Orkney buoyed by their recent performances would be looking to continue their fine form. Whitecraigs with home advantage and not far behind Orkney in the league table looking to improve their position. Overall, the scene was set for a competitive encounter.
Travel for the game was via Loganair flight to Glasgow on the Saturday morning. The team arriving refreshed and in good time. 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 dry mild conditions with little wind to speak of. The pitch itself firm and in good order.
From the kick off Orkney got off to a quick start and made their way in to home territory with good hard running.
The first points for Orkney came from the kicking tee of Hancock. A penalty awarded on the home twenty-two metre line in front of the posts after a tackling defender failed to roll away in the ruck.
Whitecraigs responded to this by themselves going on a promising attack into Orkney territory playing to their pattern and looking to pierce the visitors defence. Unluckily this ended when they went off their feet at a ruck. The resulting penalty allowing Orkney to relieve the pressure.
Orkney then went back on the attack. Playing with accuracy and cohesion they worked their way up the field using the whole width of the pitch. Testing the home defence repeatedly until five metres out from the try line prop Niall Campbell took a short ball from scrum half Thomson and bulldozed over with a hand from hooker Rendall for the try just to the left of the posts. Hancock stepping up to convert.
From the re start Orkney number eight caught the ball and ran hard and strong towards the opposition. His close support was on hand to secure the ball at the ruck but unfortunately lost their footing and the referee deemed they had gone off their feet to prevent a fair contest.
From the penalty Whitecraigs kicked to touch inside the twenty-two-metre area. They caught and drove the ball towards the Orkney line but made little progress. The ball was then played to their backline. Orkney were slow to realign in defence and this led to Whitecraigs exploiting a gap to score a converted try.
Shortly after this score one could be forgiven for feeling a case of DeJa’Vu once more Orkney conceded a ruck penalty in the middle of the field. Once more the ball was kicked to the corner for a home lineout. The ball was played to their backline and once more the Orkney defence did not react in time after a couple of poor tackle attempts to allow the home centre to hit a gap and score their second converted try and take the lead.
From the restart Whitecraigs failed to collect the ball resulting in a scrum to Orkney. With possession back within the home half Orkney went looking for more success. Following a penalty award Linklater kicked to touch five metres out from the home try line. The forwards then all played their part to set up a dominant maul and allow hooker Rendall the simplest of tasks to score the try. Hancock seeing his conversion attempt drift wide.
The next ten minutes of play was of mediocre quality. Both sides making unforced errors in the midfield area leading to several scrums. The only upside for Orkney was how they started to dominate the scrum forcing Whitecraigs backwards and even taking one against the head.
The half looked to be drifting to a close with no more scoring until Orkney had a chance to counter attack after the ball was ripped by Gray from a Craigs player and moved wide unfortunately the attack lacked accuracy and the ball fell to a home player who passed to the fullback who was brought to ground just short of the line but not being held he got up and dived over for the try right on the stroke of half time giving them a 19-15 lead in a fairly see saw tussle.
The second half began with Orkney looking to cut out their mistakes and not force the offload in contact. The home side were looking to build on their lead and ultimately pull away from the visitors.
The first points of the second half were to be scored by Orkney. Following a promising attack Orkney were about ten metres out from the try line when once more they tried to force an offload in heavy traffic. The ball was knocked on and a scrum awarded to the home side.
The Orkney pack then stamped their authority by forcing their counterparts backwards at a rate of knots to gain a penalty. Number eight Brown took the quick tap but was stopped short. The ball was presented to scrum half Thomson who dived over for the try converted by Hancock.
Ten minutes in to the second half Orkney made a couple of personnel changes. Nicholson coming on for Gray and Donohoe for Ross.
Orkney added to their tally shortly after. A defensive scrum was awarded to Whitecraigs five metres out from their try line when an Orkney player tried to force an offload close to the line. The Orkney pack once more chose to make amends by driving their opposition off the ball for flanker Tait to pick the ball up and dive over the line for the try in the corner. Hancock narrowly missing the difficult conversion.
With the score now 27-19 in Orkneys favour going in to the last ten minutes they suffered a body blow when centre Scott Russell was shown a straight red card for contact to the head of a Whitecraigs player. It happened when the referee was playing advantage to Orkney from an Craigs knock on.
The ball was loose on the ground and with his back to the opposition Russell stooped to pick it up. As he straightened up he was hit high on the back by the player and Russell’s arm caught him on the neck area as he tried to brace for the collision. The referee deemed it as direct contact to the head and chose to show the red card seeing no mitigation in the height of the attempted tackle.
For the second time in two weeks Orkney would have to defend their lead to the end of the game with only fourteen players on the pitch.
From the penalty the home side took immediate advantage scoring a converted try from and well taken lineout drive.
At the restart McArthur on for winger Stevenson manage to execute a turnover at the breakdown following a trademark Brough tackle on the home twenty-two metre line. Orkney were now on the attack Thomson being stopped short of the line by an offside defender. Captain Linklater had to leave the field at this point due to severe cramp. Campbell returning to the field after earlier making way for replacement Craig Rendall.
Despite this disruption to the pack Orkney chose the five-metre scrum for the penalty. From a steady platform number eight Brown picked up the ball and charged hard at the defence who could not cope with his power as he dived over for the score. Unfortunately, Hancock missed the conversion that would have put Orkney two scores ahead.
It was a nervous last five minutes for the Orkney coach and president, but the players showed their resilience once more to see the game out for the try bonus point win and retain sixth place in the league.
Overall, an entertaining game where both sides tried to play open rugby. The decisive factor in the end was a dominant scrummaging performance by the Orkney pack.
Player of the match for Orkney was awarded to Jon Tait who took his try well and put in an all round strong showing in attack and defence.
This Saturday sees unbeaten league leaders Gordonians RFC travel to Orkney for the next fixture in National 3. Orkney will have to be at their best against the Aberdeen based side to prevail in this tie. The likely loss of in-form centre Russell through suspension will not help but the squad has shown great fortitude since the turn of the year. Kick off is at 1500hrs on the centre pitch at Picky.
Orkney team; Niall Campbell, Scott Rendall, Alistair Linklater (cpt), Adam Watt, Duncan Gray, Jon Tait, Craig Brough, Alan Brown, William Thomson, Connor Hancock, Ewan Stevenson, Scott Russell, Craig Slater, Philip Ross, James Linklater. Subs; Craig Rendall , Gary Nicolson , Tom McArthur, James Donohoe
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