Blairgowrie - Saturday 18th January 2020
Blairgowrie RFC 0, Orkney RFC 53
Orkney travelled south for their latest Tennent’s Caledonia Regional league 1 fixture by Loganair flight on the morning of Saturday 1st February 2020. The usual ferry travel on Friday night being ruled out due to a lack of bunk space. It just so happened that all the cabins were booked up by over tired Shetland Up Helly AA revellers returning to the mainland. Fortunately, team manager Coltherd managed to secure enough seats on the 0730hrs flight to Aberdeen thus ensuring an extra night at home for the players.
This was a rearranged league fixture, weather causing the cancellation of the original tie. This meant that Orkney did not have much information on the type of rugby Glenrothes would bring to the table.
Orkney arrived at Glenrothes with only half an hour to kick off time as a result of the flight being slightly delayed and pressure to play the game and return to Aberdeen in time to catch the Northlink ferry home.
The weather conditions on the day were not particularly favourable for open expansive quick rugby. A strong wind blowing down the length of the pitch and drizzly rain for the majority of the first half before the rain abated in the second.
The pitch itself was on a pronounced slope and earlier in the week was borderline unplayable due to heavy rain. Fortunately, the rain had relented long enough to let the surface dry sufficiently for the game to proceed. To use a horse racing analogy the going was heavy.
The game began with Orkney playing up the slope, into the elements and receiving the kick off. The first half turned out to be a fairly dour struggle between both teams. Primarily due to the defence of both sides and the wet, muddy, slippery ball handling mistakes were frequently made leading to several scrums and a lack of real continuity.
Orkney playing in to the wind had to expend a lot of energy to gain territory in to the home half. They did however manage to get in to the home twenty-two on a couple of occasions and apply some pressure. However, a knock on in contact at the five-metre line allowed Glenrothes to clear their lines from the following scrum on one of these. The second passage of play close to the home try line saw a number of penalty advantages awarded to Orkney and it looked as if prop Niall Campbell had burrowed over for a try. The referee was unsighted and by the time he had a view opposition players had managed to get hands under the ball. Despite going back to the original penalty Orkney did not capitalise, another knock on allowing the pressure to be released.
Glenrothes playing with the wind had fairly long passages of play in the Orkney half but they too were making handling errors in contact and allowing Orkney to prevent any real pressure being applied with most of the play outside the Orkney twenty-two metre line.
One highlight of the Glenrothes play throughout the half was their tackling and aggression in the tight exchanges. There were not many occasions when a first up tackle was not made and this allayed to the conditions was slowing down Orkney ball and not allowing them to get in to their usual tempo.
Just before half time Orkney conceded a penalty about twenty five metres out just to the right of the posts. However, the kick for posts just went wide.
Comedy moment of the half went to Orkney flanker Jon Tait who tried to pick up a ball skidding along the ground towards him. He missed, sliding on to his posterior and back as it went through his legs then back heading it out of the field as he hit the ground. I’m led to believe there may be video footage circulating, but that may just be a rumour!
Half time came and it was still scoreless. This was something Orkney had not experienced so far this season; it would be interesting to see how they reacted and if they could make use of the wind advantage. Gary Nicolson returning from injury was introduced to the field at half time, replacing Kevin Sinclair in the second row.
Orkney re started by kicking deep in to the opposition half and a good chase and turnover led to immediate Orkney pressure in the home 22m area. This resulted in a penalty to Orkney who chose to kick to the corner for a lineout. This was taken and Orkney set up a maul. The drive by the forwards assisted by a couple of backs proved unstoppable and Niall Campbell had the easy job of scoring the try. James Linklater stepped up and added the conversion.
The second try came shortly after the restart. Orkney managed to get to the home twenty-two metre line and started to get in to their attacking shape. Groups of forwards carrying hard at the home defence and providing quicker ball for their centres to carry up. The ball was then recycled after several phases of play on the front foot. Scrum half Thomson passed to captain Rendall who drew a defender on to him and lifted a short pass for Jon Tait to hit at pace on a lovely angle and canter in under the posts from about eight metres out. Linklater again converted.
Twenty minutes in to the second half Orkney were back on the scoresheet. Once more they had gained field position and Glenrothes were forced to concede a penalty on their five metre line. Orkney opted to run at the opposition and bludgeon their way over. Several hard carries by the pack took them to within inches prop Niall Campbell picked up the ball and drove over for the score converted by Linklater.
At this point Craig Rendall replaced Erland Drever after a hard shift on the coalface and Scott Russell who suffered a neck strain was replaced by David Bruce.
The small travelling support would have been forgiven for thinking that given their dominance in the second half Orkney would surely soon have the bonus point try.
Glenrothes had different ideas and set about working their way in to the Orkney half towards the visitors try line. Several penalties were conceded and the referee awarded a team yellow card to Captain Scott Rendall. The Glenrothes forwards took this opportunity to take the fight to Orkney in the tight and squeezed over for a deserved try.
Ten minutes left to play and Orkney made their final personnel changes, bringing on the experienced Kevin Sinclair and Derek Robb for Niall Campbell and Duncan Gray respectively.
Orkney then went back on the offensive, searching for the bonus point try. Glenrothes were determined to do something no other team in the league had managed so far this season and stop them.
With the clock running down Orkney managed to gain possession just inside the opposition 22m line. Scrum half Thomson made a half break and veteran prop Kevin Sinclair, refreshed by his rest on the touch line was running an inside line. He gratefully received the pass from Thomson and was able to cross the whitewash before the cover defence could stop him. Linklater stepped up and converted the score before the referee blew the whistle for full time.
All in all, a dogged display by both sets of players in poor conditions. Orkney’s organisation and better use of the wind in the second half proving to be the deciding factor. The Orkney coaches were also pleased to see their charges playing right up to the final whistle and gaining their rewards with a try bonus.
The Orkney players man of the match was Jon Tait who despite his “comedy moment” put in an impressive performance at flanker. Notably six other players in the pack received votes and this reflected the effort they put in to the game in conditions not conducive to running rugby. That’s not to say the Orkney back-line did not perform. Their tackling and hard running also making a telling contribution, with half backs Linklater and Thomson putting Orkney in the right areas of the field during the second half.
This coming weekend the Scotland v England six nations game means no league fixture for Orkney. The next league fixture will be a home tie on Saturday 15th February 2020 against Aberdeen Wanderers. Kick off time still to be confirmed.