STEPHEN BRUNSDON @ Braidholm
TWO weeks on the sidelines was hardly the sort of preparation GHA would have wanted coming into what was seen as a must-win match. But if there were any cobwebs from the enforced break last weekend, they were most certainly blown away by a morale-boosting victory over Musselburgh at Braidholm.
Despite a pair of yellow cards either side of the half-time break, GHA took control towards the end of the opening 40 minutes, before romping clear in the second period, scoring six tries in total.
“The first 10 minutes, we let Musselburgh control things and play a bit too much, but we managed to seize that control back before the break,” said head coach Trevor Carmichael.
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“The pleasing part for me was just how much we controlled the second half, we had the connection between the forwards and the backs that we didn’t have in previous weeks, so it was a really promising performance today.”
The fortnight’s break for Carmichael’s side had left them ‘fresh, but fresh enough’ ahead of the game, which began in rather stop-start fashion as both teams struggled to gain a foothold in the early going.
GHA, with fly-half Andrew Goudie back after Super6 duties with Stirling County, appeared more composed in the set-piece on a soggy pitch, but it was Musselburgh who broke the deadlock through a Danny Owenson penalty after 16 minutes.
Spurred into action, GHA hit back soon after with the first of their six tries, courtesy of explosive back-rower Adam Kerr. The try itself came somewhat fortuitously as the initial charge to the line from Jack Bruce was held up. Bruce managed to get the ball away before referee Sam O’Neil declared a scrum, with Kerr on hand to touch down.
Once both sides got themselves into the game, it was Burgh who took the momentum midway through the first half, with winger Gregor Tait getting over the line for the first of his two scores just before the half-hour marker.
GHA were reduced to 14-men when second-row Jamie Campbell was yellow-carded for a professional foul just short of the line. The visitors took advantage with Tait completing his brace just six minutes later following a superb piece of play from Cunningham. The fly-half burst through the GHA defence in midfield and chipped ahead for the rapid Tait to chase and collect for the try.
Despite the quick-fire scores for Burgh, they still only led 13-5 as strong winds and touchline tries prevented Owenson from slotting the conversions.
A GHA riposte was required quickly, and it came as a result of Burgh’s inaccuracies at the restart, coughing up possession and giving the hosts a chance to mount an attack. Charlie Lonergan nipped over following a precise chip ahead by Goudie. Now, the momentum which had been firmly with the visitors had shifted decidedly towards the home side, with Goudie adding a third try for GHA after a strong shift from the forward pack, to establish a 17-13 advantage at half-time.
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Somehow, despite the strong attacking threat that Burgh possessed in the opening half, they found themselves trailing at the break, with head coach Graeme Paterson left to rue missed opportunities, particularly from set-piece.
“I thought the biggest thing for us today was not being able to take our chances when we had them,” he said. “A couple of dropped balls here and there, line-outs not straight etc. I’m not saying that would have won us the game but it certainly played a part in how we finished that first half our slow start in the second.
“The set-piece was an issue for us this week, no doubt about that, and it’s something we have to focus on improving in the next two weeks.”
If Burgh had started the second half slowly, then the same could not be said about GHA, who secured the bonus point try within three minutes, through the impressive scrum-half George Baird. The home side came out of the sheds with far more intensity and accuracy than they had shown in the first half, and Baird’s superb supporting line to a Goudie break put him under the posts.
GHA enjoyed cleaner and quicker ball and used their stronger forward pack to get Burgh right where they wanted them. Another Goudie inspired floating pass over the top put winger Sean Carden in for an easy score, which was converted brilliantly by Baird.
Where had this come from? Suddenly, GHA had a 31-13 lead and there appeared no evidence that Burgh could recover from this latest killer blow. A brief revival came through a well-deserved score for replacement prop Paddy Brown, which gave Burgh at least some hope that all was not lost.
It was, however, a mere blip for the runaway GHA juggernaut, which responded with their sixth try nine minutes from the end, through Andy Stirrat’s rampaging burst from five yards out to slump under the sticks.
It was a performance which GHA needed to produce after sitting idle for the past two weeks, and they delivered, much to the relief of Carmichael.
“To have Goudie back for us was big, as he brings players off him in attack and makes the defenders second guess him a lot.” said the coach. “We had some strong performances, from George [Baird] and Charlie [Lonergan] too, and the level of control we showed in the second half was satisfying.”
For Burgh, the form guide now reads five defeats in a row, with the bonus point triumph against Aberdeen at Stoneyhill back in October now feeling like a distant memory.
Paterson, however, believes the areas for improvement are simple before the arrival of Selkirk at the end of the month.
“For us, we know what went wrong today, our set-piece let us down and we allowed them to get back into the game,” he said. “You can’t compare last week’s game with this one, but GHA came out in the second half far better than us and we couldn’t get the foothold we needed to take it to them.”
GHA: R O’Keefe; S Carden, C Lonergan, A Stirrat, S Derrick; A Goudie, G Baird; T Brogan, G Hiddleston, M Fox, J Campbell, J McCarthy©, A Kerr, S Plumridge, J Bruce. Subs: L Barron, E Cavan, M Marinkovic, C Armstrong, C Hyde.
Musselburgh: R Hindhaugh; J Ferguson, R Watt, F Thomson, G Tait; P Cunningham, D Owenson©; C Lamberton, R Gregor, D Hodge, J Haynes, W Fleming, D Slaven, M Crawford, L Hutson. Subs: R Stott, C Arthur, P Brown, L Kotze, S Watt.
Referee: S O’Neil
GHA: Tries: Kerr, Lonergan, Goudie, Baird, Carden, Stirrat; Cons: Baird 4.
Musselburgh: Tries: Tait 2, Brown; Cons: Owenson; Pen: Owenson
Scoring Sequence (GHA first): 0-3; 5-3; 5-8; 5-13; 10-13; 15-13; 17-13 (h-t); 22-13; 24-13; 29-13; 31-13; 31-18; 31-20; 36-20; 38-20.
Yellow Cards –
GHA: Campbell, Marinković
Man-of-the-Match: It’s easy to cite George Baird as the stand-out player given his solid day off the kicking tee and a well-deserved try, and the credit is most definitely there for the scrum-half. But the accolades this week go to back-rower Adam Kerr for his work rate around the ruck, and for showing great elusiveness and awareness with ball in hand to get his team moving.
Talking Point: GHA faced the real risk of not making the most of their two week break from competition with a shaky start. But their freshness ultimately paid off in the end, with a sterling performance which had been sorely lacking in the Glasgow derby against Hawks three weeks prior. It wasn’t a complete performance, but it’s one which will serve GHA well as a morale-booster as they look to climb the table.
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