ANDY WHITE @ Stoneyhill
A DREICH afternoon on the East Coast saw the spoils shared between Musselburgh and Selkirk, after both sides had a chance to steal the win in the dying minutes at Stoneyhill.
Musselburgh head coach Graeme Paterson was philosophical when reflecting on his side’s performance at the full-time whistle. “I don’t think it became a farce but it just became so difficult in that last ten or 15 minutes,” he said. “Guys couldn’t hang on to the ball or get a footing at the breakdown and it became very difficult. Ultimately, two points is a reasonable result given the conditions.”
Musselburgh came into the game a point above the bottom of the Premiership table, targeting a win. With things balanced precariously, any one of the bottom four teams would leap ahead of the others with a bonus point win, and the hosts looked to be off to the dream start when they crossed twice in the first half.
Using the conditions to their advantage and keeping Selkirk buried deep in their own half in the opening half an hour, with the wind behind them, Musselburgh thought they were over early, before the referee ruled that they had been held up. From the ensuing scrum, a huge carry from stand-off Freddie Roddick freed up No 8 Luke Hutson to power over from short range under the posts.
The territorial and possessional pressure continued from Musselburgh, and a combination of handling errors and overly-ambitious kicking by Selkirk helped Musselburgh play most of their rugby in the red zone. The home side were happy letting their forwards do the work, with front rower Colin Arthur making some huge carries and scrum-half Danny Owenson barking orders at his pack.
Musselburgh went over again for their second when lock forward Paddy Brown writhed his way through the Selkirk defence to slam the ball down, after his team had cycled through phase after phase of pick-and-go rugby. The extras were missed and in the last ten minutes of the half fractured rugby as neither team were able to hold on to the ball long enough to attack coherently.
Musselburgh, with the wind behind them in the first half marshalled the game well, and after they’d established their two score lead they saw the half out by keeping Selkirk as deep in their half as possible. Ferocious tackling from the home pack, with notable mentions also to centres Rory Watt and Rory Smith, kept their rivals at bay in the opening 40.
As the whistle blew to start the second half, and with the wind at their backs, a long Selkirk kick-off put pressure on Musselburgh early, and penalty kicked to the corner by fly-half Aaron McColm gave the Borderers a chance to really attack the Musselburgh line. As with Musselburgh in the first half, Selkirk opted to keep the ball close, using the pick-and-go game well, and with short balls from McColm giving Ewan MacDougall, Josh Mackay and Sean Rankin a chance to make some yards.
The conditions had by this point deteriorated to the point of players being unidentifiable, but the referee was in perfect position to see Selkirk tight-head prop Bruce Riddell charge over from short range, to propel Selkirk back into the game on 44 minutes at 12-5.
From the kick-off, the fractured nature of the game shone through again. After Callum McNeill used his strong fend to make just under 50 metres up the wing to give Selkirk a chance to tie the game up, McColm calmly slotted a much more difficult kick than his previous missed conversion attempt to take it to 12-12.
That’s the way it remained. With conditions continuing to deteriorate, both teams were unable to break the deadlock.
Although as visibility dropped on 70 minutes, Musselburgh started to string a series of phases together, before Selkirk lock forward Sean Rankin bought down the advancing Musselburgh player with a wild and high tackle, and was dismissed promptly to the bin by the referee.
With a stroke of either insanity or genius, Danny Owenson pointed to the posts, and his effort, in the relentless wind and rain almost went the distance before bouncing off the upright and into the arms of a grateful Selkirk player, who promptly cleared it through McColm.
Then, three minutes later, McColm had the chance to put Selkirk into the driving seat, however his effort was caught by the wind and trailed off wide.
After net weekend off to watch the Italy versus Scotland match, Musselburgh are on the road to GHA on 29th February, where they will be desperate for a win to avoid their final game against high-flying Currie Chieftains being make-or-break to their survival quest.
Paterson was bullish and sees the benefit of getting the game played today, despite the conditions, before reflecting on the chance to go to GHA with a full-strength side, “That GHA game is a really vital game for us in terms of getting something from it. It’s almost like a Cup final mentality for us now. We go out there and win and that gives us a good chance of staying up, which is obviously what we’re aiming to do”.
Musselburgh: J Ferguson; S Watt, R Smith, R Watt, G Tait; F Roddick, D Owenson; C Owenson, J Cain, C Arthur, J Haynes, P Brown, M Maltman, M Outram, L Hutson. Subs: E Bonthron, W Fleming, C Pryde, A Reddick, P Cunningham.
Selkirk: H Bithray; F Anderson, R Cottrell, R Nixon, C McNeill; A McColm, L Merolle; L Pettie, J Bett, B Riddell, P Forrest, S Rankin, A Mackay, S McClymont, E MacDougall. Subs: J Mackay, G Robertson, C Anderon, J Welsh, L Berte.
Musselburgh: Tries: Hutson, Brown; Con: Owenson.
Selkirk: Tries: Riddell, McNeill; Con: McColm.
Scoring sequence (Musselburgh first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0 (h-t) 12-5; 12-5; 12-10; 12-12.
Yellow cards –
Selkirk: S Rankin
Man-of-the-Match: Home scrum-half Danny Owenson’s control of his pack and vision in truly appalling conditions gave Musselburgh the edge in the opening 40, and his penalty attempt to win the game was a whisker away with the wind against him.
Talking point: With tow other games in the Premiership called off, Musselburgh have got their noses in front of the drop zone, but could the missed would-be winning kick prove costly at the end of the season?