Scottish 2nd XV League Division 1 (West) – Helensburgh 2nd XV – 3 – Dumfries 2nd XV 15
On a Saturday, which could decide the title race, the Seconds made their longest trip of the season resolute in their belief that they could maintain their relentless promotion push against a team, they had so comprehensively beaten at Park Farm earlier in the season. The reality brought them back to earth with a savage jolt as they met a completely different outfit, who used every trick in the book, intent on halting the Dumfries juggernaut.
In a strong pack, Sloan and Milligan propped up new dad Simon Robertson in the front row. The very quick agile and skillful youngsters Adam Taylor and Stuart Kennedy formed a highly effective second row that monopolised the touchline exchanges. Justin Little and Dougie Crichton were on the flanks while Bruce Haggerty carried the ball well as he continued at No 8. Behind the scrum Minty and Burgess renewed their partnership at half-back. Minty’s continual harassment of his opposite number disrupted any ball the home team won while Burgess, as he gains confidence, is continuing to develop at stand off. The centre pairing of Riddick and Davidson were highly effective particularly in defence. Davidson continued his recent greatly improved performances with another influential display and some siege gun kicks off his left foot. The speedy back three of Smith, Torrance and McClatchey completed the starting line up. A strong bench comprised of the returning Fraser Carson and John McAndrew, with Strawbridge and Cussie making up the four.
Whilst the outcome was never really in doubt the Saints made things very difficult for themselves and allowed the more streetwise ‘Burgh side to knock them off their game plan. Frustratingly whilst the Saints forwards showed, in glimpses, their real potential they were out maneuvered by the home eight who dominated the rucks, mauls and breakdown points consistently either slowing down or turning over Saints possession. Persistent infringements at the breakdown did not help the Saints cause with the astute ‘Burgh stand off punishing them with a series of long touch kicks.
Helensburgh came out top of the early exchanges kicking a penalty after only three minutes. The game slipped into a war of attrition and almost the rest of the first period was spent in the ‘Burgh half. Saints lack of composure and deviance from the game plan was causing them more problems and increasing their frustrations, mainly brought about by some dogged street-wise defence from the home team. Despite the lions share of possession it took Burgess’s long-range penalty in the dying seconds of the half to bring the game level at 3-3.
After the break, the Saints appeared to have listened to the coaching team plea of playing simple rugby and took the ball at the home defence from the outset. Two minutes in and Saints won a scrum near the home line. No 8 Bruce Haggerty picked up in classic style from the set piece and barged over for the try out wide to give Saints the lead for the first time. Burgess missed the difficult conversion.
With Taylor and Kennedy dominating the touchline, Saints were now rampant and playing their best rugby of the game when they had two tries disallowed. The first after Torrance’s brilliance was rightly overturned by the referee for a rather childish indiscretion as he caught the ball. Minty then had what appeared a perfectly good kick and chase wiped out by the referee who was almost thirty yards away. These setbacks seemed to unnerve the Saints and it took some time to get back on an even keel and could prove pivotal in the run in to the finale of what is proving to be a very close league.
About the sixty-minute mark young Stuart Kennedy, arguably the best player on the pitch, and certainly the most improved player in the team, broke free from a maul just over half way. The youngster set off for the line with the whole ‘Burgh defence in his wake. When the youngster touched down under the posts it gave Burgess the simple conversion to open up a reasonable gap between the teams for the first time. It was now all Saints as they strived for the bonus point but a combination of poor handling, weak commitment at the breakdown, dogged home defence stopped that happening, and Saints heard the final whistle knowing that a five pointer had been there for the taking.
The obvious disappointment in not securing the bonus point, and their post match understanding of where thing went wrong merely illustrated just how far this young Saints team have come.