Aberdeen Grammar 7
DAVID BARNES @ Fullarton Park
AFTER a minor mid-season slump, league-leaders Marr returned to form in emphatic style with a resounding nine tries to one thumping of an Aberdeen Grammar side who had travelled to Fullarton missing a number of key men, and who struggled to cope with the home team’s pace and precision, especially during a whirlwind opening quarter of an hour.
At least the long drive back to the Granite City could be buoyed by the fact that Ali O’Connor’s team did not capitulate despite the fact that they were staring down the barrel almost from the off, and that they had the moment of the match midway through the first half when centre Tom Aplin intercepted Marr scrum-half Jack Preston deep inside the Grammar 22 and then barrelled a full 70-metres for his team’s only try.
Aplin is a clever player but his bulk rather than his pace is his great strength in the middle of the park. That try brought to mind the words of Scotland legend Jim Renwick when the late, great Bruce Hay scored an interception try against Ireland in 1981, to the effect that it was the first try he had seen live and in slow motion at the same time.
Marr coach Craig Redpath isn’t an easy man to please but even he was able to shrug off that one aberration by his team in an otherwise excellent first half performance.
“The first 20 minutes in particular were excellent,” he said. “We came out with real tempo and a few things we had worked on came to fruition. There was one error when we gave an intercept and they ran the length which was disappointing, but apart from the I’ve got no complaints.
“After half-time, it was just a wee bit nuggety,” he added. “We didn’t stick to our processes. But I’ve said all season that if we reach our peak then we’d take a lot of points off a team and we played about 75 percent there.
“I still think there is a few things we are leaving out there at the moment, and I think we looked at the score and got a wee bit individualistic instead of doing things that we did well in the first half – but overall we’re very happy with that.”
Marr took the lead inside two minutes after a bustling run from hooker Ollie Rossi rolled them into gear. The Bickerstaff brothers both probed and then Colin Sturgeon glided effortlessly through Aberdeen’s defence to dot down under the posts.
The home team doubled up on six minutes when winger Jack Scott finished off another flowing attack, and even when they lost vice-captain Mackenzie Pearce to what looked like a painful ankle injury the home side barely skipped a beat.
A minute later, Conor Bickerstaff hit a great angle at pace off set-piece ball to split Grammar wide open for a try under the posts, and the bonus point was in the bag before the clock was showing 15 minutes, when the dynamic and energetic Rossi burst from the back of a maul and over the line.
Marr looked like they might have scored a contender for try of the season when some intricate passing deep inside their own half opened up a half a gap which flanker Robert Brown burst through to take play right up to Grammar’s 22, and when he was closed down he had the wherewithal to kick ahead, and it took some excellent scrambling by the visitors to hold Gregor Paxton up over the line.
Instead, it was Grammar who grabbed an excellent try, although this was more of an opportunistic effort from Aplin, who not only went the length but was also left to kick the conversion as well. No bother to the big man!
Marr re-asserted themselves with two tried before half time, with Conor Bickertaff heavily involved in both. For the first, he slipped past the first line of defence on an outside break then sent full-back Greg Montgomery over, and for the second he appeared from nowhere to collect Benedict Grant’s long, looping, speculative pass at full pace, and didn’t break stride as he shipped the ball on to brother Scott (back from Scotland 7s duty) for a score in the corner. Sturgeon fired home the conversion for good measure, to make his record off the tee in the first half five from six.
The second period started as the first had ended, with Montgomery grabbing his second and his team’s seventh try – but to their great credit, Grammar dug deep and with Marr losing a bit of shape the points did not flow so freely.
A quick-fire brace of converted tries from Sturgeon and Fraser Grant around the hour mark took Marr over the 60-point mark, but Grammar were still fighting at the end.
“Full credit to Marr, they were electric today – their execution was electric – and it was difficult to stay with them,” reflected O’Connor. “But we really stuck in after half-time. We wanted to chase the bonus-point, which we didn’t get, but I’m proud of the effort.
“We’ll probably be better for this because Marr played the game at such ahigh-spedd today it gave us a great chance to learn from that,” he added.
With Chris Jollands off to New Zealand, Robin Cessford out with a shoukder injury and Greig Ryan getting married this weekend, Grammar was missing three of their most influential forwards from the start of the season, and this was compounded by the absence of free-scoring winger Nathan Brown who has a knee injury. To his credit, O’Connor refused to use that as an excuse.
“The guys who came down are a pretty competitive team,” he said. “We’re probably struggling a little bit for balance in the squad, and just getting guys used to playing with each other. They stuck in well and by and large came away with some credit despite the score-line being what it was.”
Marr: G Montgomery; S Bickerstaff, G Paxton, C Bickerstaff, J Scott; C Sturgeon, J Preston; W Farquhar, O Rossi, C Henderson, E Hamilton-Bulger, F Grant, M Pearce, R Brown, B Grant. Subs: A Muir, B Sweet, C Cunningham, J Harvey, K Diffenthal.
Aberdeen Grammar: A Ovenstone; C Ruxton, S Mills, T Aplin, D Russell; S Knudson, P Ritchie; C Reddish, M Schosser, R Anderson, N Coe, A Robertson, D Wallen, J Spence, W Alton. Subs: T Ryan, VIfy Ojogwu, C Robertson, L Murphy, M Somerville.
Referee: Neil Muir
Marr: Tries: Sturgeon 2, Scott, C Bickerstaff, Rossi, Montgomery 2, S Bickertsaff, F Grant; Con: Sturgeon 8.
Aberdeen Grammar: Try: Aplin; Con: Aplin
Scoring sequence (Marr first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 17-0; 19-0; 24-0; 26-0; 26-5; 26-7; 31-7; 33-7; 38-7 40-7 (h-t) 45-7; 47-7; 52-7; 54-7; 59-7; 61-7.
Man-of-the-Match: Marr were on fine fettle and you could have picked any one of seven or eight players, but inside centre and captain Conor Bickertsaff showed his class throughout.
Talking point: Craig Redpath reckons his team hit 75 percent here, and he isn’t playing mind games – there was a definite drop-off after half-time – so the rest of the league will be hoping they are not in the firing line when the Fullarton men produce a complete performance.