The value of travelling down into Dumfriesshire and enduring an expensive bus journey is almost always measured by the quality and volume of the banter on the journey home. Admittedly the boys were well-fuelled for it with a quite obscene amount of alcohol onboard Fairline’s finest, courtesy of the local Co-op “mega-store”, but they cranked up that volume with a veritable cornucopia of renditions of various Scottish classics (from “Bonnie Banks” to miscellaneous hits of the Proclaimers etc), the obvious Oasis & Queen hits so beloved of their parents, and even the odd Bacharach-inspired theme. Oh, there was merriment aplenty on the M74 this evening as we sped back to Glasgow and, for a good number one suspects, the prospect of a Viper-esque haze of booze.
And well deserved it was too. For though we did not win today, we contributed man-fully to an 11 try thriller, some great rugby and a wee bit of controversy to get the spectating public agitated – all in all, lovely stuff!
But it didn’t start quite so rosy, for after just 5 mins the prodigious boot of Craig McCann had us on the back foot with a penalty to give the home side a 3- 0 lead. We responded almost immediately however following a deft kick-through from Loomesy on the blind side and Ross pounced to touchdown: 3 – 5 after just 10 minutes.
From the re-start we collected the ball and drove down the pitch and after a series of forward drives, the recycled ball gave Brad the chance to punch a hole in the midfield: he did, and Ross was once again on hand to scamper over – and with the conversion, we were sitting pretty at 3 – 12.
15 minutes of Accies possession and territorial domination then followed as we pounded the Annan line, but a speculative pass in the midfield, borne one suspects out of frustration, led to an interception which saw Annan hare up the park and almost score and the resultant hack-through was touched down by Gus to give Annan a 5m scrum. As if out-of-breath from all the excitement, we then let the home side pick and drive at us for a number of phases after winning the scrum, and ultimately over they went. Uninspiring stuff really, but effective nonetheless: 8 – 12 following a missed conversion.
Accies promptly marched down the field after the re-start and Kenny nearly went over. A questionable knock-on gave them the scrum which was used to good effect and their lines were cleared. But from the line-out we set up a series of good phase play which gave Ben the opportunity to deftly prod the ball past the ever-encroaching Annan defence, dribble it like the recently departed Tom Finney and swoop happily onto the ball as it tottered over the line with the Annan defence slipping and sliding in their attempts to get to grips with him. 8 – 17 then and we were looking “promising”.
From the restart, Annan reverted to type, picked and drove up the park and, despite some quite heroic efforts from “Les Freres Robertson” and Beaver, crossed our line on the stroke of half-time. Once again, pretty uninspiring stuff from a spectating point of view – though ultimately successful as, with the conversion, we turned at half-time to face the hill, the wind and the dying sun (yes, it did shine this afternoon!) HT: 15 – 17.
A nasty injury to Gus in the concession of that try saw him leave the field at half-time, and though we were ably placed with replacements, it took us a while to get organised: Annan took advantage and scored after a series of good handling moves by their backs, orchestrated by scrum-half Mark Clarke. Though the conversion was missed, Annan took the lead for the first time since the opening moments of the match and went 20- 17 ahead. But our response was immediate and up the park we marched after the re-start and ultimately Brad broke through: Annan were penalised for any number of subsequent misdemeanours at the breakdown. And though Loomesy butchered his chance at goal with the penalty attempt, the momentum of the match was with us. The subsequent 22 was poorly executed, Ross returned the ball with it in hand, chipped through (admittedly poorly executed this time) and we eked our way back into their 22. We stayed there for the next 5 minutes and when we got a free kick for a delayed put-in, Ben was more aware than everyone around him, popped it to Elliot who shipped it on to the backs and Nifty delivered a superbly weighed pass to Chris J to beat the cover defence and finish well in the corner. 20 – 22 then, as Loomsey’s kick at goal went wide once again.
