LEWIS STUART @ Fullarton Park
MIGHTY Musselburgh produced one of the shocks of the season when they arrived at ‘Fortress Fullarton’ to take on the Premiership leaders and not only went home with a win but wrapped up a scoring bonus point before half time, as well.
To rub in their all round superiority for most of the match, they even added a penalty with the final kick to deny their hosts a losing bonus point in a performance that silenced the usually vocal Marr support.
The key to the game was that they destroyed the Marr line-out so that by the end it was No 8 Blair Jardine taking the throws, and they also won the breakdown battle handsomely until the final quarter – by which point the result was realistically out of sight.
So, no wonder Derek O’Riordan, the Musselburgh head coach, was both relieved and happy at the end. “The last ten minutes were quite nervy but I knew once we got to 75 there was no way they were going get the result back so that’s when I could relax a little,” he admitted.
“It’s what we talked about – playing across the whole 80 minutes and I was delighted at the way we denied them a losing bonus point. It was good to see a little bit of a ruthless edge.”
The key to Musselbrugh’s win was their breakdown work. Helped by their line-out dominance, that stopped Marr getting field position and made sure that Musselburgh could take full advantage of the attacking chances they got.
“You can’t do anything without quality set-piece. Jack Haynes did his homework and understood where we could pick them off at the line-out. Then our skill-set, our passing game, our ability to get the ball out to the edges, even when they were lining us up and picking players off, was credit to the boys.”
You wonder how much the Marr players had fallen into the trap of thinking they only had to turn up to win, especially as they scored early through stand-off Colin Sturgeon on the end of an extended attacking phase, but then fell apart.
To add to the frustrations for Kenny Diffenthal, the Marr coach, his side did give a glimpse of the form that had taken them top of the table when they claimed three more tries in the final quarter, but by then it was far too late.
“We showed there for probably 12 or 13 minutes that we can actually play a bit of rugby but against a quality side like Musselburgh if you give them the start that we gave them they are going to punish you,” he said.
“We spoke about where they were going to try and attack us and we spoke about the breakdown being a key area, so it’s really disappointing that they won that area. It’s something that we spoke about and worked on through the week so I’ll have to have a look at where the shortfall was.”
It is certainly a set-back for but with two home play-off spots available and half a season still to go, it does’t have to be a disaster for Marr unless it turns out to be the sort of performance that really rocks the self-belief in the team.
“You want to be building momentum going into the second half of the season, so it is a a blow for us. We have to try and build again for next week [against Heriot’s],” Diffenthal added.
There had been little indication of the surprises to come in the early exchanges, which maybe lulled Marr into a sense of false security as they won a series of penalties and drove for the line until the defence had been sucked in and there was enough space for Sturgeon to squeeze over on the opposite wing.
That was as good as it got for the hosts, however. Musselburgh took iron control over the next hour of play, also winning a string of penalties with flanker Michael Maltman at the core of the biggest drives before prop Colin Arthur made the final few inches to touch down and level the scores.
That turned the tide Musselburgh’s way, with another penalty being kicked to the corner, Maltman and the backs carrying hard before fly-half Matthew MacMillan and centre Rory Watt made the vital half break to feed his brother Sandy Watt for the go-ahead try.
By now the visitors were in full flow as another Maltman drive was carried on by scum-half Fionn Call, linking with lock Joss Arnold and wing Sandy Watt before Craig Owenson, the prop, was put in for the next score.
It was a similar tale just before half-time when more continuity in the Musselburgh play aided by their opponents being down to 14 men after lock Euan Hamilton-Bulger was sin binned for a high tackle, brought McMillan, full-back Paul Cunningham and wing Rory Hindhaugh into the game before No 8 Jordan Lister popped up on the wing to cross in the corner.
At this stage, Musselburgh were in total control. They were keeping the ball for minutes at a time while Marr could hardly manage three phases without being turned over or conceding a penalty.
So ,it was somewhat against the run of play when Jardine, who had hardly seen the ball in the first half, got the second half scoring under way after Gregor Paxton and Scott Bickerstaff had cut through the visitors’ defence.
Normal service was resumed when quick ball from a Musselburgh forward drive and quick hands from McMillan and Hindhaugh put Sandy Watt in for his second score.
To be fair to Marr, when they did eventually get the bit between their teeth, they made it pay. Jardine’s quick thinking in taking a tap after a scrum penalty earned his side their third try and then Conor Bickerstaff carried through the middle of the visiting defence for the fourth, but it was far too late to make a difference.
Appropriately, Musselburgh had the final word when the last play of the game brought them a penalty and Danny Owenson, who had replaced McMillan at fly-half, slotted the points to deny the home side even the consolation of a losing bonus point.
Marr: G Montgomery; S Bickerstaff, G Paxton, C Bickerstaff (C), J Jacobson; C Sturgeon, G Baird; A Rogers, S Reekie, A Apthorpe, D Andrew, E Hamilton-Bulger, C Young, K Vallance, B Jardine. Subs: G Dick, C Smith, B Johnston, R Baird, C Inglis.
Musselburgh: P Cunningham; R Hindhaugh, R Watt (C), B Heber, S Watt; M McMillan, F Call; C Owenson, R Stott, C Arthur, J Arnold, J Haynes, M Maltman, G Inkster, J Lister. Subs: R Mackie, R Brown, P Bogie, M Crawford, D Owenson.
Referee: F Hollins
Marr: Tries: C Sturgeon, Jardine 2, C Bickerstaff; Cons: Sturgeon 4.
Musselburgh: Tries: Arthur, S Watt 2, C Owenson, Lister; Cons: McMillan 4; Pen: D Owensen.
Scoring sequence (Marr first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 7-7; 7-12; 7-14; 7-19; 7-21; 7-26; 7-28 (h-r) 12-28; 14-28; 14-33; 19-22; 21-33; 26-33; 28-33; 28-36.
Player-of-the-Match: Blair Jardine claimed a brace for Marr and both Bob Stott, the hooker, and Gavin Inkster, the openside flanker, were a nuisance at the breakdown for Musselburgh. The man who made things happen in both attack and defence, however, was the Musselburgh blindside Michael Maltman, who wins he award for the way he put his side on the front foot when it mattered.
Talking point: Musselburgh have been scoring freely but in this game they got their defence right. If they can keep that standard up, they could be serious challengers at the top end of the table, a real feat for a team who were caught up in a relegation battle for most of last season.