Royal High like Orkney, newly promoted to National 3 after winning their corresponding regional league last season. Orkney travelled to Edinburgh not knowing what to expect from the home side.
Preparations for Orkney were disrupted when their new Vice-Captain Connor Hancock and centre James Donohoe had to pull out late in the week due to muscle strains picked up in training. However young Jacob Heal moved from substitute to start at wing for his first cap, following in his father’s footsteps playing for Orkney. William Thomson moving to stand off for Connor and Craig Slater moving to centre from the wing. Ross Tulloch filling the vacant bench spot.
Travel for the game was via Loganair flight to Edinburgh on the Saturday morning something the whole squad appreciated immensely. Flying made possible by travel assistance from the Scottish rugby union and great flexibility shown by Loganair group bookings.
The game commenced with Orkney receiving the kick in humid dry conditions and no wind to speak of. During the early exchanges Orkney were looking sharp and focussed on defence and attack no doubt benefitting from flying down and a short bus trip to the ground. The home side had a big pack and Orkney were looking to move them around the field and not let them settle.
This they did to good effect with Thomson pulling the strings and benefitting from quick ball from his pack and half back partner Ali Morgan.
Orkney were first to score after good approach play from forwards and backs moving the point of attack from one side of the field to the other. This created mismatches in the defensive line, and it was talismanic hooker Scott Rendall who benefitted after showing strength and footwork to leave three defenders prone on the ground as he went over for the score. Adam Watt adding the extras.
Shortly after this Orkney captain Alistair Linklater had to leave the field with a knee injury to be replaced by Craig Rendall in the front row. This appeared to make the Orkney players lose some concentration and the Royal High centre spotted a gap at the side of a ruck about eight metres out from the Orkney line. He took full advantage and dived over for a try under the posts. This was duly converted.
The next try came after Orkney were pinned in their own twenty-two metre area by the home side. Determined aggressive tackling allowed Orkney to force a knock on. With advantage being played Thomson saw space in the wider channels, he passed to Slater who breezed past the first defender, spun past the next and took play to the home ten metre line where he was tackled as he passed the ball to Sinclair who amazingly caught the ball off his shoelaces and set up a quick ruck. The ball was then spun left to number eight Nicolson who spotted his winger Hutchison in full flow and delivered a great pass to allow him to outflank the fractured defence and score a wonderful team try. Watt once more stepping up to convert.
With half an hour gone Orkney were now starting to reap the rewards from moving the home side about the park. Space was opening for their backline, and they took full advantage.
Thomson once more receiving quick ruck ball inside the home twenty-two took the ball to the defensive line and drew two defenders to leave space for centre Russell to hit a hard inside line and score under the posts to give Watt the easy conversion.
Orkney were almost back on the scoresheet with Slater once more put into space by Thomson although the final pass did not go to hand after drawing the last defender.
Orkney’s final try of the half came after the forward pack took a scrum against the head on the home twenty-two metre line. The ball was quickly moved right from Morgan to Thomson to Sinclair who gave the scoring pass to Heal to canter into the corner for his Orkney debut try. Alas Watt was unable to convert.
Half time 7 – 26 to an Orkney side playing fluently and asking multiple questions of the home side.
The second half began with the home side looking to wrestle the initiative away from the visitors and Orkney looking to press home their advantage.
It was Orkney who soon came to the fore. Awarded a penalty on halfway it was kicked to touch by Scott Rendall five metres out from the home try line. Orkney forwards then executed a catch and drive proving too powerful for the defence and Scott Rendall dotting the ball down for his second try of the match converted by Watt.
Shortly after the restart Neil Campbell sustained a calf strain at a scrum causing him to leave the field. Young prop Owen Griffiths coming on for his senior debut.
Orkney scored a converted try soon after a period of sustained pressure. Nicolson taking the short pop at the side of a ruck to crash over. Watt once more with the extras.
The home side however were in determined mood and were awarded a penalty that they kicked to just outside the Orkney five metre line for a lineout. It was their turn to catch and drive. As they drove towards the Orkney line Flanker Jon Tait was adjudged to have brought the maul down illegally and a penalty try was awarded to Royal High. Tait being shown a yellow card and ten minutes in the sin bin.
Down to fourteen players Orkney were once more defending their try line from repeated forward drives. They proved equal to the challenge and forced a knock on allowing them to clear their lines, Ross Tulloch now on for Hutchison showing good pace up the touchline before being forced into touch.
The penultimate try for Orkney came through the Thomson/Russell axis. Russell hitting another lovely line to outwit the defence and score under the posts. Watt gleefully accepting the easy conversion and his last contribution as Robb replaced him.
It was Orkney stand off Thomson who scored the last points of the game through an opportunist try. Having been denied shortly before from a quickly taken lineout he took advantage of a forced pass by the home defence on their try line to intercept and dot the ball down. Tait fresh from his rest in the sin bin stepped up to convert the try.
This was the last play of the game and as the whistle was blown for no side the Orkney players and supporters cheered in delight to have secured the try bonus win.
Full time 14-52
Orkney club president Garry Coltherd and coach Derek Robb both delighted with the islanders’ attitude and commitment throughout the game.
The only downside of the game for Orkney were the injuries suffered by their captain Linklater and his fellow prop Campbell. Given the nature and type of injury suffered it looks like a lengthy spell out for both however a clearer picture will emerge over the coming days.
Player of the match for Orkney was awarded jointly to Craig Slater for his determined running at centre and Craig Brough for his defensive tackling and relentless work rate. In truth the whole squad deserves a mention for how they performed throughout.
This Saturday sees Hillhead Jordanhill RFC travel to Orkney for the next fixture in National 3. Orkney will be looking to build on their opening performance as will Hillhead who opened their campaign with a fine bonus point home win. Kick off is set for 1400hrs at the Picky centre pitch.
Alistair Linklater (captain), Scott Rendall, Neil Campbell, Adam Watt, Tom David, Jon Tait, Craig Brough, Gary Nicolson, Ali Morgan, William Thomson, Jamie Hutchison, Scott Russell, Craig Slater, Jacob Heal, subs; Craig Rendall, Owen Griffiths, Ross Tulloch, Derek Robb
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