IAIN HAY @ Braidholm
MUSSELBURGH took one giant leap towards Premiership safety with a hard-fought victory over GHA, in conditions which would have had Ernest Shackleton saying, “There’s no chance I’m going out in that.”
With a large patch of mud near one of the 22s looking treacherous, the match was moved from Braidholm’s main pitch to the adjacent artificial surface, which meant the hardy spectators who had braved the elements were now entirely exposed to them. A bitter wind had been gusting all afternoon, the rain decided to start two minutes before kick-off and the rain turned into snow for the start of the second half, so this was by no means a classic. It was reminiscent of the most recent Calcutta Cup match, perhaps not quite as comically windy, but extremely tricky to play in, with the ball now a bar of soap and hands turned to ice blocks.
“To be honest, I think it was heart and desire that’s won us that one” said Musselburgh’s head coach Graeme Paterson after the win which put them level on points with their hosts in the league table.
“Especially up front, we took a lot more control of the scrum in the second half, building up pressure on GHA both with our own ball and with theirs, and that took the sting out of their attack. It gave us a foothold into the second half, especially with the elements slightly against us.
“Michael (Maltman) and Colin Arthur carried a lot. These guys stepped up, and that’s what we wanted to do, carry hard at them and maybe expose some spaces out wide after that, although it wasn’t a day for exposing spaces out wide, to be fair. It was more round the corner, keep tight stuff.
“A couple of results are in, and we see they’ve gone our way, so it gives us a good bit of a space. By no means mathematically are we safe, but we’re a good way towards it.”
The very first act of the match produced the first error in these brutal conditions. With the wind at his sails, Freddie Roddick’s kick-off looked like it had gone too far, only for GHA winger James Edgar to try and field the ball five metres from his line and knock it on.
Edgar was reprieved by his pack, who won a penalty at the resultant scrum, and shortly after redeemed himself with a potentially try-saving tackle on Sandy Watt when Musselburgh went on their next attack.
Musselburgh did take the lead that their early territorial advantage had afforded them when James Ferguson cut an inside-to-out line and powered over towards the left corner from 10 metres, but Danny Owenson couldn’t convert as the wind decided not to play ball and kept his effort hanging outside the right-hand post.
With so many errors bound to happen, there was a sense that whoever made the fewest mistakes, or capitalised best on their opponents’, would claim the victory. GHA’s Grant Mollison looked like he was going over after picking off a pass around halfway and racing towards the line, but good scramble defence saw him caught just before the line, and his over-the-shoulder pass was knocked on by lock Adam Barnett as he scooped it up off the floor, letting Musselburgh off the hook.
GHA continued to pressurise despite playing into the wind, and although Aaron Purewal couldn’t get over the line courtesy of a fantastic challenge by Gregor Tait, the home side did have penalty advantage, so Jamie MacKinnon reduced the deficit off the tee.
As conditions worsened, the set-piece became more and more vital, and Musselburgh seemed to be gaining the upper hand, in the scrum particularly. Danny Owenson missed one attempt at goal from a scrum penalty won against the head, but he did slot his next effort, meaning the sides hit the warm, fuzzy glow of the sheds with the score 3-8.
“I don’t know if we just expected having the wind in the second half would give us that edge, but you’re going to have to work to get it” said a disappointed GHA Trevor Carmichael after the match.
The second half started brightly enough, figuratively speaking for the home side. They had Musselburgh under a bit of pressure, until Ruairi O’Keefe was adjudged to have knocked on the slippery pill just inside his own half. GHA did win a penalty at the breakdown eventually, and O’Keefe sent an absolute rocket towards the Musselburgh 22, which Dario Ewing managed to gather at the back of the line. Eventually, Musselburgh were called for offside, allowing MacKinnon to double his and GHA’s total.
Cometh the hour mark, and cometh the men. As Graeme Paterson mentioned in his post-match comments, this was when Musselburgh’s experienced heads started to take control. Tight-head Arthur and captain Maltman were to the fore, carrying close as Musselburgh eked their way towards the GHA line.
When awarded a penalty for offside, they opted to scrum it. Danny Owenson took Luke Hutson’s pass off the base and tore towards the left corner, where he was tackled high by Milan Marinkovic.
The Musselburgh supporters called for a penalty try, but referee Ruairidh Campbell awarded the penalty, and sent Marinkovic to the bin, with just over 10 minutes remaining.
All that Marinkovic’s foul did was delay the inevitable, though. The Musselburgh scrum stampeded towards the GHA line, and as their front row wheeled and popped up, referee Campbell blew his whistle and ran towards the middle of the sticks signalling the penalty try.
GHA tried to battle back, but Musselburgh defended all that was thrown at them, and had the last attack. Roddick’s drop-goal attempt drifted wide, but there was no time to restart. Graeme Paterson and his boys may have been Baltic, but the bus home to Musselburgh would be a whole lot warmer.
GHA: R O’Keefe; J Edgar, G Mollison, C King, A Purewal; J MacKinnon, G Baird; E Cavan, H Clark, M Fox, A Barnett, J McCarthy©, M Ryan, D Ewing, L McCutcheon. Subs: S Fisher, S Callaghan, M Marinkovic, S Simpson, J Craig.
Musselburgh: J Ferguson; G Tait, R Watt, P Cunningham, S Watt; F Roddick, D Owenson; C Owenson, E Bonthron, C Arthur, J Haynes, P Brown, M Maltman©, M Outram, L Hutson. Subs: J Crain, R Stott, W Fleming, C Pryde, R Smith.
Referee: R Campbell.
Scoring sequence (GHA first): 0-5, 3-5, 3-8, 6-8, 6-15.
GHA: Pens: MacKinnon 2.
Musselburgh: Tries: Ferguson, penalty try. Pen: D Owenson.
Yellow Cards: GHA: Markinkovic.
Man of the Match: There was a period in the second half where the game could have gone either way, but Musselburgh captain Michael Maltman stepped up, made the hard yards, hit his his rucks and at one point put in a thumping tackle on Dario Ewing which nearly created a sonic boom.
Talking Point: had it not been for the artificial training surface at GHA, this match could not have gone ahead, due to the chaos created by recent stormy weather. Given Scotland’s “mercurial” climate, are artificial surfaces the answer to reducing the number of postponements and rescheduling?