COLIN RENTON @ BT Murrayfield
PORTOBELLO lifted the first silverware of Cup Finals Day with victory in the BT Bowl over a determined Blairgowrie side in a match that was brimming with endeavour and no little skill. In the end, the slick handling of Portobello was enough to prevail over opponents who defended with great character and resolutely refused to surrender.
Cheered on by a sizeable crowd armed with drums and trumpets, the contest was a rip-roaring occasion, with the eventual winners making their intentions clear from the first whistle.
Luke Chan made the first impression in the opening minute when he stepped on the accelerator and blazed down the left wing, but the move foundered ten metres from the line when his inside pass went to ground. The full-back was also involved in the build up to a third minute penalty which handed Chris Britee-Steer a chance to open the scoring. However, his attempt was wide of the mark.
The momentum was firmly with the seasiders and it was no surprise when they made a breakthrough with the ball moved wide to Ali Bain, who rounded two defenders as he raced down the wing to take his touchdown tally to 31 for the season. Britee-Steer added the extras.
The restart took Blairgowrie into opposition territory for the first time and a thundering charge by Euan Constable sparked a spell of pressure that stretched the Portobello defence. A catch and drive at a line-out just shy of the opposition line was halted short but a secondary surge allowed Constable to plunge over for a try.
The missed conversion left the gap at two points, but within two minutes it had grown again. And once more it was Bain who did the damage, stepping on the gas to outstrip the final defender.
Portobello were now back in the ascendancy and after battering without success at a determined defence, they found a way through when Cammy Walker delivered a deft offload for Donald Burn and the tighthead crashed over for try number three, injuring himself in the process.
To their credit, Blairgowrie again responded with a fresh offensive and five minutes from the break they clawed back three points when Stephen Souter landed a penalty after a high tackle. They were unable to add to their points tally but ended the half with a numerical advantage after Gabriel Harvey was yellow carded after pulling down a maul.
Blairgowrie restarted well and earned a scrum just shy of the whitewash and a powerful shunt allowed Finlay Ormiston to pick up at the base and race through a gap to touch down. Souter’s conversion trimmed the deficit to just two points.
Restored to full complement, Portobello were soon back on the attack and Harvey came close to atoning for his earlier misdemeanour but had the ball dislodged from his grasp just short.
However, the score was coming and arrived following a strike against the head at the ensuing scrum, with the Blairgowrie eight driven backwards and Graham Culbertson applying the final touch.
The wide Murrayfield pitch started to take its toll, and pace started to slow a little. Portobello rang the changes entering the final quarter and managed to maintain their pressure.
That yielded a penalty which Britee-Steer banged over to take the gap into double figures for the first time.
Blairgowrie battled back once more, but this time the task was beyond them and Portobello clinched the silverware with ten minutes to go when Robbie Stewart was held just short but the ball was worked out to Bain, who dotted down in the corner to complete his hat-trick.
Souter clawed back three points with a penalty but Britee-Steer cancelled that out. However, the gutsy Blairgowrie side refused to concede defeat and raised the pace for one final time. Ormiston was held up over the line but claimed his second try of the afternoon when he forced his way over at the subsequent scrum.
However, that was of little consequence for Britee-Steer and his team mates, whose season has been a triumph given that it has been achieved without a recognised coach. And he is hoping that this is only the beginning.
“We got promotion and we are hoping that we can attract a coach through our achievements, someone with a bit of experience,” he said. “Our ambition is to go as high as possible.”
The trio who have been responsible this season have clearly worked well with the players and the skipper also has a key role to play.
“I have to relay as much information as possible. In general it is quite easy because we make the decisions there and then. Any down time we have, we try to talk about what’s working and what’s not working, how we change things and how we can exploit any weaknesses in the defence.”
While disappointed with the outcome, his counterpart Andrew McOuat saw many reasons to be optimistic for the future, not least the effort in the final quarter.
“We have really turned things around this season. For us it has always been the last 20 minutes that have let us down. Actually we seemed to up it a gear in the last 20 minutes. We never really gave up. We’ve got a lot of passion there. We decided to give it our best shot and we had nothing to lose – that’s the attitude we’ve got now and it’s fantastic,” he said.
Blairgowrie: S Souter; R Grant, F Maxwell, F Bissett, J McLaren; M Davidson, R Edwards; P Duncan, D Malloch, E Constable, M Reddin, N MacRae, A McQuat, F Black, F Ormiston. Subs: P Douglas, C Thoms, D Grieve, M Michie, R Gordon, A Walsh, M Grant.
Portobello: L Chan; C Johnston, M Walker, H Munro, A Bain; C Britee-Steer, F Mackay; E Gibson, D Sanchez, D Burn, D Roe, C Walker, M Boyter, G Harvey, G Culbertson.Subs: M Moran, M Ridd, S Kneeshaw, W Murray, E Robb, R Stewart, K Jeffrey
Referee: F Hollins
Blairgowrie: Tries: Constable, Ormiston 2, Con: Souter; Penalties; Souter 2
Portobello: Tries: Bain 3, Burn, Culbertson; Pens; Britee-Steer 2; Con; Britee-Steer
Scoring sequence: (Blairgowrie first): 0-5; 0-7; 5-7; 5-12; 5-17; 8-17 (h-t) 13-17; 15-17l; 15-22; 15-25; 15-30; 18-30; 18-33; 23-33
Yellow Cards –
Portobello: Gabriel Harvey (40)
Man-of-the-Match: There were contenders on both sides, with Blairgowrie’s Finlay Ormiston catching the eye and Portobello having several stand-out performers. And it was the eventual winners who had the star man in the shape of hat trick hero Ali Bain.
Talking Point: Massive credit is due to the trio of senior players who have taken charge at Portobello in the absence of a recognised coach and have developed a high-paced offloading style of rugby that secured the silverware.