COLIN RENTON @ Stoneyhill
MUSSELBURGH kickstarted their bid for Tennent’s Premiership survival with a gutsy win in a thrilling encounter. The home team were forced to work hard for the victory and never quite managed to shake off a dogged GHA side that deservedly took two bonus points, and came close to snatching all five. The return of experienced duo Michael Maltman and Craig Owenson brought a harder edge to Musselburgh, and they will now look to build on this result and move up the league table.
They had to show their defensive mettle in the opening stages, as GHA started well but failed to convert early pressure into points. And Musselburgh were first on the scoreboard when Danny Owenson banged over a long-range penalty. It got better for the hosts when Craig Owenson – returning from an injury he picked up on the opening day of the campaign – intercepted inside his own half and broke clear before a neat pass inside freed Gregor Tait to dart over.
George Baird charged down Danny Owenson’s conversion, but the home kicker made no mistake a couple of minutes later, adding the extra points after slick passing had carved open the GHA defence to allow Freddie Roddick to bag try number two.
Musselburgh survived another spell on the back foot before a penalty booted into touch allowed Jack Haynes to gather and set up a drive that ended with Craig Owenson applying the final touch.
GHA finally earned some reward for their efforts when Jack Anderson flipped the ball inside for Jordan Craig to score, then added the extras. He then did so again to cut the deficit to six points at half time after Milan Marinkovic had capped another multi-phase effort when he forced his way over between the posts.
A similar move shortly after the restart ended with skipper Jamie McCarthy touching down. Anderson’s conversion nudged the visitors into a single-point lead that they held only briefly. The Musselburgh tactic of playing no-nonsense direct rugby paid off when Cammy Pryde bundled his way over for a converted score. Then Craig Owenson emerged from a heap of bodies following a surge that drove GHA backwards after a penalty was despatched into touch.
However, GHA showed plenty of spirit and an 11-point lead was never going to be enough to allow Musselburgh to simply see out the game. The visitors secured the bonus-point try when Michael Fox blasted his way over from close range to leave Jamie MacKinnon a simple conversion.
Almost immediately, the hosts were back on the attack and this time Danny Owenson dummied his way over for a self-converted try that finally looked to have sealed the win. Not quite, as Luke McCutcheon capped the latest bout of GHA pressure with his side’s fifth try and MacKinnon again converted.
That sparked a final frantic bid for a GHA win but Musselburgh were not to be denied and a vital turnover in opposition territory secured a second success of the campaign.
The home coach Graeme Paterson is realistic enough to know that there is still much to do, but he is delighted at how hard his men have worked to eliminate the flaws that were fatal in their early games.
“A bonus-point win is a massive step in the right direction,” he said. “We had a fair bit of control in the first half but, as GHA do, they never gave up and kept coming back. We are probably our own worst enemies at points in the game, but to be fair to the boys, they pulled it out the bag.
“We have worked on trying to simplify things – not play fancy rugby. We just want to play solid, hard, direct rugby and I think we saw evidence of that.”
His GHA counterpart Trevor Carmichael felt his players had fallen short of the effort he wants to see. “It doesn’t help when you give away 20 points in the first 20 minutes or so. I think all 20 points came from our mistakes. We got back into it at half time, but our work rate is lacking a wee bit, so it’s a bit frustrating from a coaching point of view”, he opined.
However, he did give credit for the refusal to give up, adding, “We don’t let our heads go down. It’s just a couple of small things. I don’t think Musselburgh’s position reflects how good a team they are. They will beat other teams. For us, it’s just a hard day at the office. We got two points but we’ve got aspirations to be up at the top end of the table.”
Other Premiership reports from this weekend –
Musselburgh: F Roddick; S Watt, R Smith, R Watt, G Tait; D Owenson, A Reddick; C Owenson, J Crain, C Arthur, W Fleming, C Pryde, M Maltman©, M Outram, L Hutson. Subs: E Bonthron, P Brown, G McKinstrey, C Champion, P Cunningham.
GHA: A Gillman; A Purewal, G Mollison, A Hughes, J Craig; J Anderson, G Baird; S Carson, H Clark, M Fox, A Kerr, J McCarthy©, M Ryan, D Ewing, L McCutcheon. Subs: S Fisher, A Barnett, M Marinkovic, J MacKinnon, C Drummond.
Referee: M Todd.
Musselburgh: Tries: Tait, Roddick, C Owenson 2, Pryde, D Owenson. Cons: D Owenson 3. Pen: D Owenson.
GHA: Tries: Craig, Marinkovic, McCarthy, Fox, McCutcheon. Cons: Anderson 3, MacKinnon 2.
Scoring sequence (Musselburgh first): 3-0, 8-0, 13-0, 15-0, 20-0, 20-5, 20-7, 20-12, 20-14 half-time, 20-19, 20-21, 25-21, 27-21, 32-21, 32-26, 32-26-32-28, 37-28, 39-28, 39-33, 39-35
Yellow card –
Man of the Match: Loads of good performances on both sides, but the man who earned the nod after bagging two tries, creating another and making a big contribution for an impressive home pack was Craig Owenson.
Talking point: The result adds to the mid-table congestion and means we are set for some intriguing rugby over the coming weeks.