruck, sent a blindside pass to Seato: at pace, he showed a lovely “give & go” to Alan Bodel who powered over for the third score: 15 – 0. Lovely! But perhaps then followed the most unexpected moment of the match: Teo (yes, Teo our hooker) stepped up and nailed the conversion! Talented in the kitchen, can put the ball into the line-out, and scrummaged today as if his life depended upon it – is there no end to this young man’s talents? 17 – 0.
The half-time whistle blew shortly there after, and all the Obersturmmbahnfuhrer could reasonably ask for was more of the same in the second half – and he got it. Accies continued to press – a series of drives from Arnaud, Dillon and China nearly crossed the line on a couple of occasions: Mike Hermes was stopped short a couple of more times, Doigo drove hard in midfield and Seato made a couple of silky breaks that gave us hope. But it was not to be. EK had regrouped at half-time,and maybe we’d lost a bit of our first half fluidity and played abit like we expected to score.
There was some good, attacking second half rugby played by Accies but EK seemed to always just have an extra man covering to snuff out our attacks. Our pack continued to dominate the set piece, and the backs (even) with Iain “Beefcake” Williamson on for Aldo, kept the momentum going, driving forward and asking questions, particularly of EK’s midfield. But the bonus point didn’t come and in the end, the only score of the second half was won by EK. A 70th minute foray into our 22 led to a penalty after a series of messy and quite undignified mauls. OK the resultant penalty was disputable and not just because of the side entry of EK’s players but let’s not pretend we were entirely blameless, eh guys! This gave their hooker an opportunity to take a quick one, and being a bit more alert when we were all feeling a bit hard-done to, he somewhat inelegantly “bashed” his way over the white-wash for a score. 17 – 5 (the conversion attempt was murdered, every bit as bad as Doigo’s previous efforts had been).
And so it stayed for the remaining minutes of the match: a few forays from both sides amounted to nothing more than attempts to entertain the spectating public, a couple of handbags got thrown to show there was still some interest being shown by the players in the proceedings, but the game was over in reality.
To sum up, a cracking first half from Accies with some really fine touches from a number of players: Seato was (in this scribe’s opinion) our stand-out back, though he did “luxuriate” in the experience of the players around him. China, back after a little over 3 months out, led the forward well and, if a little rusty at times, showed some great touches. Aldo drove us forward as did his understudy when he came on, our flankers worked tirelessly and our front row (inc the subs) dominated. And floating imperiously above it all, Rosco led his troops with aplomb.
This was a great “squad” performance – not always pretty, but committed and focussed, touches of brilliance with a dash of downright negligence at times. But was it entertaining? You bet.
And finally: there was a bit of disquiet being expressed by the NA “giltterati” this week about the seeming inevitability of EK loading their 2nd XV with 1st XV players in the event that their 1st’s match with us would be called-off. Well, as we now know, the 1st’s game was off – and “Yes” EK did put 1st XV players into their 2′s for the game today (6 of today’s EK forwards played for their 1st’s in their last league game against Marr and 4 of them played in the match before that against Garnock). And although this scribe may be discoursing with you from the lofty peaks of a victory today, we’ve got to ask ourselves, “does it really matter?”. EK are short of players: like many clubs across the country, their numbers are down. The EK committee and team management bust their n*ts each week just to try to get teams out and OK, putting 1st XV players in a 2ndXV may not be strictly “corinthian” in spirit, we should be applauding their efforts to keeping things going forward, juggling fixtures and player availability. Running a rugby club ain’t easy these days folks – let’s not be so quick to judge.