Howe of Fife 17 GHA 18
Conditions at Duffus Park were by a long way the most difficult GHA have had to cope with this season. A bitterly cold cross wind and very heavy pitch did not suggest that this match would be full of running rugby. Such was the level of windchill factor that the vast majority of a healthy crowd waited in the clubhouse before making their way to the home side’s excellent new stand just as the teams took to the sodden field. Both sides prepared with the emphasis on close order contact and running drills. Howe clearly feel frustrated that results have not gone for them and there was a very real feeling that victory in this match would allow them to climb away from the bottom of the table. A resplendent group of junior Howe players provided a guard of honour
Bravely coping with the bitter cold before sensibly darting back into the warmth of the clubhouse after completing their duties. A well appointed community cafe below the main stand did a roaring trade in pies and hot drinks.
Howe kicked off and almost at once the difficult conditions saw passes going astray and other passes dropped by both sides. The first few minutes saw both sides working hard to adapt to the conditions, looking and probing for gaps in the respective defences. Ross Angus made several strong breaks before being closed down and Ross Findlay made ground with a break. In response Howe employed the bulk of Graeme Steedman and Chris Mann. Chris Mann was to have an outstanding match and continually asked questions of the visitors defence all afternoon.After six minutes Grant MacDonald kicked through a dropped ball and chased for the line as Howe desperately tried to retrieve the situation. IN attempting to negate the danger Howe gave away a penalty just inside their five metre area. Andrew Goudie converted the penalty to make the score after six minutes: HOWE OF FIFE 0 GHA 3.
From the restart Howe came back strongly at GHA. In a day of mishaps a GHA line out went astray and in an impressive running move from halfway Howe scored and Dominic Martin converted to make the score after ten minutes: HOWE OF FIFE 7 GHA 3.
Howe began to settle and their tactic of strike runners being supported by forwards was gaining some ground. However GHA kept calm and increased their work rate. Powerful scrummaging was causing Howe a lot of difficulty as GHA pushed them back. On the fifteenth minute, Grant MacDonald made a superb break from the scrum and was stopped just short of the line.Howe managed to scramble the ball away and indeed kicked long where it was knocked on by Grant Mollison deep in the GHA half. The bitter cold was hampering all attempts to play the ball through the hands or indeed to receive kicks. Play moved across the pitch with neither side able to establish total dominance. Dropped balls were hacked through and desperate defence by both sides managed to relieve the danger. As a result play for a while was rather scrappy and lacking coordination. However as we reached the half hour stage Howe began to mount consistent pressure and it took determined and brave tackling to stop Howe establishing control. Ross Angus was yellow carded for an infringement and Howe elected to take the scrum deep inside the visitors half. Howe had struggled to contain the GHA pack and as a result it came as a surprise when Chris Mann broke off the scrum and went over to increase the home lead to huge cheers from the home support, Crucially Dominic Martin just missed the conversion in the swirling wind which had picked up in strength. This made the score after thirty five minutes: HOWE OF FIFE 12 GHA 3.
As they have demonstrated consistently this season GHA regrouped and took the game to Howe. Superb work by Scott Plumridge and clever close passing by messrs James Edgar and Andrew Spowart drove the HOwe side back into their own tewnty two metre area. GHA began to utilise their talented forwards in close support epitomised by surges from Seitaro Usuda and Michael Scott.James Lawrie was yellow carded for persistent infringements as GHA battled to get over the try line. Several penalties were given away by the home side who were having to work hard to prevent the visiting forwards from scoring. Just before half time a sea of GHA bodies drove Howe over the line, Grant MacDonald being given the score. Andrew Goudie completed the conversion to make the score at half time: HOWE OF FIFE 12 GHA 10.
Conditions were deteriorating. with light snow showers now in the mix In an untidy and error strewn first half neither side had been able to settle into their respective style and it was becoming very clear that the side that could retain possession and make progress through the forwards could win this match.
Play resumed with GHA on the offensive immediately, driving Howe back in the loose and creating several turn over balls. Excellent work by Michael Scott and Jamie Auld forced Howe into a number of errors one of which was penalised. Andrew Goudies from just inside the home twenty two metre area converted the penalty to make the score after five minutes to :HOWE OF FIFE 12 GHA 13.
GHA forwards were taking responsibility for making the hard yards and only releasing the ball to the backs when in reasonable attacking positions.During this time there was some lovely link up play between Jack Preston, Andrew Goudie and Ross Findlay. The ball was becoming increasingly difficult to hold and it is to the credit of both sides that they both continued to try and play rugby in terrible conditions.GHA by the fifteenth minute of the second half were pressing the home defence with some excellent loose play by the visiting forwards. Deft touch kicking and kicking into space by messrs Jackson and Goudie.Following another surge by Ross Angus Howe were forced into giving away a penalty in their ten metre area. Andrew Goudie elected to kick to the corner. GHA recycled from the lineout and at least six attempts to score were stopped by superb defensive tackles. However Michael Scott managed to get over to score to huge cheers from his team mates. Andrew Goudie narrowly missed the conversion so with fifteen minutes of the second half gone,the score was now : HOWE OF FIFE 12 GHA 18.
The home support were exhorting their favourites to come back at GHA. The visitors were economical with possession and had to tackle fearlessly as Howe went all out to turn the match. Howe mounted a real effort to break down the GHA defence who gave away a penalty.Howe kicked to the corner and from the resulting line out play Chris Mann went over to score amidst wild celebrations in the stands. With the weather becoming very difficult to cope with Dominic Martin just missed with his conversion attempt. Thus after twenty two minutes the score was :HOWE OF FIFE 17 GHA 18.
The last twenty minutes produced outstanding effort by every player on the pitch. GHA defended resolutely and despite a number of breaks by Howe the home side just could not find a way through. THe last five minutes saw both sets of forwards holding possession but as the final whistle drew near it was the GHA pack who retained possession and time after time took the ball into contact and crucially retained it. The match finished with GHA ahead on the most slender of leads in a match which contested from first whistle to last by both sides. Once again the growing maturity of the visitors was displayed as they carefully held on to win. Final score: HOWE OF FIFE 17 GHA 18.
A special mention must also be made to the GHA 2nd XV who returned from Raeburn Place with a narrow 24-22 victory over title rivals Edinburgh Accies to go top of the National Reserve League 2 with 4 games to play.
HOWE OF FIFE: S.GRAY, B.MITCHELL, F.ELLISON, S.LATHANGIE, E. CRUICKSHANK, D.MARTIN, A.HARLEY, S.PLAYER, C.CRAWFORD, G.STEEDMAN, C.MCBAIN, T.TURPIE, C.MANN, J.LAWRIE, C.HARRIS – Reserves: L.WILSON, D.CUNNINGHAM, J.DOUGLAS, F.CLARK, G.THOMSON
Scorers: T – MANN (2), TBC C – MARTIN
GHA : G.MOLLISON, J.EDGAR, B.ADDISON, R.FINDLAY, A. SPOWART, A.GOUDIE, J.PRESTON, T.BROGAN, S.USUDA, M.SCOTT, A.BARNETT, J.AULD, S. PLUMRIDGE, R.ANGUS, G.MacDONALD – Reserves: G.CAMPBELL, S.FISHER, C. BAIRD, L.MAVUNGA, E. GREER
Scorers: T – MACDONALD, SCOTT C – GOUDIE P – GOUDIE (2)
REFEREE: MR LEE FISHER
ASSISTANT REFEREES: MR DAVID JACK AND MS MHAIRI HAY
Photo credit to Roy Macintyre