Southern Knights 23
Newcastle Falcons 12
ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards
SOUTHERN KNIGHTS claimed the Doddie Club Trophy after defeating a strong Newcastle Falcons side at The Greenyards in a match played at a furiously fast tempo and which yielded five excellent tries.
What was originally planned to be a Scottish semi-pro team versus an English Premiership Club A side turned out differently and in the event half the Knights’ starting team was supplied from Edinburgh Rugby. But did this matter? Not at all. Indeed the presence of so many high-profile players from the Edinburgh squad, all of whom were trying desperately to impress their coaches, helped to inspire the semi-pro players, among whom flanker Harry Borthwick and Russell Anderson showed that they were more than comfortable alongside full time professionals.
“When you look at the game and the way it was positioned in relation to another fixture [a planned East v West Super6 match], we needed support from Edinburgh otherwise we could not have played the game,” said Knights head coach Rob Chrystie. “Full credit to Mike Blair for helping out. A lot of his young players were there to show what they could do for Edinburgh Rugby.
“For the Knights guys it was brilliant for them to train with the Edinburgh guys. It raised their standards. When you look at what Super6 was set up to do – bring us closer to pro level – then look at what happened today. It’s a great that some of our boys have been exposed to pro standard. There’s some very good rugby players in Super6.”
In the Newcastle starting team, all fifteen players had made Premiership appearances this season, their bench made up from Academy players. Of the Scots playing for the Falcons, Gary Graham, capped four times by Scotland, put in a strong performance at No 8 and equally eye-catching was Robbie Smith at hooker.
The game itself was perhaps one of the best seen at The Greenyards this season, a match of fast and physical rugby and one that certainly entertained the crowd, who are certainly warming to Friday night fixtures.
After a furious five minutes of rapid rugby it was Southern Knights who struck first, Chris Dean throwing out an accurate and wide pass to Iain Sim for the winger to set up the first of a series of phases that ended with Billy Wara giving wing Freddie Owsley a try on the overlap.
Charlie Savala missed the conversion attempt and was again wide when trying to add the extra points to Knights’ second try, this time Wara eschewing the chance to lay on another try for Owsley by doing the finishing work himself.
Then after Falcons had put pressure on the Knights’ scrum the visitors made the breakthrough they had sought. It did not come from the set-piece, however, but from broken play, a delicate chip over the Knights’ defence by stand-off Will Haydon-Wood and a skilful gather by Iwan Stephen, giving the winger a try under the posts making it an easy conversion for Haydon-Wood.
Just before half time the Knights looked to have scored a third try when Dean dived over only for the referee to call a knock-on, leaving the home side with a narrow 10-7 lead at the break.
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If the first half tempo had been ferocious then there was no let-up after the break. And more so in the Falcons’ game. Yet it was the Knights who clocked up the first points of the second period of play. From a penalty-created line-out the home forwards set up a maul and just as it seemed that Falcons might contain the drive, former Ulster hookr Adam McBurney exploded off the back of the maul before having a clear run to the line.
This time Savala succeeded with the conversion points for his final contribution to the match. Thereafter Falcons hit back with some style as Louie Johnson performed an impressive juggling act with the ball prior to setting up a second try for Stephens.
Knights’ however, hit back with a penalty goal by replacement Jason Baggott that stretched the home lead to eight points.
Falcons should have replied when they opted to use their HGVs close to the line only for a knock-on to rule out a likely score. Falcons’ fate was then sealed when Baggott knocked over a second penalty goal to give his side a 23-12 win and make it a night for the Knights.
Southern Knights: J Blain; I Sim, V Wara, C Dean, F Owsley; C Savala, H Pyrgos; S Gunn, R Anderson, D Gamble, P Phillips, A Runciman, H Borthwick, C Boyle, B Muncaster. Replacements: A McBurney, S Grahamslaw, E McLaren, J Campbell, R Knott, A Ferrie, C Jones, J Baggott, N Godsmark, M Currie, P Anderson, C Scott.
Newcastle Falcons: A Tait; O Lindsay-Hague, G Wacokecoke, M Wright, I Stephens; W Haydon-Wood, C Nordli-Kelemeti; L Mulipola, R Smith, M Tampin, W Montgomery, G Merrick, J Basham, C Collett, G Graham. Replacements: C Smith, M Dormer, K Cooper, P Brantingham, F Lockwood, M Dalton, J Blackett, L Johnson, Z Kerr.
Referee: I Kenney
Southern Knights: Tries Owsley, Wara, McBurney; Cons: Savala; Pens Baggott 2.
Newcastle Falcons A: Tries Stephens 2; Con: Haydon-Wood.
Scoring Sequence (Southern Knights first): 5-0; 10-0; 10-5; 10-7 (h-t) 15-7; 17-7; 17-12.
Man-of-the-Match: Given that most of the players in this match were full-time professionals. it says much that a couple of Super6 semi-pro players were able to post stand-out performances. They were Russell Anderson and Harry Borthwick. Hardly anything between them but for his staying power, his line-out work, his ability to scythe down quick runners, and his overall athleticism around the park Harry Borthwick is man of the match
Talking point: Perhaps it was just as well that it was not a full semi-pro Knights side that faced a strong Falcons side: otherwise a mismatch might have ensued. In the event, a number of semi pros in the Knights side were exposed to the physicality and pace of the pro game but their impressive performances were very much inspired by their Edinburgh Rugby team-mates. Of the latter, Henry Pyrgos looked back to his best, Chris Dean is ready to reclaim the centre jersey, Connor Boyle was constantly busy and Ben Muncaster continues to impress. The other Edinburgh player marking his card was Charlie Savala (despite poor goal kicking) who showed pace and slick passing in his game at stand-off.