If ever there was a game of two halves!
And what a comeback!!!!!
There was a real feeling of anticipation at New Anniesland on Saturday morning. We were heading into one of the most important games of the season and the players were in good heart. Mo Smith had done her usual great job of organising a super lunch for the 60 guests that were to attend, so all was set.
A large squad of Highland supporters spilled off the bus in what only could be described as confident mood. ‘This is our strongest squad and the boys are full of confidence after a good win last week’.
The lunch having ended and everyone was fed and watered, we departed for the stand. However it emerged that Ross Cowan had pulled up in the warm up and was unable to take his place. This is always disrupting for any team and there was concern as to how the team would react.
3.00pm arrived and Highland kicked off with Accies playing away from the clubhouse and our fears were quickly realised. It looked as if Accies were struggling to find any kind of cohesion, and their usual confidence was missing, but Highland were into top gear from the start.
Within the first 5 minutes it was clear that this was not the Accies performance we were all looking forward to, they were indecisive, hesitant and being muscled off the ball. The lineout was struggling, mainly; it has to be said because Highland’s highly experienced No8, Andy Findlater, returning from early retirement, was reading our calls and spoiling the party!
So it was no surprise to the terrific crowd that had assembled to enjoy some quality rugby in the spring sunshine, that Highland crossed Accies line with what looked like some ease. They in fact were playing very impressive 15 man rugby and doing it extremely well. Easy conversion 0 – 7
Well the crowd were clearly stunned by this and thought it was only a matter of time before Accies would get back into the game. Wrong! The try had clearly motivated the Highland players and within a few minutes they were back in Accies 22 and scoring another impressive try, although it has to be said that Accies usually sound defence was looking a bit fragile, again easy conversion 0 – 14
What was happening, had the loss of Ross upset their equilibrium (Lachie would have been surprised at me knowing that word)) so much that they did not know how to get back into this game? Well, despite the fact that every time Accies tried to get things together there would be a knock on or penalty which put them on the back foot, again. Highland were playing some terrific rugby but as the game developed the first part of Accies game, their defence, was starting to click.
A superb piece of Highland passing inside their own half saw their winger clear and the crowd were either cheering for what looked like an inevitable try, or holding their breath in anticipation, the winger was tackled by a defiant Jack McCready under the posts and some great work at the breakdown saw Accies run the ball clear and the panic was over. However Highland were still inside Accies half and when they attacked down the right a desperate Accie hand was deemed to have deliberately knock the ball down – yes, more misery as Chris Woods (not the culprit) was yellow carded.
Down to 14 men, with 5 minutes to go in the first half, could Accies hold out? Well the answer was no. A couple of mistakes from Accies backs saw the pressure back into Accies 22. Just as Accies seemed to have survived, up stepped the inevitable Findlater to take a short pass, close to Accies line and I don’t think Hadrian’s Wall could have stopped him. And yes Accies supporters agony was compounded when the conversion went over.
Halftime – 0 – 21
Accies had spent very little time in Highland’s half, let alone their 22 during the first half and Highland were very good value for their lead.
I think everyone reading this will be thinking the same thing as most of Accies supporters were – what had happened to this Accies team? They play great rugby, we read, and have come out on this crucial Saturday to watch them perform and they have not turned up! What was happening, has the hype been a bit too much?
The Highland supporters, and probably their players, thought that their Christmas had arrived early (very) and they were heading for an unexpected 5 point, try bonus victory. Well whatever Andy Jackson had said to his team at halftime they started the second half as we had hoped they would have done the first. The Highland players were rocked on their heals by the way Accies were now attacking the breakdown and carrying with real commitment, and they were starting to get over the gain line. The play was quickly into the Highland 22 and with the first opportunity of running ball from a forward moving pack a superb pass to Scott Simmons who ran a superb line which took him past the first line of defence, he then beat two defenders and when he was at final defender, off-loaded to his supporting, centre partner, Gordon McGuire, who romped home for Accies first try, under the posts.
Conversion by Adam Lowry was successful 7 – 21
The effect on the home crowd was very noticeable and there was a perceptible change of mood, from the depression at the end of the first half to an awakening of possibilities now. The try had clearly got everyone going, especially the players. There were 35 minutes to go and could Accies stop Highland get a bonus point? Well clearly the players believed they could and were challenging every breakdown and running with a new conviction at the opposition when they had ball in hand. They were not kicking away possession or making the mistakes they had in the first half.
The game continued at a feverish pace and Accies were clearly determined to capitalise on the swing in the games momentum. After some great work just inside Highlands half and running down the stand side the move looked as if it was going to end up in touch, however the ball was chipped ahead and the whole stand nearly blew the roof off as Accies captain Chris Johnstone was first to the ball to touch down. This massive effort however cost us our captain as he damaged his hamstring in the effort – not used to running that fast perhaps – but none the less we now had a conversion from wide out, however it was missed 12 – 21
Could this be happening, could Accies get a losing bonus point, having been 21 points behind? Well Accies were now firing on all cylinders and the forwards were working very hard throughout the pitch and picking and driving with real determination. The backs were also doing their bit and the crowd were getting more and more vociferous. Accies confidence was rising and their opponents beginning to look vulnerable. Working with both backs and forwards and some superb running and passing, under pressure, saw the final pass collected by Ruaridh Wilson and nobody was going to stop him from 10 metres out.
Conversion successful. 19 – 21
There was now real excitement in the stand and there was a simmering of hope that we would get something out of this game. The crowd were screaming encouragements at the players and Accies were back on the attack. However as so often happens in these situations Highland broke out and two penalties saw them into Accies half for the first time in the second half. An unlucky penalty in broken play gave Highland’s stand off a simple kick from in front of the posts, which he converted. 19 – 24
So had the moment passed and was a losing bonus point going to be our reward for a great fightback? Time was running out but Accies were clearly not going to give up, and they worked their way into Highland’s danger zone once again. For what seemed like an age Accies forwards picked and drove from 5 metres out but Highland’s desperate defence was holding out. To their credit Accies did not let white line fever affect them and were keeping their discipline, always difficult when you are coming to the end of your energy levels. They moved the ball from the right and after three or four goes, moved the ball a bit wider and attacked under the posts, when stopped again they moved it back to the right, then back towards the stand. The crowd were now going ballistic with the unbelievable thought that Accies could win this contest. Time was up and the next breakdown would bring the game to an end. The excitement was fantastic and after what seemed like a very long period of ball retention, Jack McCready managed to get between two defenders to cross in the corner.
The try scorer stepped up to attempt an extremely tough, potential match winning kick, from wide, it soared through the air towards the posts and everyone was holding their breath as it looked as if he had done it, but it just shaved the right hand post! What a climax.
Full – time 24 – 24
What a game, Highland playing some great rugby in the first half and seeming to have put themselves into the driving seat, then an outstanding recovery and fightback from a team that demonstrated why they are table toppers this season. A game of rugby that was pulsating for fully 80 minutes.
First 40 minutes Highland 21 – Accies 0
Second 40 minutes Accies 24 – Highland 3
What an amazing game
It was a fantastic day at New Anniesland, starting with a superb lunch, an unbelievable game with the sun shining down, all finished off with some terrific clubhouse chat and a real feeling that rugby within these two clubs is definitely in good heart. More than one supporter said to me ‘that has been a terrific day’. With two group of players giving it everything on the pitch and their respective supporters enjoying the game and the banter in the clubhouse after the game, it is clear that the game is in good heart within these two clubs.
Some additional photos: