The value of the B&I cup was evidenced for all to see in Balerno on Saturday when Dundee HSFP produced some outstanding periods of intense, ambitious, 15-man rugby, that left Currie for large parts of the game looking a little one paced, and a little hung over from New Year. Dundee have simply got better & better this year, and the experience of playing against Welsh & English clubs has clearly done them good.
Currie did not have their difficulties to seek on Saturday – they were without Fergus Scott, John Cox and Johnny Gray from their pack, while Richard Sneddon and Jamie Forbes were absent from the backs. The narrow ridge that Premier 1 teams walk one tier below the professional game is also apparent in their play just now – Currie have exposed, developed & subsequently lost to the professional ranks Tom Brown, Matt Scott, and Dougie Fife in recent seasons; they are in one sense at a point in the cycle where they are victims of their own success in developing good players.
This year they are giving good game time to men such as Gregor Hunter, James Johnstone, Fergus Scott and Johnny Gray, and while that is all very good for their personal development, there was just a suggestion on Saturday that they were lacking a little cohesiveness and rugby is nothing when it is not a team game. In contrast Dundee had last year’s Premier 1 Player of the Year Richie McIver back to his rampaging best, linking superbly with Danny Levison and Stevie Longwell in forward interplay, and their inside backs – Lavery, Laursen, Steele and Duthie – look increasingly settled together, so much so that they could incorporate Rory Lamont seamlessly into the full back position after a year long injury.
Presumably it was Lamont’s appearance that had both Gregor Townsend and Scott Johnson in attendance at the game – it may be a big ask to expect Lamont to be part of the 6 Nations this year, but with the Scotland coaching squad just meeting each other for the first time on Monday, Rory may have timed his return to fitness nicely at least for one of these watching coaches hoping to incorporate his hard running into their team plans over the next few weeks. Lamont left the field after 60 minutes with a handshake for Dundee Coach Ian Rankin, and a heartfelt ‘thank you for letting me play for you’.
He’s not the only person in Scottish Rugby with a debt of gratitude to the experienced Dundee supremo; Iain Wilson, Andy McLean and Jack Steele all look to be developing game awareness, rugby skills and confidence due to their consistent selection, Stevie Longwell looks like the find of the season at loose head, and young Kiwi Brandyn Laursen, having frustrated many a Dundee supporter in his early games, looks as though he is beginning to justify Rankin’s faith in him, delivering some sweet running rugby in this game, and showing a little more game management than I have previously observed in him.
Steele opened the scoring for Dundee with an early penalty before McIver crashed over in the 15th for the game’s first try, following a 5m lineout and a good pick and drive. Jack Steele added two more penalties to give Dundee a 14-0 lead and when Alan Whittingham was then yellow carded for Currie, the home side’s prospects were already looking gloomier than the mid winter’s darkness descending upon Malleny Park. However, a clever interception by Van Der Westerlo that set James Johnstone free to run in from half way for a try against the run of play gave them a glimmer of hope.
It was no more than that as Dundee responded quickly with an outstanding try set up by some lovely running by Laursen before Lamont twisted, turned and crashed over in familiar fashion for Dundee’s 2nd try. 21-7 to the visitors at half time.
The second half saw the introduction of the experienced Richie Hawkins, and the developing Gavin Robertson for Dundee and it was Hawkins who claimed their third try 10 minutes into the 2nd half, for a 28 -7 lead. Currie then enjoyed their best spell of the game with substitute Andy Binikos adding some pace to their attacking intent and while Dundee defended well for a good 10 minutes, eventually a Currie flanker, lurking in the darkness on the touchline, scored in the far corner. There was time for one more try for Dundee that gave them the bonus point, Laursen again running beautifully before exchanging passes with the swift Andy McLean, and touching down under the posts. Jack Steele’s 6th success from 7 kicks made the final score 35-12
Finally, slipped in among the SRU coaching announcements last week was the selection of Phil Leck as Scottish Club XV coach this year. Why? He’s only been here a year, is coaching with Hawick, so won’t even have seen many Premier 1 players. Another kick in the teeth for talented Scottish coaches.