STEPHEN BRUNSDON @ Philiphaugh
MUSSELBURGH produced their best performance of the Premiership season so far to record a superb bonus-point victory on the road over Selkirk.
Despite going 15-0 down inside the opening quarter, Derek O’Riordan’s side bounced back in fine style to dominate the rest of the first half, scoring three tries to take the lead at the break and adding the bonus point just after it.
Conversely, Selkirk never quite looked the same side after their impressive start, and blew several chances to get back into the game in the second period as Burgh held their nerve to take a well-deserved second win of the season.
“This performance hasn’t just been in the works this season, it’s been building for the last three years,” O’Riordan said post-match. “We’ve struggled to win away from home and the effort put in by the boys today was exceptional.”
Perhaps Burgh’s true key to victory lay in their resilience – which was knocked for six early on as Selkirk romped to a 15-0 lead as a second-minute try from Callum Anderson was followed by another from set-piece from Bruce Riddell and a 15th-minute penalty from out-half Aaron McColm.
Burgh had barely laid hands on the ball, but once they did, O’Riordan’s men proved more than a handful for Selkirk. Their set-piece was a real asset all match and Craig Owenson capitalised on a surging line-out rolling maul five yards out to bag his side’s first try. Scrum-half Danny Owenson added the extras from the touchline and, suddenly, it was game on.
Selkirk still had an eight-point lead, but they began to look like the side behind on the scoreboard. Errors began to creep into their game, despite being on the front foot more often than not. The backline of Ryan Cottrell, Anderson and Lachlan Ferguson all provided potent threats, but Burgh’s defence was galvanised and snuffed out any attempts from the hosts to widen the margin.
Burgh, now looking a distinctly different team with points on the board, announced their entrance into the contest with a second score, this time on the other side as winger James Ferguson sprinted in from the 22 after a lovely, floated pass from out-half Paul Cunningham.
Now it really was game on at 15-14, but Selkirk still had the bulk of the chances in the first half. They lost talisman second-row James Head to concussion after a nasty clash, but they remained camped inside the Burgh half. Burgh’s increasingly ill-disciplined defence were stretched from side to side, but Selkirk could not get over the whitewash.
Visiting back-rower Callum Champion was yellow-carded while Selkirk remained camped inside the opposite 22m – but it was the 14 men who then scored the try of the game on the cusp of half-time. After they withstood constant waves of attack, Neil McNairn crashed over from short range with Owenson converting, but the catalyst was the exceptional second-row Michael Badenhorst, who used his searing pace to carve through the Selkirk defence.
“The one thing we didn’t want to do going into the changing rooms at half-time was to be lacking energy,” O’Riordan said. “The score before half-time was massive for us and what we did was not let our emotions get in the way, keep our focus and try and get the next score at the start of the second half.”
Get the first score they duly did, as Burgh began the second half like Selkirk started the first, bagging the bonus point via Finn Duraj two minutes after the break, following a poor clearance from Selkirk.
The hosts were now chasing the game at 26-15 down, and their cause wasn’t helped by the sin-binning of back-rower Russell Anderson as tempers started to flare.
A penalty from Owenson helped Burgh sneak further ahead on the scoreboard and left Selkirk needing to score twice just to draw level.
Selkirk did enjoy a purple patch midway through the half and got back into the fight courtesy of Riddell’s second score of the afternoon, from a driving maul five yards out. McColm’s conversion from the touchline fell just short, meaning Burgh still had a nine-point cushion heading into the closing stages.
Both sides hit the final quarter of an hour with an air of desperation. Burgh were eager to cling on to their lead while Selkirk needed to score to get their own bonus point. Niggle increased, tempers flared even further, and the crowd played their role in the melodrama.
In the end, it was all a bit anti-climactic as Owenson’s superb penalty from the 10-metre line edged Burgh 12 points clear, all but burying the match as a contest.
Selkirk had their chances in the final minutes to get something out of the game, but handling errors at crucial points meant they came up short.
“We were second best in a lot of areas today,” Selkirk head coach Scott Wight said. “Musselburgh were the better side in the end, but it was a great test for the strength in depth of the squad.
“We had about four or five clear chances to score and didn’t take them; the only difference between us and Musselburgh is that Musselburgh took almost all their chances. Results have thankfully been kind to us elsewhere today and I do still believe that our fate is still in our hands, so we look forward to next week away to Accies.”
For Burgh coach O’Riordan, the impact of winning on the road for the wider confidence of his group was not understated. “It’s a huge psychological boost for us. Winning with a bonus point, but more importantly not letting them get anything out of the game, was a big thing today. We defended well and when they thought they could kick to the corner and run over us, we fronted up really well.”
Selkirk: C Anderson; L Ferguson, B Pickles, J Welsh, R Cottrell; Aaron McColm©, J Hamilton; K Thomson, J Bett, B Riddell, J Head, Andrew McColm, R Anderson, S McClymont, M Job. Subs: L Pettie, C Turnbull, A Cochrane, E McVicar, C Easson.
Musselburgh: R Young; J Ferguson, K McGhie, R Watt, S Watt; P Cunningham, D Owenson©; C Owenson, F Duraj, N McNairn, M Badenhorst, W Fleming, P Bogie, M Outram, C Champion. Subs: R Stott, R Hanning, J Haynes, F Call, T Foley.
Referee: M Todd.
Selkirk: Tries: Anderson, Riddell 2. Con: McColm. Pen: McColm.
Musselburgh: Tries: C Owenson, Ferguson, McNairn, Duraj. Cons: D Owenson 3. Pens: D Owenson 2.
Scoring sequence (Selkirk first): 5-0; 10-0; 12-0; 15-0; 15-5; 15-7; 15-12; 15-14; 15-19; 15-21 (h-t) 15-26; 15-29; 20-29; 20-32.
Yellow cards –
Musselburgh: Champion, Outram.
Man-of-the-Match: He kicked 12 points on a day where Burgh won by 12 points, but Danny Owenson was a far more influential asset on the field than just from the tee. The scrum-half-turned-fly-half was his usual consistent threat and controlled things superbly alongside Cunningham. His break late on, which ultimately put Burgh in the position to earn the penalty which sealed the deal, further cemented his place as man-of-the-match.
Talking point: It was all about chances at Philiphaugh. Selkirk took theirs early on as Burgh struggled to warm up, but converted very few after the visitors got into the game properly. For Burgh, this was a morale-boosting victory on the road which will give them the confidence they need to finish off the Premiership season on the right note.