Dumfries Saints 24 Annan 10
Dumfries Saints and Annan have never met in a national league fixture. When Dumfries slumped in the 1990’s Annan passed them on their way up without the two sides meeting. Saints have worked hard achieving promotion in each of the last five seasons to get back on level terms. The size of the crowd at Park Farm on Saturday showed that the supporters of both sides had been waiting for this one!
Saints kicked off into the wind and straight away the visitors used the wind to pin them back and test the home defence. It wasn’t long before Saints started to get possession and build the phases though as they worked their way deep into Annan territory. Saints controlled the ball well attacking the channels before Captain Jamie Little made the blindside break to release winger Taraiasai Dobui for an excellent try. The Fijian winger was enjoying his first start in the side this season and certainly took his chance well! Alan Birdsall was unable to make the conversion count into the wind.
From the kick off Annan put the pressure back on Saints, the home side made a hash of clearing their lines and eventually gave up a penalty which fortunately McCann pulled wide. Saints still hadn’t learnt their lesson and rushed the drop out allowing Annan to move the ball slickly through their backs. But Dobui, or Dobs as everyone knows him, showed his liking for the big tackle and flattened man and ball to stop the threat and bring a big cheer from the crowd.
Saints were being a little naive and not taking opportunities to clear their lines but seemed to have weathered the storm as they gradually worked their way downfield. After 20 minutes young full back Rory Steele fielded an Annan clearance and ran straight back at them. He weaved his way through defenders and when caught just yards out gave a great reverse pass to prop Roy Dunlop up in support. The big prop almost made the line and when taken down Annan conceded the penalty rather than allow Saints quick ball. Alan Birdsall converted for 8-0 and things looked good for the Saints.
Just when the home supporters were starting to relax the Saints took the foot off the pedal, a dangerous thing to do against this lively looking Annan side. A midfield penalty to the Saints was reversed for unnecessary lip, a costly mistake as McCann coolly took the three points to bring the visitors back into it. Saints responded with some rapid attacking play of their own. Alex Bryden broke through and released Kenny Henderson who almost made it to the line. Saints maintained the pressure but then gave away a soft penalty. Bad enough that they released the pressure but they then went to sleep as Annan took the quick tap and raced away downfield. A try saving tackle from Rory Steele stopped them only yards from the Saints line, Saints conceded the penalty but only temporarily delayed the inevitable as Annan spun the ball wide for an easy try. McCann converted and after being comfortably 8-0 up Saints were now 10-8 down and rattled.
The second quarter was undoubtedly Annan’s best period, Saints looked shaky for a while as Annan tried to run everything and release their slick backline. Saints slowly clawed their way back into the game and as half time approached at last began to get some territorial dominance again. Their reward was a penalty that Birdsall slotted for an 11-10 half time lead, all to play for!
The second half started with both sides kicking long and trying to establish field position. The game was very tense and very scrappy! Both sides conceded penalties and probably both felt aggrieved but the first to take advantage were the Saints when 10 minutes into the half Birdsall knocked another penalty over to stretch the lead to 14-10. Now the Saints lifted their game as their pack sort to dominate possession and pin back the visitors. Annan alternatively took any chance to move the ball wide and try and stretch the Saints defence but to no avail. Saints second rows Ben Stanley and Ali Mather were dominating the line outs, steeling Annan ball frequently. Stuart Clanachan, Daniel Henderson and Jamie Little in the back row were charging everywhere and the front row of Gareth McCall, Keith Geddes and Roy Dunlop were putting in a mighty shift covering and supporting around the park.
Ali Mather managed to charge down an attempted clearance deep in the Annan 22, it almost led to a score but was scrambled clear. Saints maintained the pressure and when awarded a penalty kicked into touch on the five yard line rather than take the three points. From the line out the Saints forwards mounted a series of attacks on the Annan line, it wasn’t pretty but their patience paid off when Ben Stanley drove over to score a well deserved try. Birdsall converted and the lead was stretched to 21-10 with only 15 minutes to go.
Saints maintained the pressure and quickly earned another penalty which Birdsall converted. Annan were desperately trying to get back into the game but the Saints were on top now and there was no way through for them. Centre Jamie Farquhar, who was everywhere all afternoon in attack and defence, and young winger Craig Bryson, kept on making the tackles. In the last ten minutes young Ross Henderson and Dougie Crichton came on to freshen up the Saints pack and the game ended with Saints still on the attack and 24-10 up!
Director of Rugby Russell Marchant said “I am delighted for all the players and the coaches, they got it right today under a lot of pressure. This was a good team performance with only a short period in the first half when we didn’t play as we wanted to. This side will get better every week!”
Team; G McCall, K Geddes, R Dunlop, B Stanley, A Mather, D Henderson, J Little, S Clanachan, A Birdsall, A Bryden, C Bryson, J Farquhar, K Henderson, T Dobui, R Steele. Subs, R Henderson, D Crichton, J Currie.
Eck Bryden high stepping through the Annan defence
Daniel Henderson charges the Annan midfield defence
An Annan hand tries to stop the Saints pressure – unsuccessfully!!!
Daniel Henderson races away with Birdsall in support