Edinburgh Accies 13
STEPHEN BRUNSDON @ Riverside Park
SCOTT TOMLINSON can finally breathe a sigh of relief. After a winless streak which stretched back to the start of October, Jed-Forest stopped the rot in fine fashion with a bonus point victory over high-flying Edinburgh Accies.
Unlike the bulk of the Premiership teams, both sides had the benefit of having played a fortnight ago, meaning rustiness was unlikely to be as major an issue coming into the match. The importance of the encounter was also not lost on either coach, with Accies also chasing the top of the table with a record of five victories in their last seven games.
But in delivering on the promise shown for 40 minutes last time out against Selkirk, Jed secured a third win of the campaign with arguably their best performance of the season.
“It was a bitterly cold and miserable day today but [after that performance] I couldn’t care less,” said Tomlinson. “We were dominant in the scrum all day, and Accies came down here to play and I think we were able to match them.
Accies got off to a strong start and made the most of the home side’s early indiscipline to dominate possession and territory. But for all that the visitors successfully deprived Jed of the ball during the early going, it was a mistake from the goal-line restart following frantic home defence to hold up Callum Reid, which helped Accies break the deadlock.
With the restart going out on the full, Accies had a five-metre scrum in front of the posts. From there, it was a case of letting the forwards do the hard graft with a series of pick-and-go moves. In the end, it was centre Neil Armstrong who used his strength to burrow over for the try, with fly-half Jamie Loomes converting for a 7-0 lead.
Jed needed to get themselves into the match, having been stung by Armstrong’s score, but nearly compounded their slow start by allowing Accies second-row Finlay Simpson to burst up field before being dragged down on the Jed 10 metre line. Accies then squeezed out a penalty for a Jed hand in the ruck, which Loomes duly kicked to extend the gap.
Accies may well have had more scoring opportunities in the opening 40 minutes had it not been for a severely malfunctioning line-out. The visitors coughed up possession five times in the Jed half, allowing the hosts to easily clear their lines.
These missed chances gave Jed some much-needed momentum as they looked to wrestle the lead from the Edinburgh side, having closed the gap to five points following back-rower Craig Cowan’s score after 20 minutes.
Despite bitterly cold temperatures, both sides endeavoured to play an expansive game throughout the first half, although increased handling errors and indiscipline meant that neither team could make a break on the scoreboard. And as Accies were left to rue their line-out woes, Jed seized the lead on the brink of half-time.
Accies were penalised after a high tackle on winger Robbie Shirra-Gibb, who left the field injured soon after, and Jed used their effective line-out driving maul to get to within five yards of the line. After several pick-and-go efforts, prop Paulo Ferriera found a way to the line to touch down. Having missed his first attempt, Gary Munro slotted the extras from the touchline to give his side a 12-10 lead which they held at half-time.
Although they had started the better of the two sides, Accies somehow trailed at the break, with head coach Iain Berthinussen lamenting the inaccuracies which gave Jed a foothold of the match.
“We had some good territory in the first half, but we were inaccurate on seven line-outs on the bounce and that killed us a bit,” he said. “Take nothing away from Jed, I thought they were very good, and we maybe looked like a team who were comfortable winning, whereas they were a team desperate to win.”
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The half-time break probably came at the right time for Accies as it gave them time to reassess just how they were going to regain the advantage over a Jed side desperately in search of victory at home. The key to this was taking charge of the possession and putting the hosts under pressure, which they successfully managed two minutes into the second period. Jed strayed offside, drawing the penalty which Loomes duly kicked to put the visitors back in the lead at 13-12.
That looked to have given Accies a second wind but the home side responded in the best way possible. Tomlinson’s men started to play to their strengths and gradually asserted their already established dominance in the set-piece to lay the foundations for what ended up being a comfortable victory.
Prop Grant Paxton finished off a well-worked driving maul from a line-out penalty as Accies’ discipline began to deteriorate in the second half. Munro’s conversion was good, and Jed were once again back in the lead, 19-13. The tide had begun to turn in Jed’s favour.
Proof of this was in how Accies reacted. Berthinussen’s side showed plenty of intent but handling errors which were rare in the first half started to become more of an issue now the game was being well and truly chased. Fly-half Loomes still caused problems for the Jed defence, bringing on runners and sending probing grubbers into space, but Accies failed to make the most of any of these attempts to reverse the rub.
Jed, eager to not waste a golden opportunity to put one over a top four side, went for the jugular and secured the bonus point try through hooker Finlay Scott, in much the same way as Paxton had managed earlier. Evidence that Jed’s forward pack had the upper hand: all three of the front-row got on the score sheet. Munro was unable to add the extras this time, but Jed now looked commanding in a 24-13 lead.
Jed made sure of the victory via their best passage of play in the match. As the Accies defence wilted, the hosts were able to get over the gain-line with relative ease, and it was superb interplay between the forwards and backs which unleashed full-back Lewis Young down the near touchline, before feeding back inside for his brother, Gregor, to slide over. 29-13, the game all but won, despite the scoreline not doing Jed’s second-half performance justice due to Munro’s uncharacteristic misses from the tee.
But it was a victory which Tomlinson and the whole of Jed had been waiting for since the start of October. Two home defeats back-to-back and a frustrating draw away to Selkirk were quickly put to one side, with the head coach relishing the final fixtures before the brief Christmas break.
“We made some mistakes to let them back into the game a bit, and they definitely came back out fighting after half-time, tried to get under our skin a bit,” he reflected. “And we’ve got players who could potentially rise to that, but they didn’t this time, so that showed a lot of character and maturity.”
“We had a lot of changes to this team. Eight first-team players were out this week so we adapted really well. We scored some really good tries, especially the last one. it’s the sort of performance we’ve been wanting to put in for a few weeks now. Hawks next week and then Aberdeen, so now we’ve set the standard of what we’re able to achieve and we need to back that up.”
Jed-Forest: L Young; M Cullen, G Young©, D Buckley, R Shirra Gibb; M Russell, G Munro; G Paxton, F Scott, P Ferraira, C Skeldon, G Law, D Gillespie, B Roff, C Cowan. Subs: F Campbell, H Meadows, B McNeill, J Howe, A Bambrick.
Edinburgh Accies: V Hart; H Janes, R Kent, N Armstrong, B Appleson; J Loomes, J Troup; S Gunn, C Black©, C Lacour, J Mills, F Simpson, J Sole, M Walker, C Reid. Subs: G Stevenson, A Winnington-Ingram, C Bain, B Grainger, R Lile.
Referee: R Campbell
Jed-Forest: Tries: Cowan, Ferreira, Paxton, Scott, G Young; Cons: Munro 2.
Accies: Tries: Armstrong; Cons: Loomes Pen: Armstrong 2
Scoring Sequence (Jed-Forest first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-10; 5-10; 10-10; 12-10 (h-t) 12-13; 17-13; 19-13; 24-13; 29-13.
Man-of-the-Match: This award could have gone to the entire Jed front-row for their second-half dominance, but back-rower Darren Gillespie gets it this week after a sterling game both in defence and in the loose. He’s been out of action for a while but managed to fit back into the Jed pack seamlessly and provided a threat throughout the match.
Talking Point: So often, Jed have failed to produce two halves of rugby this season, but they were on the money straight from the off this time. On a day where Accies simply weren’t themselves, Jed excelled in doing the basics well and took their chances with clinical precision. The set-piece was monstrous and Munro’s kicking game from hand put Accies under all sorts of pressure. A performance Jed have long searched for this season came to fruition at last.