COLIN RENTON @ ￼Stoneyhill
MUSSELBURGH launched their Tennent’s Premiership campaign with a five-point haul after delivering an efficient performance that featured passages of impressive open rugby, but was built on a superb defensive effort that snuffed out a lively GHA attack.
For the visitors, it was a lesson in what can happen when chances are squandered, as they failed to capitalise on scoring opportunities that would have made it a much tighter affair.
“It’s an absolutely fantastic start to the season,” enthused Musselburgh coach Graeme Paterson. “We talked about getting a good foundation for the season. That’s certainly what we did in the first half. The second half was a bit more difficult, but we actually closed down the game pretty well, I thought.”
And while his players showed a desire to profit from scoring chances as they arose, Paterson was in no doubt about the essential ingredient in the victory, adding: “We executed really well in the first half. Every time we went into their 22, we came away with points and that was the key. We had got the four tries by half-time and really put them on the back foot. It just shows we’re clinical in that area. But it was built on defence – we just didn’t let them through.”
GHA counterpart Trevor Carmichael was left ruing a significant error count and the fact that the visitors were good in patches, but not sufficiently consistent to take anything from the game. “We played well in phases but our structure was a bit wayward,” he said. “We had a few boys missing but that’s no excuse, we should have been good enough to win.
“Credit to Musselburgh – they played well and took their chances. We didn’t have the edge that would have got us over the line.”
The Musselburgh president’s programme note offered a reminder that 545 days had elapsed since Musselburgh’s last league game. So it was little wonder that the overriding impression in the early minutes was over-eagerness and hints of rustiness. However, both sides raced into action, with the visitors looking the livelier with the ball in hand, while the home side took a more measured approach to building phases.
GHA drew first blood in three minutes when an attack yielded a penalty inside the home 22 and Adam Scott booted the three-pointer. Musselburgh’s riposte was a wave of attacks that should have resulted in points but ended when they offended within sight of the whitewash.
However, the score was only delayed by a few minutes. Danny Owenson banged a penalty into touch and, with the referee playing advantage from the ensuing lineout, Owenson flipped the ball to James Ferguson, who powered over between the sticks to leave the creator a simple conversion.
Scott cut the deficit to a point with his second penalty of the afternoon, but Musselburgh were soon back on the attack and Rory Hindhaugh raced in for an unconverted touchdown and a six-point lead. Back came GHA and they snatched the lead when another visit to opposition territory ended with Jamie MacKinnon twisting between two defenders to crash over, with Scott’s conversion making it a one-point game.
By half-time, the hosts had secured the bonus point and built a meaningful lead. Although Michael Maltman and Luke Hutson both had a go but came up just short of the line, William Fleming was on hand to complete the task, with Owenson adding the extras.
And Fleming made it a double when he finished a breakout from deep in Musselburgh territory. The ball was switched from left to right then back along the line where Craig Owenson galloped clear then fed Fleming, with the veteran lock dotting down for a second converted try.
GHA restarted well but were guilty of impatience in sight of the line and failed to capitalise on a spell in the ascendancy. Twice they conceded penalties and a knock-on with the final pass plus a missed touch in the opposition 22 ensured the game entered the final quarter with the score unchanged.
Having soaked up the pressure, the hosts added gloss to the win four minutes from the end when the ball was swept along the line to Gregor Tait, who hurtled over in the corner. Skipper Owenson capped an impressive campaign opener for Musselburgh when he thumped over the conversion.
Musselburgh: R Hindhaugh; J Ferguson, L Brook, R Watt, G Tait; D Owenson ©, L Kotze; C Owenson, R Stott, D Hodge, W Fleming, J Haynes, M Maltman, J Lister, L Hutson. Subs: A Forbes, P Brown, M Crawford, M McMillan, V Kacori.
GHA: A Scott; N Kelly, G Little, M Hughes, R O’Keefe; J Mackinnon, G Baird; T Brogan, G Hiddleston, M Fox, A Kerr, J McCarthy©, W Graham, D Ewing, W Alton. Subs: E Cavan, B Boum, L Archer, R MacFarlane, C Hyde.
Referee: D McClement.
Musselburgh: Tries: Ferguson, Hindhaugh, Fleming 2, Tait. Cons: D Owenson 4.
GHA: Try: MacKinnon. Con: Scott. Pens: Scott 2.
Scoring sequence (Musselburgh first): 0-3; 5-3; 7-3; 7-6; 12-6; 12-11; 12-13; 17-13; 19-13; 25-13; 26-13 (h-t) 31-13; 33-13.
Man of the match: Musselburgh have a good mix of youth and experience, and it was the old heads Michael Maltman and William Fleming who stood out, with the latter getting the nod for his two-try contribution.
Talking point: Great entertainment from two sides committed to playing open rugby. It wasn’t always pretty but it’s good to have the grass-roots game with all its flaws and blemishes back after such a long time.