Accies players arrived at NA knowing that they really needed a win to get their season back on track and that Howe of Fife were in exactly the same position. Two teams that were desperate for points and clearly able to play attacking rugby, if results and points for were any guide.
It was however Accies who appeared to be suffering from early nerves with some hesitant tackling and poor kicking, however they settled themselves and after some really good work by the forwards and control from the half backs, Ryan Sweeney found a gap and opened the scoring. After an unsuccessful conversion Accies were 5 - 0 ahead.
From the kick off Accies recycled the ball and it was moved wide and Wray, the young stand-off who was demonstrated some great vision, made half a break and sent an inside pass, reminiscent of Carter in the World Cup against France, to the supporting forwards. This launched a superb series of runs and off loads between forwards and backs with full-back Mathie finishing off the move for the try. A real reminder of last season rugby and with the successful conversion by Wray, Accies were 12 – 0 ahead.
Accies were clearly now gaining confidence and moving around the park with real purpose and direction. Forwards pressurising their opponents and the backs creating space, and it was from a superb long pass by Wray where he missed out two players to put Mathie clear to cross for his second try on his return from injury. Another successful conversion saw Accies increase their lead to 19 – 0.
Howe are a skilful team with some strong carrying forwards and hard running backs. They also have a young scrum-half who exploited some lazy play from Accies when he took a quick penalty which sucked in the home defence and then moved the ball wide for their wing forward to score wide out on the right which was brilliantly converted to make the score 19 – 7.
Accies were stung by this and Howe took full advantage of some poor defence and once again from a sharply taken penalty they broke through and scored their second try, again converted to make the score 19 – 14.
So suddenly from cruising at 19 – 0 and looking very strong Accies had allowed their opponents back into the game and were now only 4 points ahead and looking very unsure. Could they just hold out to half time and regroup as there was only a few minutes remaining? Howe had very different ideas and yes, would you believe it, from another quickly taken penalty their number 8 romped home to level the scores but another successful conversion put them 2 points clear at 19 – 21. The crowd were expecting the whistle for half time and how disappointing it would be to go into the second half down after their great start. But Accies showed great attitude and with only seconds on the clock they were awarded a penalty, from the restart and put the kick inside the Howe 22 and from the ensuing lineout and good work from the forwards, they recycled ball, scrum half Lowry saw our prop Goodfellow clear on the right and a superb pass released the prop to cross for the last move of the first half and with the conversion saw Accies 26 – 21 ahead.
Half – time 26 – 21
It is always felt that to score just before the end of the first half is a real confidence boost and with Howe having seemingly achieved this for it to be snatched away by Accies last second try it was unclear who would feel better.
Howe certainly came out of the traps with real determination and their big carrying forwards were giving Accies defence a real test. It was also clear that Accies defence had been tightened up and their commitment was equal to the task. Accies had been inside their own half for some considerable time but a superb break by Chris Woods took him inside Howe’s half from just outside his 22, he then noticed the supporting Scot Simmons who raced the final 35 metres through two desperate tacklers to score under the posts, just reward for a hard working centre and the successful conversion made the score 31 – 21.
Accies were committing to many infringements and the penalty count was getting Accies close to a yellow card. Part of the problem was that Accies were trying to tackle man and ball and a slight misjudgement meant the awarding of a penalty for a high tackle. This was keeping Accies inside their half as the Howe stand-off was a very good kicker. Equally Accies forwards were stealing lineout ball and the backs were running back at Howe with determination. The game was still either side’s to win but Accies had control of the scrums throughout this game, credit to forwards coach Ryan Grant, and after Accies had knocked on 15 metres from the opposition line the resultant scrum was driven back by the Accies pack and the ball popped out from the side of their pack and it was pounced on by blind side wing forward Greg Valentine who sent Sweeney clear to score his second try. Jack McCready was successful with his conversion, having taken over from the substituted Cammy Wray. So Accies supporters were feeling a little more relaxed as the score had moved out to 40 -21.
However, Accies second row player, Kane Greggain saw a teammate in a a stramash and entered the fray, unfortunately landing a blow on one of the opposition and the referee had no option but issue a red card. This motivated Howe and demoralise Accies and with the final 10 minutes of the match still to be played, Howe managed to break Accies defence and scored a long range try and although the conversion was missed they had narrowed the gap to 40 – 26.
Still no cause for concerned but Howe’s coach clearly saw the chance for Howe to get to within 7 points and get 2 points out of the game. With only seconds left on the clock Howe’s left winger race clear of the defence from inside his half and managed to squeeze over in the corner to make the score 40 – 31.
Full – time 40 – 31
This was a really entertaining game for all the supporters who had turned out on this beautiful autumn day. Accies showed that they have the playing depth to play some terrific and exciting rugby; despite their current injury issues and Howe of Fife have a team that deserves to be successful as they play flowing and attractive rugby.
For all the loyal Accies support Saturday was a reward for their patience and, despite testing their nerves, I think the team demonstrated that they are a good side with the skills to play some superb rugby. There is some hard work still to do, as once again they gave away tries in two short periods in both halves. I am sure the coaches will be working hard to avoid this against Falkirk next week through at Falkirk.