National Two: GHK 15-26 Kelso

STUART RUTHERFORD @ Old Anniesland

ALTHOUGH the BT Premiership does not return to action for another week, there was still a whole host of mouthwatering fixtures in the National Leagues to take in this weekend and for avid fans of the oval ball, they should have looked no further than the spectacle at Old Anniesland.

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With both sides possessing title aspirations, this encounter was a thriller from the get-go, with both teams showing plenty ambition in all facets of the game. The match was evenly balanced at half-time at 10-12, but Kelso went up a gear after the break and eventually powered to a well deserved win thanks to tries from Nick Hart and Dom Buckley. In the end, the visitors’ ability to handle the tricky conditions were paramount and they return to the Borders with a well earned bonus point.

Following last season’s disappointing relegation, the Kelso have bounced back in spectacular fashion, having lost only a single game thisseason – a 24-19 defeat at Biggar on the 10th of September – and they made it 12 wins in a row after a determined display. Although there are still eight games to play, in what has been a tightly contested title race, the Kippers now look odds-on favourites to secure promotion back to National One. The Borderers welcome fellow promotion chasers Peebles to Poynder Park next weekend in what should be another exhilarating contest, however, head coach Adam Roxburgh was more than happy to enjoy this afternoon’s hard fought victory.

“I think perhaps in the first half, GHK moved the ball around quickly and got us out of our structured game. However, in the second half I think we got a grip on the match and were able to get a grasp on the lineout and scrum, which have really been our strengths all season,” he said

Kelso have managed to rebound successfully this year, however, it’s not always the case for relegated sides to prosper so quickly, especially after the shock of a disastrous campaign, as Roxburgh acknowledged.

“I think to begin with it was a trip into the unknown,” he said.  “National Two is really a dog-eat-dog type of league. Apart from maybe two or three teams, its pretty much like-for-like with the other clubs. You’ve really got to focus on your form from the start of the season. We set a goal that we weren’t going to lose at home, and we haven’t, so far! Then we’ve also been picking up bonus points away from home which has been great. Our aim was alway to try and go back up and so far the boys have reacted really well. Things are looking good at the moment, but we really have to keep the momentum going.”

For GHK, it was a tough end to 2016 and an even tougher start to 2017. Following a 44-11 win over Ardrossan Academicals on the 10th of December, things were looking rosy for the Glasgow outfit as they sat in second place, primed to make a push for promotion. However, a disappointing loss at Peebles and then this defeat at the hands of Kelso have thrown a spanner in the works and they will have it all to do next weekend, as they make the tricky trip north to face Aberdeenshire. Head coach Dave Mitchell was understandably downcast with how the match unfolded.

“Our game plan was to try move them about and use our skills to our advantage,” he said. “However, the truth is, the higher up you go in rugby, and in any form of life really, the small margins matter so much more. I think knock-ons and simple decision making really cost us, however, that’s not to say it was a bad game. I honestly think it could have gone either way, but we just didn’t get the rub of the green down the final stretch.”

Despite the defeat Mitchell was encouraged by how his side stuck to their mantra of playing attractive rugby.

“Our philosophy, and the boy’s philosophy, has always been to try and play rugby. We can certainly give them the tools to do that, but I think the thing is: when to play like that and when not to play like that? There is obviously more than one way to skin a cat,” he said.

This defeat has not completely ruled out a third successive promotion, but with fellow promotion chasers Cartha Queens Park and Peebles both winning this weekend, the task has been made more difficult to say the least.

“We’ve lost to two quality sides in a row,” said Mitchell. “Peebles and Kelso are going to be there or thereabouts come the end of the season. The main thing is, as long as the boys keep learning and trying we will have a chance. As I previously said, it’s the small margins and I think once we learn that we will be able to progress in national rugby.”

After a sloppy start to the match, where both sides were unable to get a grip on the game,  it was the visitors who took the lead after a mistake from GHK’s Robin Coats. Following a powerful run from prop Colin Arthur, the ball was eventually recycled to Andrew Skeen, who put in a delightful chip into the GHK twenty-two. With runners bearing down on him, Coats attempted to pick up the ball and clear, however, the greasy conditions caused the winger to fumble, leaving Skeen the simple task of diving on the ball to give his side an early lead.

GHK fought back immediately and they should have levelled proceedings after fantastic interlinking play from their mobile pack set up a try scoring opportunity. After the ball was fed to the onrushing Ruaridh Cameron, the outside centre looked to be in for a try in the corner, however he was somehow closed down and couldn’t quite get the ball away to Coates. The referee did, however, bring the play back for a previous Kelso infringement, which Danny Campbell successfully converted to put his side on the scoreboard.

The hosts had much of the ball following Campbells penalty, but a devastating run from Kelso captain Dom Buckley was the catalyst for the visitors’ second try of the afternoon. Following a lineout on the halfway line, the ball was quickly fed to Buckley hitting the line at pace. The number eight travelled 30 metres before offloading to Paudie Lawlor, who was eventually chopped down just short of the home side’s try line. Andy Tait was the first to the breakdown and the scrum-half showed his instinctive nature with a quick pick and dive over the whitewash.

Campbell missed a penalty for the home side but made amends when he was at the heart of the action to set up GHK’s opening score, hitting a short line off a ruck to break clear, and after beating one man, the full-back showed great awareness with a neat pop to Michael Aird, who strolled under the posts to leave the match evenly balanced at 10-12.

GHK looked to have the edge following the break, but Kelso’s pack power soon returned to the fore, and their driving maul set up a third score of the afternoon. It was Nick Hart who dived over to extend his team’s lead.

GHK were able to get a quick-fire try after a fantastic solo run from substitute Marc Taylor, which brought the score to 15-19, but Kelso seemed to be the fitter of the two sides in the closing 15 minutes and they made it show when Buckley powered in for the bonus-point securing fourth try of the afternoon. The Borderers head home with the full share of the spoils and appear to be on their way back to National One.

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Teams –

GHK: D Campbell; R Coats, R Cameron, C Hughes, R Cook; A Fleming, M Aird; A McCulloch, G Reid, R Dickson, H Parker, N Hurn, C Brodie, C Kerr, M Borthwick. Subs: C MacPhee, R Bailey, M Martin, M Taylor.

Kelso: C Dods; A Jackson, A Roberts, P Hume, G Minto; A Skeen, A Tait; C Arthur, N Hart, R Morgan, P Lawlor, D Seed, I Wallace, K Mein, D Buckley . Subs: B Robertson, A Wallace, T Robson, A Johnston.

Referee: C Clark

Scorers –

GHK: Tries: Aird, Taylor. Pens: Campbell Cons: Campbell

Kelso: Tries: Skeen, Tait, Hart, Buckley Cons: Hume (3)

 

About Stuart Rutherford 50 Articles
Stuart hails from the Borders town of Selkirk and has been around rugby all his life, largely thanks to the influence of his father, John. Not only a fan of the modern game, he is a keen rugby historian, and produces a regular 'Throwback Thursday Column' for The Offside Line.