Dumfries Saints 21 Murrayfield Wanderers 18
Murrayfield Wanderers cam to Park Farm knowing a win was necessary to ignite their promotion campaign, Saints knew a win was necessary to maintain their push for a sixth successive promotion! The scene was set for high pressure game in the freezing fog that enveloped Dumfries.
The visitors were certainly up for this one as they started at pace, the first few minutes were all about Murrayfield pressure but Saints settled and worked their way upfield. Full back Rory Steele ran a clearing kick back at the visitors and when he put in a delicate chip over the defence he was late tackled for his troubles, an easy three points for Alan Birdsall to kick.
Saints seemed fired up by these early points and maintained the pressure, second row Ali Mather made an excellent 30 yards break but the support was too slow to get to him. Saints got their reward within minutes though after lose ball was cleaned up and shipped via Jamie Little to Jamie Farquhar who popped up on the wing. There seemed to be no space to work in, or was that just the fog playing tricks? Farquhar set off at pace and left the defence flat footed as he scored an excellent opportunist try, Birdsall kicked and Saints were 10-0 up after 10 minutes.
Murrayfield were not going to be easily subdued and came back at Saints, Saints seemed to relax and switch off. Murrayfield ran scrum ball to a big blindside and then quickly recycled the ball wide the other way, Saints were outflanked and the try was scored. Within minutes a penalty had pulled the visitors back to 10-8 and it was game on. Both sides battled for supremacy and Murrayfield definitely had the territorial advantage, disaster struck before half time when a Saints clearing kick was charged down and Murrayfield moved the ball smartly wide to score in the corner. Half time and Saints were down 15-10.
Saints needed to waken up and get back into the game, sub Eck Sloan came on in the front row to tighten things up and make a first team appearance for the 20th successive year, a great achievement! The half times words of the coaches had obviously shaken things up as the Saints started to tighten up their game plan and use the forwards to punch holes. Almost constant Saints pressure deep in the Murrayfield 22 eventually brought a reward as scrum half Finlay Miller darted through to score after some excellent work and ball retention by the forwards.
It was now all square and within minutes Saints were rocked when from a squint put in to the lineout and following a knock on in midfield Murrayfield kicked a drop goal, Christmas had come early for the visitors! As the clocked ticked into the last quarter Saints needed to get back onto the front foot and they did. The forwards drove into the heart of the Murrayfield pack and repeatedly made the hard yards and kept the pressure on. Inevitably the visitors cracked and conceded a penalty which Birdsall converted to level the match. With ten minutes to go both sides went for the victory but Saints soaked up the attack and then went back downfield themselves, the pick and go tactics of the forwards worked as once again Murrayfield discipline cracked and a penalty was conceded, loose tongues cost an extra 10 yards and Birdsall made the most of it to kick the points. The time ran out with Saints 21-18 ahead.
This was a tough match with both sides desperate for a win, the Murrayfield side certainly came to play rugby and showed themselves to be an excellent side. Saints came out on top but at a price as young fullback Rory Steele was injured and must be doubtful for next week. Director of Rugby Russell Marchant said “we have to be pleased with a win against a side who can beat anyone in the division on their day. The second half performance was excellent, the team showed a lot of character and we need to take that forward into next week’s game. Eck Sloan’s achievement in notching up 20 years of first team rugby is incredible and I’m glad we marked it with a victory”.
Team; G McCall, K Geddes, R Dunlop, B Stanley, A Mather, D Henderson, J Little, S Clanachan, F Miller, A Bryden, A Birdsall, J Farquhar, D Satala, K Henderson, R Steele. Subs, A Sloan, R Haggarty, W Duncan.