Whitecraigs 27 Dumfries Saints 38
It was with some trepidation the newly promoted Saints squad travelled to Glasgow on Saturday to take on old rivals Whitecraigs who had survived National 2 last season. In excellent conditions the two teams started at a furious pace with Whitecraigs showing a level commitment at the breakdown Saints had learned to weather in their last games of last season. Michael Thomson won a quick clean ball from a lineout on the Whitecraigs 22 and from there fast passes took the ball to full back Sam Hiddleston entering the line at a speed which took him past the flatfooted Whitecraigs defence to score under the posts. John Carlisle converted to take the score to 0 : 7
Whitecraigs retained possession in the Saints half winning a penalty for offside to draw back 3 points. Saints were holding their own in the set pieces and the blistering pace of the game was showing they had the better passing game but Whitecraigs had some strong ball carriers who could stay on their feet in the tackle. Sam Hiddleston broke through their defensive line on halfway, kicked ahead and chased reaching the ball first out wide behind the Whitecraigs line. The conversion was missed and the score was 3 : 12.
Failure to bring players down allowing them time to offload led to a fairly soft try to Whitecraigs, the conversion was missed taking the score to 8 : 12. Two try Sam Hiddleston caught a deep clearance and ran the ball back at the Whitecraigs line as he does so often but this time instead of breaking the tackles he had to leave the field with damaged ribs. The Saints back line had to be restructured with Alan Birdsall to scrum half, Jack Johnstone to wing, Keagan Jones to Centre and John Carlisle to full back. At the same time tight head prop Scott Goodwin was struggling with a foot injury he carried into the game and was forced off to be replaced by Euan Mack then Ryan Cruikshank took a head knock and had to be replaced by Ali Jackson. This line up took time to settle down and Whitecraigs fully exploited the situation with a well taken try and conversion before half time taking the score to 15 : 12.
Whitecraigs started the second half at an even faster pace and after some excellent ball retention scored out wide but missed the conversion taking the score to 10 : 12. Zeke Dyson came on at hooker for the first time this season replacing young Tom Martin who switched to loose head allowing the tight head position to rotate between Gareth McCall, Euan Mack and a rested Scott Goodwin.
Fitness was starting to tell, Whitecraigs had given all they had and there was still 30 minutes on the clock. First thing that went was their accuracy with spilled balls and mistimed runs leading to an increased number of scrums which Saints were starting to dominate. Ali Jackson at number 8 was making yards picking up at the base of the scrum. Alan Birdsall’s box kicks and Jordan Kerr’s kicks from hand were punishing the tired Whitecraig’s pack and the variety of jumpers in the Saints lineout were stealing Whitecraigs throw ins.
After a series of 5 metre scrums Zeke Dyson powered over and John Carlisle converted. Saints were on fire, some great support running and ball handling put Finlay Miller into space out wide and his pace took him past the covering defence. The conversion bounced off the upright. Another great box kick from Alan Birdsall pinned the Whitecraigs defence in there 5 metre from where a stolen lineout by Michael Thomson was carried to the line by Finlay Miller before offloading to John Carlisle to score and convert. Saints were reduced to 14 men after Keagan Jones was yellow cared for a high tackle.
An excellent turnover on the Whitecraigs 10 metre was carried forward by Zeke Dyson to the 22 then offloaded out wide to young Gavin Wilson who took the defence on their inside shoulder and cut a clean line to score under the posts for John Carlisle to convert.
With a minute to go and score of 20 : 38 perhaps some premature celebrations allowed Whitecraigs a valuable consolation try which, because it was their 4th, gave them a losing bonus point.
This was an excellent 5 point result for the Saints and one that required some character which they showed they had in abundance. Sitting second in the league with one game played they take on leaders Preston Lodge at Park Farm next Saturday, this promises to be a game worth watching.
Squad: Sam Hiddleston, Kenny Henderson, Jack Steele (Captain), John Carlisle, Keagan Jones, Jordan Kerr, Alan Birdsall, Jack Johnstone, Gareth McCall, Tom Martin, Scott Goodwin, Euan Mack, Zeke Dyson, Will Green, Michael Thomson, Ryan Cruikshank, Finlay Miller, Gavin Wilson and Ali Jackson.
In other weekend news the Saints 2nd XV beat Carrick 2nd XV away 19 : 75.