The penultimate weekend of RBS Premier 1, and while the major issues of championship (Ayr) and relegation (Boroughmuir) had already been confirmed, much else has still be decided in this competitive and evenly balanced league. Dundee HSFP and Edinburgh Accies met at a muddy Mayfield on Saturday, knowing they both still had a chance of British & Irish Cup qualification, or a relegation play off. Despite the persistent rain a big crowd gathered for the match with the ‘sold out’ signs up for lunch & a vocal away support travelling through from Raeburn Place. With home advantage, an experienced pack and a near full strength line up Dundee HSFP were favourites to win in these conditions. Their only absentees were stand off Brandyn Laursen (now returned to NZ), Andy Redmayne (concussion) and tight head Allan Brown who was pulled out of the advertised line up before kick off. In contrast Accies were without a number of their promising youngsters – Alex Allan & Hamish Watson were with the Club International XV, Ruaridh Young, Sam Pecquer and Callum Black with Scotland U20’s, while Jamie Farndale, Josh Pecquer, Lewis Niven and Euan Bonner are all out injured at present.
Dundee took the lead in the 7th minute when their workhorse lock forward Richie Hawkins drove over after a series of pick & drives; young Jack Steele added the conversion, Both sides were trying hard to adapt to the conditions, with low grubber kick offs, tight driving play, and short midfield passes, but it soon became apparent it might be one of these days when rugby is easier to play without the ball, than with it. Accies got their first points on the scoreboard after 17 minutes later when Rauridh Bonner opted to kick a penalty to the corner, and following a clean catch & drive, their forwards mauled over with Dan Teague claiming the 5 pointer. 2 minutes later they doubled their points tally. Alex Black broke down the left touchline, exchanged passes with Alex Blair, and gave left winger Nyle Godsmark a run in for their 2nd try, again unconverted. That was to be end of the scoring for the 1st half as Accies took a 10-7 lead into the break. Although Dundee have a solid pack, much of their good play this year has been led by the athletic breakaway Iain Wilson, and the ground under foot just gave him no support in his running today. There was little threat in the backs from Dundee except for the occasional burst by Andy McLean off his wing. This was partly due to the line speed & defence of Berthinussen & Campbell in the centre for Accies, but perhaps also due to the absence of Laursen – Steele probably manages the game better & is a more solid player, but Laursen was a little more unpredictable at getting his backs running & Dundee will need to look at the 10 position for next season. Accies weren’t much more adventurous in their backs, but in the forwards Duncan Morrison was competing well at the scrum, Tom Drennan was athletic in claiming line out ball, and Dan Teague was revelling in the close quarter play that was dictated by the ground conditions.
Dundee came out for the 2nd half with clean shirts, which was just as well since it was difficult to distinguish between the two team at the end of the half. But it was the one clean-shirted Accie who really made a difference; Robin Snape coming on for Ryan Godsmark at flanker, and burying himself in the forward battle with great relish on his long awaited return to the 1st team from injury absence.
3 minutes into the 2nd half Alex Blair had a lovely show & go, which created some space to set Nyle Godsmark running again, and after he was tackled, Accies forwards recycled it for the industrious Michael Liness to plough over. Bonner added his first conversion of the day to make it 17-7. Steele and Bonner then exchanged penalties to make the score 20-10 going into the final quarter. Levison gave Dundee hope when he bulldozed his way over & Steele converted to narrow the gap to 3 points, and with Longwell and Linton now on for Dundee it looked like a tense finish, but Alex Black took increasing control of the game, kept his forwards on the front foot, and the only score in the last quarter was a 2nd penalty for Rauridh Bonner.
Dundee’s losing bonus point means they actually move out of the bottom 2, above Currie. With Stirling County at home in their final league game, and then Ayr at home in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup, they still have a chance to give long serving coach Ian Rankin a memorable and well-deserved send off. As for Accies, there is a steeliness about them that is very impressive. Not only were they missing a host of young internationals but coach Simon Cross was also in France with the U20’s. In his absence, Johnny Else, was a calm, reassuring presence on the touchline, keeping his instructions simple, reminding his players over and over again of their key tactics with just 2 or 3 words. Not only is Raeburn Place proving a fine finishing school for aspiring young professionals, but it is evident that their coaches are adding value to the game of ordinary club players who have made their way there – Godsmark,
Findlater and Linness all being good examples of players who punched above their weight in this well drilled team.
Both teams are to be congratulated on producing such an absorbing encounter in difficult conditions.
So, one round of games to go in Premier 1 and every one of them will have a bearing on B&I qualification and on relegation. Unfortunately the Melrose v AGSFP game was postponed on Saturday because Melrose had 4 players away with the club International XV, so those 2 teams may well have a small advantage in knowing what they need to do when they play their delayed game at the end of the season.