Currie Chieftains 20
GARY HEATLY @ Malleny Park
CURRIE CHIEFTAINS slipped up at home against a Marr side who showed character in spades to make sure that their fight against relegation continues until the final match of their season.
Four tries in the first half set-up the Troon side for the bonus point victory which means that if they get another bonus point win over Stirling County on 3rd March, and other results go their way, then they could still get off the bottom.
The Chieftains scored an early try, but lost their way after that and in the second half, when the comeback was on, they made a number of errors and showed poor game management at key times.
The losing bonus point means that they are guaranteed to finish in the top four, but they have a lot to work on ahead of their final regular season outing with Heriot’s in a fortnight.
“We shot ourselves in the foot in this one. That is no disrespect to Marr because they came and made it very difficult for us as they are scrapping for their lives, but we made too many errors,” said Chieftains co-captain Fergus Scott.
“We slipped off tackles in the first half to allow them to score four tries and we were always chasing things after that. We almost made a comeback, but you can’t cough up ball like we did and expect to win.”
Marr started with intent, but a loose pass in the third minute saw Chieftains take the lead. Stand-off Charlie Shiel was the beneficiary, running 40 metres to score a try under the posts after his own intercept. The same man, usually a scrum-half, kicked the conversion.
An All Black then scored for Marr when the ball was spun wide and winger Lelia Masaga, who earned a New Zealand cap in 2009 and is a Glasgow Warriors player, finished the move. The try was unconverted.
A Shiel penalty put Currie 10-5 up after 23 minutes, but the Marr pack was starting to get the upper hand and the rest of the half was all about the men from Troon.
Two minutes later, they took the lead for the first time with a try by Italian international Samu Vunisa, the Warriors back-row, which was converted by stand-off Rory McGee.
And 12-10 soon became 19-10 with the third Marr score coming eight minutes before the break when winger Scott Bickerstaff, who is hoping to be involved for the Club XV match in Ireland on Friday, got the ball down after a great solo run.
McGee converted that one and things were to get even better for Marr and their hardy band of travelling supporters when the bonus point was achieved through centre Conor Bickerstaff.
That left things at 24-10 at the interval, and Chieftains head coach Ben Cairns had a big team talk ahead of him at half-time.
For the start of the second period, the home side brought on Stephen Ainslie at number eight for Rhys Davies, and they nearly cut the deficit in the 42nd minute. The ball was spun wide, but full-back Ben Robbins just couldn’t find winger Archie Paton with the final pass.
Their second try of the day did come in the 49th minute when Ainslie went over from close range, and the Chieftains now really had the bit between their teeth. Marr, who were being penalised regularly, had to regroup quickly.
The home side should have scored a third try in the 53rd minute but, with numbers to his left, scrum-half Matt O’Neil knocked on 10-metres from the Marr line.
As the hour mark approached, Chieftains kept knocking at the door, but Shiel was the next to make an unforced error and it remained 24-15 to Marr as they continued to fight for their top flight lives.
O’Neil went off and a reshuffle was required which resulted in flanker Thomas Gordon ending up at inside centre. With 13 minutes remaining, the Chieftains claimed their third try.
After second-row Hamish Bain had barged his way to just short of the line, the ball was spun out and Robbie Nelson trotted over. Shiel missed the conversion though which left the score at 24-20 and set-up a cracking finale.
Currie’s pack were continuing to dominate, but silly mistakes kept undoing their good work. Shiel knocked the ball on when his side had a good platform to attack with five minutes to go.
Into the last couple of minutes and a powerful Currie scrum won them a penalty and Shiel kicked to touch. A number of phases came and went, but the Marr defence held firm until they gave away one last penalty.
Shiel again kicked to touch to give Chieftains a lineout some 15-metres out from the Marr line. However, they could not do anything with the ball and, after Marr managed to snaffle possession and kick to touch, prompting wild celebrations for a win built on guts and determination with a bit of stardust thrown in from two internationals.
Currie Chieftains: B Robbins; A Paton, H Elms, R Nelson, C Gray; C Shiel, M O’Neil; K Burney, F Scott, A McWilliam, H Bain, V Wright, M Vernel, T Gordon, R Davies. Subs: G Carson, C Mackintosh, S Ainslie, S McGinley, C Smith.
Marr: C Kolarik; S Bickerstaff, R Dalgleish, C Bickerstaff, L Masaga; R McGee, G Baird; G Jackson, O Rossi, F Watt, K Hatherall, R Miller, S Vunisa, A Johnston, B Johnston. Subs: M Allison, C Nisbet, M Pearce, T Buchanan, T Steven.
Referee: S Turnbull.
Currie Chieftains: Tries: Shiel, Ainslie, Nelson; Pen: Shiel; Con: Shiel.
Marr: Tries: Masaga, Vunisa, S Bickerstaff, C Bickerstaff; Cons: McGee 2.
Scoring sequence: 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 10-5; 10-10; 10-12; 10-17; 10-19; 10-24 (h-t) 15-24; 20-24
Man of the Match: It was great to see Lelia Masaga and Samu Vunisa putting everything into this one for Marr, but skipper Angus Johnston typified what his team were all about with tackle after tackle. Stephen Ainslie was the Chieftains’ best performer after coming on at the break.
Talking point: Chieftains’ errors. They had enough ball in the second half to win two games, but they ended up defeated after a string of unforced errors just when their pack had got them on the front foot. The ‘Charlie Shiel to stand-off’ experiment did not work either.