Currie Chieftains 25
COLIN RENTON @ Malleny Park
MARR emerged victorious in the Tennent’s Premiership Play-Off Final with an outstanding performance, but grassroots rugby was the real winner at Malleny Park. The visitors arrived quietly confident but knowing that it would take an exceptional effort to better a Chieftains side that had topped the table in the regular season and hadn’t lost since the opening weekend of the campaign.
And that was exactly what they did produce, ensuring that the bumper crowd enjoyed a game that was dripping with skill and commitment and was played against a background of relentless noise from boisterous supporters of both teams. The proceedings again exposed as nonsense claims that club rugby is not fit for purpose.
Marr coach Craig Redpath is certainly an enthusiast, saying: “The last two weeks’ games have been at a different level than we’ve played in the Premiership. We just have to hope that it continues that way. It will be a tougher season again next season because I think more teams will be better. The Covid thing was really difficult for all clubs, but I think club rugby is in a great position.”
Credit too, to referee Ross Mabon, who handled the occasion well, imposing himself in the understated way that is the hallmark of good officials. His first action came seconds after the kick-off when he awarded the home side a penalty that handed Sam Leto a chance to open the scoring, and the stand0off was bang on target with his effort.
Marr responded with a spell of pressure that yielded a penalty. Scott Bickerstaff booted the ball into touch and from the ensuing line-out, three pick-and-go efforts were repelled by the home defence before Blair Jardine plunged over for the try. Colin Sturgeon added the extras. Chieftains earned another penalty on their next visit to opposition territory, and Leto’s sweetly struck effort sailed between the sticks to cut the gap to one point.
Marr were looking the more threatening of the sides and Sturgeon had a chance to extend the visitors’ lead with a long-range penalty, but tugged his effort just wide. However, he was instrumental in stretching the Chieftains defence in the lead-up to a second try. Again it was the reward for a powerful forward effort, with Brandon Sweet applying the final touch on this occasion. Sturgeon’s conversion took the lead to eight points.
The hosts had struggled to gain a foothold in the game, and there were 22 minutes on the clock before they pieced together a handling move of any note. That foundered on a knock-on and was followed by a searing break from Jack Scott that returned play to the Chieftains half, and allowed Marr to build another attack, which ended with a knock-on.
Fergus Scott rallied his men and they enjoyed a spell in the ascendancy, which ended with Cairn Ramsay making his first contribution minutes after entering the fray when he dived over from close range for a try which – combined with Leto’s conversion – trimmed the deficit to a single point. However, Marr, with Bickerstaff and Dougie Steele prominent, ended the half well, and Sturgeon landed a penalty to give his side a four-point cushion at the end of the first period.
Chieftains resumed with greater purpose but failed to threaten the opposition line. The visitors introduced Gordon Reid in the second-row and his arrival added ballast at the set-piece and created the base for further attacks.
Steele offered a glimpse of his pace when he gathered and raced past one defender then chipped ahead, forcing Chieftains to carry the ball over their own line. From the scrum, Grant Baird picked out Fraser Grant with a bullet pass and the skipper completed the job, with Sturgeon again converting.
The Chieftains response came to grief with a knock-on inside the Marr 22, although a penalty at the resulting scrum launched a period of sustained pressure. That ended with Ryan Daley edged into touch just short of the whitewash.
The hosts had 15 minutes left to salvage the game and they were soon back on the offensive. The visitors’ defence was outstanding and this period proved to be the point when the game was won. A combined effort by Sturgeon and Bickerstaff repelled DJ Innes. The next assault on the Marr defence appeared to have yielded points when Joe Reynolds fed James McCaig and the replacement winger looked to have dived over. However, he had grounded the ball just short.
The score was only briefly delayed and it came with nine minutes to play when Leto sent Reynolds in for a try which he also converted. The joy in the home camp was short-lived, however, and Marr pressure on the home line saw Reynolds fumble a pass, allowing Sturgeon to pounce for the score, which he then converted.
Chieftains were running out of time, but they grabbed a lifeline when McCaig burst clear and kicked ahead, allowing Daley to show his pace and win the race to the line. Marr responded smartly and launched another spell of pick-and-go pressure that ended with Craig Miller clawing his way over for a try that made it a full house for the front-row and added gloss to the final score.
Afterwards, there were no excuses from Gregor Hunter, the injured stand-off who was in charge for Chieftains after three coaches and one player became unavailable because of Covid.
“We were communicating all the time,” he said of the arrangements that meant Mark Cairns and his coaching colleagues could still influence events. “They were watching the livestream. The coaches have done loads of prep up to this point anyway and the players were ready. It didn’t really impact us too much.
“Marr were really good. They had a couple of opportunities in our 22 and they got over our line for a couple of early tries. When we had possession of the ball, I thought we looked really dangerous, we just struggled to keep a hold of it in the right areas. The second half was tight all the way. Their desperate defence got us into touch at crucial times. Full credit to Marr, I thought they were really good with the ball in hand, a really strong forward pack and their defence was really solid, so well done to Marr.”
In assessing the performance, Redpath added, “I thought we were physically very good and I felt we could score when we got near them – I think both teams could say that. I’m just delighted with how we performed. I knew it was coming. There was a couple of times we should have killed it off. Our defence worked so hard. Just so happy for everybody.”
Currie Chieftains: C Brett; R Daley, J Reynolds, DJ Innes, C Meager; S Leto, P Boyer; G Carson, R Stewart, AP McWilliam, H Ferguson, C Roman, W Nelson, F Scott©, R Davies. Subs: S Fisher, G Scougall, C Ramsay, G Nelson, C Lessels, J McCaig, F Sayers.
Marr: D Steele; S Bickerstaff, G Paxton, C Sturgeon©, J Scott; C Inglis, G Baird; B Sweet, B Jardine, C Miller, D Andrew, F Grant, A Johnston, R Brown, B Johnston. Subs: C McMillan, C Steele, G Reid, M Pearce, S Broad, M O’Sullivan, N Calder.
Referee: R Mabon
Currie Chieftains: Tries: Ramsay, Reynolds, Daley; Cons: Leto, Reynolds; Pens: Leto 2.
Marr: Tries: Jardine, Sweet, Grant, Sturgeon, Miller; Cons: Sturgeon 4; Penalty: Sturgeon.
Scoring sequence (Chieftains first): 3-0; 3-5; 3-7; 6-7; 6-12; 6-14; 11-14; 13-14; 13-17 (h-t) 13-22; 13-24; 18-24; 20-24; 20-29; 20-31; 25-31; 25-36.
Man-ot-the-Match: While four of the five Marr tries came from forwards, it was the backs who caught the eye with their creativity and solid defence in a key second half spell. Scott Bickerstaff and Dougie Steele were impressive, but the top man overall was Colin Sturgeon who was threatening with ball in hand, impressive off the tee, and a try scorer.
Talking point: A fabulous presentation of club rugby showed that there is passion among spectators and plenty of skill among the players. The game at this level really has to be supported and given an opportunity to thrive.