Scottish Reserve league West 1 – Dumfries Saints 5 – Kilmarnock 27
On a damp, dreich, miserable December day, an under strength Seconds team, with some highly innovative positional selections, made the journey to Kilmarnock to visit a team whose home form is particularly good. Plagued by injuries, call ups, and work commitments it is the Saints credit that they not only fulfilled the fixture but gave their hosts who fielded an extremely strong side, a fright in the process.
In a re-jigged front row James Cox and captain for the day Blair Milligan propped up Hooker Ross Haggerty. Ross Strawbridge and Roy Dunlop provided the boiler house power. Stuart Kennedy moved to the flank alongside Dougie Crichton with the old warhorse Eck Sloan at No 8 completing a big if somewhat immobile pack. On the bench the two replacements (both forwards) included a not yet fully tuned up Gil Leyva making his welcome return from injury and rugby new man Leon Stanus who completed the line up
It was behind the scrum that the innovation kicked in. Martin Smith continued his scrum half education and acquitted himself well in the process. Stuart Burgess, who continues to gain confidence in the No 10 slot, partnered Smith at half back. The centre berths were filled by two back row forwards, Stevie Wight and Bruce Haggerty who formed an abrasive partnership and kept the speedy Killie backs under check for huge periods of time. Dickie McCornick continues to learn on the wing and had a couple of searching runs which gained substantial ground and bodes well for the future. Saints welcomed back after a near two year break, Bobby Farish, another second row forward, who played out of position on the other wing. Yet another back row forward Justin Little filled the full back berth and impressed with his dealing of the high balls and his aggressive counter attacking prowess.
It was obvious from the outset that Killie was up for this game as they took play to the Saints. With their backs getting time to run it looked as though they could run up a big score but the saints had other ideas. However the combination of a great team effort, superb tackling and excellent attitude restricted them to a six point half time lead courtesy of two penalties.
In the second half Saints came more into the game and when they kept to their plan of pick and drive they caused their hosts big problems. Unfortunately, and rather against the run of play, Killie increased the lead through a converted try to open up a thirteen point gap. Undaunted Saints came back at their opponents and Justin Little crossed for a well deserved try to close the gap and give Saints some hope.
With play deep in their opponents half, a Saints indiscretion gave them a chance to clear their line. From the resultant catch and drive lineout they crossed the whitewash for another converted try to extend their lead. Not to be outdone Saints, by now fully believing in themselves, pressurised their opponents and were making good ground. In the dying minutes an interception converted try by the Killie centre, put a rather unfair reflection on the score sheet to make the final score 27 – 5 to Killie.
The only negative was the failure, by a minority of players, to accept the referee’s decision is disturbing and will need to be addressed. There are huge positives to take from this game although the result went against Saints. Most importantly the team spirit, work rate and the dignified way the players, many of whom were out of position, set about their business were admirable.