GHK, Dumfries Saints and Peebles are first, second and third respectively in National League Two, each separated by a single point, after all three picked up wins over the weekend.
On Friday night, GHK welcomed Hamilton Bulls to Old Anniesland and eventually came out on top at the end of a see-saw battle. A penalty by Jack Cuthbert gave the hosts the lead early on before the Bulls levelled things up through an Owen McLeish penalty. Then, from a good line-out move, Neil Callander scored an unconverted try to put GHK 8-3 to the good, but they were soon pegged back again through five points from Ross Inglis. Cuthbert missed a penalty on the stroke of half-time and it was 8-8 with all to play for.
McLeish’s second penalty just after the interval put the visitors 11-8 up and GHK’s Callander was yellow carded, but the hosts stuck to their task and two tries by Ben Hutton plus one from Danny Campbell established a 25-11 lead and secured the bonus point.
Max Crumlish scored a late converted try to give the Bulls a losing bonus point leaving them eighth in the table.
“You can guarantee a GHK versus Hamilton game will be close and entertaining and this game was no different,” home captain Cammy Hughes said. “Our forwards really put in a shift and that won us that game.”
That put GHK at the summit of the table on 56 points with seven games to play, but Dumfries Saints are just a point behind them after edging past fifth placed Kirkcaldy 17-7 at Park Farm on Saturday afternoon.
In tricky conditions, the Saints broke the deadlock with a try from Davie Andrew and got their second through Ali Jackson to make it 10-0 at half-time, but then Kirkcaldy had the strong wind behind them in the second half and they dominated possession.
When Owen Bonner scored at about the hour mark and Craig Letham slotted the conversion to make 10-7 it was ‘game on’, but the hosts bounced back to score the winning try with 10 minutes to go, when Sam Hiddleston went under the posts with Joe Strain converted.
“We were delighted to get a win against a very good Kirkcaldy team,” said Dumfries head coach Euan Mack. “With a strong wind at our backs in the first half we were disappointed to only score 10 points, but Kirkcaldy kept the ball really well and frustrated us. In the second half we had some really good spells in attack and defence and our pack put in a great shift to grind out the win.”
Meanwhile, Peebles turned on the style to win 52-12 against Gordonians at The Gytes. Try scorers for the home team were Jamie Menzies, Ryan Stewart (2), David Collins, Murray Brown, Greg Raeburn, Murdo Anderson and Mark Munro, while Raeburn kicked six conversations.
“I was delighted with our performance especially after how poor we were against Lasswade [in the National League Cup],” said Peebles head coach Lewis Bertram. “This week our performance was fantastic and it was like watching a different team from last week.
“I felt that although it took us 25 minutes to score our first try, in that time we played some fantastic rugby and really stretched the Gordonians defence. I was pleased that we didn’t panic or get frustrated, we just kept playing to our structure and eventually we got the rewards with four tries in 15 minutes before half-time. Our work rate off the ball was excellent and we made it incredibly difficult for Gordonians to defend.”
The visitors points came through tries from Andrew O’Neil and Jared White, with Graeme Crawford kicking one conversion.
Gordonians are in 11th spot and in a bit of danger of the drop with the teams in 10th and 12th having two games in hand on them.
The league now takes a break over the Calcutta Cup weekend with a full fixture card returning on February 15th, and with five points separating the top five there promises to be plenty of twists and turns to come during the business end of the season..
There was also one rearranged National League Cup quarter-final played on Saturday, with Stewart’s Melville producing an amazing comeback to defeat fellow National Two side Preston Lodge 34-29.
The Inverleith men were 0-22 down at one stage, but a Charlie Simmonds drop goal started the Stew-Mel revival, then Doug Randall and James Ferguson scored tries, to make it 13-22 with 15 minutes remaining. Jack Pennell scored a converted try on debut to make it 20-22 and when another came from Ferguson the Edinburgh side were 27-22 up.
There was a twist in the tale when a seven pointer put PL 27-29 ahead going into the closing stages, before a final try by Jamie McGurk, which was converted, won it for Stew-Mel.
“It was literally a game of two halves,” said Stew-Mel head coach Jonny Else, who can look ahead to a semi-final against Lasswade on 28th March. “PL were outstanding in the first half, they were direct up front, bullied us and were clinical when they were presented with scoring opportunities.
“We were lucky to be only 22 points dow, but at half-time our attack coach Alex Hagart and forwards coach Gav McLeod reset the boys minds and made some tactical and personnel changes. Our second half performance was very good indeed. We had five players moving up from our development team and all of them, to a man, were outstanding.
“It was a wonderful game for the neutrals, but a rollercoaster for the coaches!”
National League Division Two results –
GHK 25 Hamilton Bulls 18
Peebles 52 Gordonians 12
Dumfries Saints 17 Kirkcaldy 7
How it stands –