DAVID FERGUSON @ Poynder Park
KELSO are developing a reputation for fast starts at Poynder Park but no-one anticipated a six-try first half blitz against a team coming off a mighty win away to the title contenders.
But as much as you might wonder how Musselburgh could go from title contender to abject misery in the space of a week, all of the writing of the story of this game came from Kelso hands. A try inside two minutes from Cammy Brown, a player who seems as comfortable in the centre and wing as he does playing second and back-row, and can be found in all positions each game – set the tone for a first half in which Kelso were simply clinical in all aspects of play.
Ball-carrying was strong and forwards held onto ball as if it was a first meal in a week; handling was slick and mistakes few; kicking from hand was well executed and regularly turned Musselburgh; and exit plays, defensive shape and accuracy was so consistent that when the visitors had good ball they simply couldn’t take it through sufficient phases to fashion an opportunity in the home half.
Brown was followed on to the scoresheet by skipper Frankie Robson, Keith Melbourne, Bruce McNeil and Murray Woodcock before the lock popped up again in the wide channels to finish off a sixth try on the stroke of half-time. The sides trooped past a scoreboard that read 38-0, and players of both colours could be forgiven for taking a second look before heading into the changing rooms.
Kevin Utterson, Kelso co-coach, admitted afterwards: “I can’t remember seeing six tries before half-time – was it six? The irony is we focused a lot on defence this week and we go out and play some of the best attacking rugby we’ve played this season. But it was just what we knew we were capable of.
“Our message to the boys this week was that the first half of the season hadn’t been good enough. We have played well in spells but not for full games, and we said that they had to lift the quality of play and consistency, and this was time to do it, against a team coming here off the back of a big win at Marr.”
Asked if he thought Musselburgh under-estimated the Premiership newcomers, Utterson was unequivocal: “Undoubtedly. Some of their players had a swagger on before the game, walking around the pitch drinking coffee, and that was mentioned in our dressing room.
“But we have big games coming up away to Heriot’s and home to Hawick, and I don’t think we can expect any teams to under-estimate us now. This is the standard we have set now, and while we’ll enjoy the victory and the performance, we need to build on this.”
Musselburgh coach Derek O’Riordan raised his eyebrows on hearing Utterson’s swagger comment but then agreed.
“Yes, too many of our players under-estimated Kelso; I’d agree with that,” he said. “We’re having to work on the psychology of our guys at the moment. They have done really well to prove they are a team to be taken seriously at this level, but being a top four team requires a different mindset to the ‘survivor’ mindset we’ve had for a while now.
“This win was all about Kelso today. You come here where the emotional energy is high, and we met a team that wanted to destroy us, and they did that. They had an answer for everything we did, wouldn’t give us any space, and we started to go off script, had some in-fighting, and were really brought back down to earth.
“Very few teams win like we did at Marr, and we haven’t become a bad team overnight, but we have to learn how to back it up as top four teams do. We’ve got Accies next week and we haven’t done well against them recently, so the important thing is that we get back to doing what we do best in the next eight games.”
The speed of Kelso’s attack in the first half had the large Poynder Park crowd on their toes throughout, each of the forwards taking turns to truck the ball into contact, and the backs playing to each touchline, and showing real composure when initial hits were denied. The timing of the scores after 17, 22, 32, 35 and 40 minutes were also key, as they seemed to suck out every little bit of belief the visitors worked hard to develop, and ensure that every time the hosts put together an attacking move it invariably ended with a period of pressure and try.
One criticism of Kelso in recent weeks has been their inability to maintain such a high standard in the second half and one could level that at them again, but while they managed only to add one more try – finished by Andy Tait after an explosive run by Liam Tait drew the covering defence to create a gap the width of a truck for the disbelieving scrum-half, who did a double-take before darting through five metres out – they still managed to control the game.
That try came 16 minutes into the second period and was another hammer to the heart of Musselburgh after their far brighter start to the half. As if that was not enough, they also lost right winger Rory Hindhaugh, whose father Michael once played for Kelso, when he dumped Patterson on his head in a tackle, earning a red-card. Referee Sam O’Neill, a good communicator throughout, consulted his assistant Grant Denholm, but such dangerous tackles in the modern game have only one outcome.
Despite this, Musselburgh removed the ‘granny’ tag when they finished off two line-out mauls in the last ten minutes, the first exploiting a lost Kelso line-out and giving No 8 Michael Badenhorst a try, and the second scored by prop Ross Brown off their own line-out maul.
It made for a quiet finale for the home crowd, and gave Musselburgh a minor lift, but there was no mistaking the players wearing the smiles in the clubrooms afterwards as Kelso sent another message to anyone thinking the Premiership play-off spots might be a foregone conclusion.
Kelso: A Barbour; A Roberts, D Patterson, F Robson, R Tweedie; M Hastie, A Tait; G Shiells, E Knox, T Logan, C Brown, K Melbourne, L Tait, M Woodcock, B McNeil. Substitutes: A Frame, A McGregor, C Thompson, E Thompson, H Tweedie.
Musselburgh: P Cunningham; R Hindhaugh, R Watt, B Heber, S Watt; M McMillan, F Call; R Brown, R Stott, D Miller, J Arnold, J Haynes, J Lister, G Inkster, M Badenhorst. Substitutes: R Mackie, C Arthur, P Bogie, M Crawford, D Owenson.
Referee: Sam O’Neill.
Kelso: Tries: McNeil, Barbour, Robson, Melbourne, McNeil, Woodcock, Tait; Cons: Patterson 5.
Musselburgh: Tries: Badenhorst, Brown; Con: Owenson.
Scoring sequence (Kelso first): 5-0; 10-0; 12-0; 17-0; 22-0; 24-0; 29-0; 31-0; 36-0; 38-0 (h-t) 43-0; 45-0; 45-5; 45-7; 45-12.
Red card –
Musselburgh: Rory Hindhaugh.
Man-of-the-Match: Candidates aplenty across the Kelso team this week, with Keith Melbourne, Cammy Brown and Bruce McNeil again standing out, hooker Euan Knox having a great game, and the decision-making of Andy Tait, Murray Hastie and Dwain Patterson clinical and key. Even each of the replacements made real impact. But wins like this invariably come from lots of unseen graft, and blindside flanker Liam Tait earns the nod this week with his high work-rate in defence and attack at the heart of most tries. No player had more ‘assists’.
Talking point: Six tries and 38 unanswered points in the first half left many afterwards wondering when the last time was that Kelso had managed such a dominant first half. In the Premiership, many believe that we have to go back to the 1980s, when names such as Alan Tait, Roger Baird and John Jeffrey were patrolling Poynder. A new generation of inspirations are emerging now.