From this particular re-start Annan proceeded to march down the pitch and heavily pressurised our 22. Rumour has it that Elliot then managed to steal a turn-over and, after some quick thinking by Loomsey, the ball dropped into the lap of Ross and off he hared up the pitch. Annan’s centre’s tried manfully to cover and had him in their sights, but a quite magnificent slight of hand at the last moment “mugged” the covering centre and over the FB went. Loomsey, who didn’t have the best of days with his boot, missed the conversion but at 20 – 27 we were looking good.
Once again, from the kick-off Annan marched down the pitch. In truth, their “pick-and-drive” game was a tad disappointing for the touchline purist – their backs are some of the best in the league and deserved more of a chance – but their game-plan was nonetheless effective. Some quite magnificent “D” from our boys saw us hold out their very determined attacks, but almost inevitably their efforts led to a 5m scrum on 70 mins. From that set piece it appeared to everyone, including the Annan Faithful if we’re all being honest, that though the scrum had turned way more than 90 degrees, myopia overtook the ref and their 2nd row (yes, their second row) picked from the scrum and drove over. Credit to the boy for being aware, but there isn’t a ref in the northern hemisphere – bar ours today – who wouldn’t have seen the travesty of the situation. And so, with the conversion to follow, it was 27 apiece with barely 10 to go.
And then we scored. Again. I’ll be honest and say I’m not quite sure what happened but from the kick-off, we seemed to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and after some good interplay in the backs, Ross was in the right place at the right time once again to go over: and with Loomesy’s less than convincing conversion staggering over, it was 27 – 34 with 6 minutes or so to play.
In truth, we had the opportunity to close out the game as older heads (e.g. Mikey H) extolled team-mates to “play smart”. But it all got a bit frantic and Annan, with the ball in hand, hammered down the park. The long and the short of it was that, whilst we were down to 14 men due to a head injury, they pressed us in our 22, had the chance to hack thru and, as the ball danced about across our line, they pounced. Stand-off McCann calmly slotted the subsequent conversion and with barely time to draw breath after the restart, it was all over.
So, an 11 try thriller then, 6 to us, 5 to them: we got 2 conversions and they got 3 plus their penalty. Points all-round even if there was no out-right winner and there must have been some happy sponsors who’d turned out in force to cheers the home side on. Congrats to the Annan committee for hosting the match – great hospitality for the Accies Buftties that turned out. Special mention to Frame Snr. who ran the line in the second half – masses of enthusiasm big chap, if not 100% accuracy – and to Ker’s Touchline Fanclub who could be heard throughout as far away as Chaplecross.
MOTM – we all know who. Great performance young man. Special mention too to Annan’s no.9, Mark “Sparky” Clarke – curiously, he wasn’t listed to play so is the match invalid then? – but, with his crisp and accurate service throughout the 80 he was a pleasure to watch and gave a glimpse of just what “might-have-been” had it not been for all those injuries. Lovely stuff wee man, and great to see you back in the game.
Ref Watch: Ref Tom McNichol does seem to have a penchant for fushia-pink this season, which is surprising because it really doesn’t suit either him or his demeanour on the pitch. Once again, he failed to spot a significant head injury to a player at a crucial point in the game (though did act promptly on an earlier one) and his failure to grasp the basic laws of physics when it comes to a front row drive (and a subsequent 90 degree turn) was surprising for a ref who’s been on the scene for more than just a season or two. But despite his reluctance to give the game his go-ahead pre-kick-off, he managed affairs reasonably effectively and with an even hand. So he gets a (mediocre) 7/10 this week. Only glaring and quite inexplicable error was his failure to deal with Annan’s no.12, James Bigham – yes son, you are being quite deliberately “named-and-shamed” – for his quite blatant and shocking, second-half stamping on scrum-half Ben Frame’s face. Even if there had been any doubt about your actions during the match, the post-match, HD replay of the game in the clubhouse afterwards showed just how deliberate and reckless you were. You won’t be so lucky to get away with it next time.