STEPHEN BRUNSDON @ Stoneyhill
MARR ended their regular Premiership campaign with victory over a spirited Musselburgh in another high-scoring encounter which produced 11 tries and left both sides with bonus points.
Victory for the visitors keeps them two points clear of Currie Chieftains in second place ahead of the play-offs. The two meet in a fortnight’s time in the last match of the regular season, and will also play again in the semi-finals. Musselburgh’s late try meant they picked up two points from the match, their last of the campaign.
“It was a tough game for us, because Musselburgh were chasing the fourth place in the table so we knew they would come at us,” Marr coach Kenny Diffenthal said. “But I am happy that the boys stuck to task and got the job done, even though we conceded a lot more points than we wanted to.”
With both teams more than able in attack, this was always going to be a match where rugby flowed, and Marr began as they meant to go on by touching down inside three minutes, via full-back Jack Scott.
Although they have suffered from a more porous defence than other sides above them, Burgh stuck to what has defined their season by hitting back with two scores of their own. The hosts were under pressure all day at the scrum but managed to secure possession and feed winger James Ferguson close to the line. Good ball-retention then allowed the other wing, Sandy Watt, to crash over from short-range.
Not long after, Burgh were under the sticks again, this time via No 8 Paul Bogie after a solid set-piece got them well into the Marr half. Fly-half Paul Cunningham slotted both conversions to give the home side a 14-5 lead.
Strong swirling wind made conditions far from predictable, and whatever Marr did, it seemed as though the wind was always in their face. They finally established themselves inside the Burgh half through a penalty and, once they built the phases, scored their second – and the game’s third – try after just 20 minutes. The fast ball from the breakdown did not allow Burgh to regroup in time, and simple hands to Conor Bickerstaff sent the captain in at the corner.
But, despite having the upper hand in attack, Marr still trailed as out-half Calum Inglis was given a near-impossible task of converting against a gale-force wind. However, the visitors did take the lead on the half-hour mark as Inglis and Bickerstaff gave the ball more air time to hand winger Robbie Baird an easy run-in.
Marr now seemed to have the advantage and, as Burgh’s discipline started to creak, so the gaps in the defence began to open. From a lineout on the 10m line, after Burgh coughed up an attacking move, Marr profited and set up camp inside the 22. After a series of pick and goes, back-rower Alex Apthorpe snuck over from five yards out to secure the bonus- point try, with Inglis finally landing his first conversion to give his side a 22-14 half-time lead.
The wind had died down after the break, which appeared to give Burgh a new lease of life. Certainly, the half-time whistle could not have come at a more needed time and the hosts got back to within a point of Marr after Rory Hindhaugh’s try six minutes into the second half.
Whether Marr were irked by this or not is unknown but, when Burgh conceded a penalty inside their own 22, the instruction from captain Bickerstaff was clear. Inglis slotted the points from the tee to extend the lead to four points.
That seemed to calm the Marr nerves from that point on, and Apthorpe wasted little time in bagging his second score of the match following a period of increased pressure in the Burgh half. Inglis’ conversion extended the advantage while a superb interception and length-of-the-field try from replacement Logan Jarvie – making his senior debut for Marr – effectively killed the game off as a contest heading into the final quarter.
At 39-21, few people last season would have forgiven Burgh for shutting up shop and accepting a heavy defeat. But this year there was a best Premiership finish at stake and, true to the nature of the home side, they fought until the end.
Marr, comfortably on their way to victory, rang the changes and perhaps took their foot off the gas in the closing stages, which allowed Burgh to chase the losing bonus point.
Flanker Jordan Lister made the most of quick ball inside the Marr 22 to sneak over under the posts, while Ferguson crossed with seconds left on the clock.
Both sides ended up more or less satisfied with the result, although the final stages were marred by too many needless scuffles and agro. Marr second-row Alexander Fraser Grant was shown a yellow card late on, though for repeated infringements at the breakdown rather than any foul play.
In the end, Marr came out comfortably on top to consolidate their second place in the table and prepare them for next week’s clash against Currie. As far as Diffenthal was concerned, it was a job well done.
“We lost a bit of our structure in the second half, our changes meant we didn’t have so much continuity,” he said. “But now that’s it, we can prepare ourselves for the play-offs, we need to build and keep on going.”
Meanwhile, Burgh’s Derek O’Riordan was perhaps the happiest coach at the final whistle, despite the defeat.
“This is the highest position we have finished in the Premiership, and I am ridiculously proud of our squad who, last year, were fighting to stay up,” he said. “We have achieved the goal we set out at the start of the season and how we fought to get the second bonus point at the end.”
Musselburgh: R Hindhaugh; J Ferguson, R Watt©, B Heber, S Watt; P Cunningham, R Condie; R Brown, C Owenson, D Miller, J Haynes, M Badenhorst, J Lister, M Outram, P Bogie. Subs: E Bonthron, C Arthur, M Crawford, G Inkster, T Foley.
Marr: J Scott; R Baird, N Calder, C Bickerstaff©, J Jacobson; C Inglis, G Baird; A Rogers, B Sweet, W Farquhar, E Hamilton-Bulger, F Grant, B Johnston, C Young, A Apthorpe. Subs: C Smith, K Vallance, M Blair, G Beckwith, L Jarvie.
Referee: C Stark.
Musselburgh: Tries: S Watt, Bogie, Hindhaugh, Lister, Ferguson. Cons: Cunningham 4.
Marr: Tries: Scott, Bickerstaff, Baird, Apthorpe 2, Jarvie; Cons: Baird, Inglis, Beckwith; Pen: Inglis.
Scoring sequence (Musselburgh first): 0-5; 5-5; 7-5; 12-5; 14-5; 14-10; 14-15; 14-20; 14-22 (h-t) 19-22; 21-22; 21-25; 21-30; 21-32; 21-37; 21-39; 26-39; 31-39; 33-39.
Yellow card –
Man-of-the-Match: The Marr captain Conor Bickerstaff led by example all game and was as effective in attack as he was in defence. A try to his name was an added bonus but his efforts in getting his side ahead of the gain line were far more important.
Talking point: This definitely had an end-of-term feel to it as both sides played a fast-flowing game. Marr played it better for long with their big ball-carriers and made Burgh pay at the key moments. Despite their early blip, Marr never looked like losing this game and were clinical throughout.