SAINTS SOAR IN THE SUNSHINE
Dumfries Saints 41 – Ardrossan Academicals 18
Sunny skies over Park Farm proved a mixed blessing. Conditions were ideal for exciting, running rugby – but with the harvest having been set back by weeks of rain, the farmers in the team made late call offs to bring in the last of their barley. Farmers were also missing from the home support, along with those who were perhaps catching up in their gardens. So it was a small crowd that gathered to watch a re-jigged Saints side take on Ardrossan Academicals.
Ardrossan were in the same position as the Saints – sitting at the bottom of Premiership Three. And they were just as determined to get a win under their belts, in order to get their league season back on course.
Right from the kick-off, both sides hammered into each other. In the scrambles for possession, both gave away strings of penalties and scrums, with the two scrum-halves having a ding-dong battle that continued throughout the game with Saints’ Aaron Watson showing the attacking and harassing qualities that merited his call-up from New Zealand.
When Ardrossan were penalized for straying off-side on the half way line, Tom Hiddleston uncharacteristically missed the posts, but in running it back Ardrossan were guilty of another infringement while trying to retain possession at a ruck. This time the kick split the posts to put Dumfries into a 3-0 lead.
The game had been balanced on a knife edge for the first 15 minutes, but with points on the board, the Saints settled into some sort of rhythm. Unlike in previous weeks, they weren’t over-committing players at rucks – partly because open-side flanker Chris Thomson was having such an effective game at the breakdown – allowing themselves far better shape in defence.
At the same time, Captain Jamie Little was starting to steal ball at the Ardrossan line-out and it was from line-out ball that Tom Hiddleston tested the Ardrossan defence with a soaring up-and-under. Veteran prop Keith Geddes showed a stunning turn of speed to gather the spilt ball before handing it on to racing centre Murray Richardson who went in under the posts, giving Hiddleston an easy conversion, 10-0 to Dumfries.
With their confidence growing, the Saints found an extra gear and began playing the game at a frantic pace with Murray Richardson, Kenny Henderson, Sam Hiddleston and Rory Steele making some exciting breaks. As did winger Johnnie Sloan – though he was eventually caught without support when trying to run back a kick, and gave away a penalty for holding on. This allowed Ardrossan to get their on the scoreboard, 10-3.
There were odd moments, throughout the game, when the Saints showed they could be patient and move steadily upfield, retaining possession through the phases, rather than making an unsupported run that ends with the ball in their opponents’ hands, or losing possession by kicking it away – though it has to be said that the better judged kicks did create some fine opportunities. Saints excelled at retaining possession, with the forwards dealing with any slow ball, when they were climbing through the leagues in seasons past. It’s a skill they would do well to remember now they’ve arrived in the Premiership.
The penalty count continued to soar. When Ardrossan’s No. 8 came in at the side of a ruck, the referee finally lost patience and produced a yellow card for persistent infringement. Hiddleston kicked the penalty, 13-3 to Dumfries. The next penalty came when an Ardrossan player interfered with a Saints’ player chasing a kick, 16-3.
Half time was fast approaching, and this seemed to spur Ardrossan to raise their game. Despite still being a man down, their burly forwards threw themselves at the Saints defence and finally created a hole through which they rampaged towards the try line, but Jamie Little was on hand to make the try-saving tackle.
Saints’ No 8, Michael Scott was third man up, and got his hands on the ball as he was entitled to do. However, with more players joining, the referee judged he had delayed releasing at the instruction, “Hands off, it’s a ruck.” The yellow card appeared again, and Michael walked for 10 minutes in the sin bin.
Moments later, the Ardrossan miscreant returned to the field, and as the whistle blew for half-time, Saints were facing 15 with 14 men.
From the restart, the street wise Ardrossan forwards came back into the game and made the most of their extra man with rolling mauls that took them up to the Saints’ line. Desperate defence kept them out, but they were awarded a scrum, and went for a push-over. It seemed that replacement prop and Saints’ talisman Eck Sloan had opted not to bind, got twisted and went to ground, collapsing the advancing Ardrossan pack – though Saints’ supporters may argue that he simply slipped.
Others might have issued a warning and re-set the scrum, but the referee immediately awarded a penalty try to Ardrossan which was converted, clawing the score back to 16-13. And it didn’t stop there. With the Saints defence stretched, Ardrossan quickly grabbed another try and took the score to 16-18.
During the 10 minutes when Saints were down a man, Ardrossan had scored 15 points and taken the lead. However, with the Saints finally restored to their full complement, Ardrossan soon reverted to giving away penalties.
Firstly they were guilty of diving over the ball at a ruck, and then for holding a Saints player by the neck. Hiddleston kicked both and Dumfries regained a slender lead, 22-18 with 25 minutes left to play.
Once again, the Saints found that extra gear and raised the pace of the game while retaining possession. Fast ball at a ruck found Kenny Henderson filling in at fly-half. He didn’t hesitate in passing on the ball to the waiting line where it whipped through three sets of hands before reaching Tom Hiddleston who rounded the Ardrossan defence to score. He missed the conversion, but Saints were pulling ahead at 27-18.
Ardrossan were fighting hard to get themselves back into the game, by fair means and foul. The referee produced a third yellow card when their prop failed to roll away at a tackle. Just to make matters worse for himself and his team, he then voiced an opinion regarding the referee’s decision, and the yellow card was replaced with a red. That needless bit of back-chat ensured that Ardrossan would have play out the last 15 minutes with just 14 men. Saints were to score 14 points in this period.
Saints forced a scrum close to the Ardrossan line. Michael Scott tried the pick up and go from No.8, only to be knocked back by the defence – but possession was retained and a long pass from Jamie Little to the blind side found Rory Steele who raced in at the corner. Hiddleston succeeded with the awkward conversion, taking the score to 34-18.
The next try came from a finely judged kick ahead which was taken in the air by Rory Steele who drew in the last of the Ardrossan defence before slipping the ball to Kenny Henderson who galloped in under the posts, making it an easy conversion for Hiddleston. Final score, 41-18.
Dumfries Saints have now reached a level where their results are reported on national television. On STV Rugby, Andy Nichol described this as, “an easy win for Dumfries,” but those who were biting their nails while the Saints lost a man and their lead, only to come back with all guns blazing, might have described it in very different terms.
Team: K Geddes, R MacMillan, S MacKinnon, D Henderson, A Mather, J Little (Capt), C Thomson, M Scott, A Watson, T Hiddleston, R Steele, M Richardson, K Henderson, J Sloan, S Hiddleston, E Sloan, A Lean, C Thomson, J Farquhar, S Renwick.
Tom Hiddleston leads the break
Aaron Watson takes off with Kenny Henderson and Johnnie Sloan in support.
Murray Richardson on his way to scoring
Rory Stelle holds on his man as he breaks through the defence
Sam Hiddleston weaves his way through