Southern Knights 22
Boroughmuir Bears 13
DAVID BARNES @ The Greenyards
IT looked like a fairly straightforward win for Southern Knights in the end – extending their unbeaten run at the start of this season to four matches and eased them ahead of Watsonians at the top of the Super6 table – but the scoreboard only tells half the story.
Boroughmuir Bears were major contributors to a full-throttled contest and will be frustrated that they didn’t even pick up a bonus point for their efforts, especially given the challenges head coach Graham Shiel has had this week pulling together a side after injury and pro-team demands left him desperately short.
The mild-mannered former Scotland midfielder looked unusually animated as he spoke to his players in a huddle on the pitch afterwards, but insisted that he was not giving them a hard time for letting a potential major scalp slip through their fingers.
“I’m not angry at all,” he said. “I’m incredibly proud of them, to be honest. It is more frustration that we worked so hard and did a lot of good things but at the end of the day we let a few key moments slip past us and came away with nothing.
“So, it was more around congratulating them for what they did out there because their backs were against the wall this week, and reinforcing that their hard work is paying off because they are moving in the right direction, but also encouraging them to keep demanding more from themselves.”
Shiel had special words of praise for Duncan Munn, who was called into the Bears squad from Cartha QP this week as injury cover, and looked like a seasoned pro at inside centre. “He’s 18-years-old and that’s his first real, competitive game of rugby at senior level,” he said. “It is no secret from my point of view that he is a really talented guy with, hopefully, a very big future. He needs a bit of time to develop but he’s got a fantastic attitude.”
Meanwhile, Knights head coach Rob Chrystie was pleased that his team had squeezed out the result they needed without really hitting their straps for the second week running,.
“Credit to the Bears, they are stuffy, they are really hard to play against, and they’ve got some threat,” he said. “They were smart in the way they approached the game: when it was on they went really hard and they took their time during the breaks in play as if they were almost preserving themselves for this moments.
“From our point of view, we got there. And that’s what I said to the boys afterwards: ‘You found a way, so well done’. We know we can play better individually and collectively, but we won and now we’re looking forward to going up to Myreside on Friday night to have a real crack at Watsonians and we’ll see how we get on.”
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Boroughmuir dominated the first quarter, with some smart and accurate kicking from scrum-half Kaleem Barreto in particular putting the Knights under pressure, and they deservedly took the lead by firing a penalty into the corner then shifting the ball across the park to Tom Brown, who did well to ride three tackles on his way to the line.
Tom Pittman didn’t manage the conversion. He did send home a penalty to put his team eight points ahead with 12 minutes played, then after Trystan Andrews supported by Glen Faulds surged all the way back into Knights territory straight from the restart, the Bears picked up another chance of three points, but this time their stand-off pulled his effort to the left of the posts.
That inaccuracy seemed to be infectious because Craig Jackson squandered a fairly straight-forward opportunity for three points at the other end, after Knights’s first sortie into enemy territory, but the home captain soon made amends by being involved three times in an excellent passage of play which resulted in his team’s opening try.
From a scrum near the left touchline, Jackson looped into the outside-centre channel to release Joe Jenkins on the right, and was then involved in the slick transfer of possession back across the park which gave Harry Borthwick a gallop at the line, and when the blindside flanker was stopped just short the ball was quickly recycled for Jackson to squeeze over in the corner.
With Allan Ferrie bursting down the middle of the park, Knights looked like they were ready to really assert themselves, but the Bears had other ideas, and struck next off a quick line-out with some good handling from Baretto, Munn, Pittman and Martin Cimprich sending Jordan Edmunds over. There was a hint of a forward pass in there, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes.
It was a setback for the Knights, but worse was that Jackson suffered a serious looking lower limb injury as he tried to stop the powerful Edmunds, and was clearly in distress before being removed from the pitch via stretcher.
Knights did well to move on from that double setback, and spent the final few minutes of the first half camped on the Bears’ line, but couldn’t make it count on the scoreboard.
The hosts continued to look the livelier of the two sides at the start of the second period, but the visitors initially did well to weather the storm, and two line-out penalties saw them work their out of their own half, only to suffer a gut-punch when Pittman gifted Jason Baggott a 50-yard interception try, which he converted himself to make it a one-point game.
Baggott surged clear again a few minutes later but misfired what would have been the killer pass, and that kind of scrappiness continued to haunt the home side as they tried to turn the screw on a visibly tiring Bears outfit.
A long range Baggott penalty after a collapsed scrum sailed to the left of the posts, then finally the dam burst when Euan McLaren bowled over Pittman in the middle of the park and thundered home from 25-yards, setting up an easy conversion for Baggott.
Bears weren’t quite finished yet, however, and Brown did brilliantly to escape from a wrestle for possession in the middle of the field and it looked like he was going to go under the posts, but a tag team effort from Joe Jenkins, Nyle Godsmark and Cameron Scott managed to bring him down just short.
A late offside penalty for Baggott sealed the win for the knights and deprived the Bears of a losing-bonus point.
Southern Knights: J Jenkins; B Wara (I Sim 40), N Godsmark, C Jackson (J Baggott 31), P Anderson (K Clark 54); C Scott, M McAndrew (C Jones 47); G Shiells (S Gunn, 47), F Renwick, E McLaren (C Crookshanks 70), A Runciman, D Suddon, H Borthwick (D Redpath 59), A Ferrie, I Moody.
Boroughmuir Bears: M Cimprich (M Johnstone 71); G Faulds (K McGhie 61), J Edmunds, D Munn, T Brown; T Pittman, K Barreto; G Cave (R Dunbar 47), C McKenzie (C McMillan 75), D Winning (M McGinley 67), J Fisher, W Inglis, C Keddie (T Drennan 59), S McGinley (M Mncube 67), T Andrews.
Southern Knights: Tries: Jackson, Baggott, McLaren; Con: Baggott 2; Pen: Baggott.
Boroughmuir Bears: Try: Brown, Edmunds; Pen: Pittman.
Scoring sequence (Southern Knights first): 0-5; 0-8; 5-8; 5-13 (h-t) 10-13; 12-13; 17-13; 19-13; 22-13.
Man-of-the-Match: He ended up on the losing team but Bears scrum-half Kaleem Baretto provided a master-class of scrum-half play with some razor-sharp kicking, some good sniping from the base and some crisp service to his stand-off – all delivered with the combative swagger we expect from a top-drawer No9.
Talking point: After almost 18 months of no competitive rugby, five games at this intensity on the bounce was always going to be a big challenge, and we are beginning to really learn about squad depth. As long as player welfare is prioritised, it will make for a fascinating second half of the season. But all six teams have to get through next weekend first, before enjoying a well-earned weekend off.