Dumfries Saints 30
DAVID BARNES @ Hawthornden
THE SAINTS were up against a team used to playing in a higher division, but it wasn’t evident based on this performance. They were sharper in every facet of the game, and after recovering from an early hiccup when a charged down clearance gifted Kelso an easy seven points, there was never really any doubt about what the outcome of this contest was going to be.
“The boys played pretty damn well and I think the score-line reflected that,” agreed victorious head coach Rudi Urbach. “I take my hat off to Kelso, they are a fantastic rugby club with a lot of heritage, and I’m just glad we did this final justice with the way we went about our business.”
Even when Kelso somehow scrambled back to make it a three-point game midway through the second half, the less experienced Saints held their nerve, stuck to a fairly bold game-plan and had the class to stretch away again.
“They are not a rugby team, they are a family,” explained Urbach. “When they’ve got their backs to the wall, they tend to pull out all the aces. I’m just so proud of them. They’ve worked so hard all season.”
On the basis of this performance, it is hard to fathom how Dumfries can be in a situation where they are relying on Hamilton slipping up in their final two matches in order to earn promotion out of National League Division Two.
“It is a high-risk, high-reward approach and sometimes it doesn’t go according to plan. But that’s rugby. It is the right way to play the game, and the more we work at it the more accurate we will get,” said their coach.
It started ominously for Saints when a sloppy clearance from centre John Carlisle was charged down by opposite number Gregor Mein, and the loose ball bounced favourably for Kelso winger Angus Roberts to scamper home unchallenged from 25 yards. Mein drilled home the conversion from the touchline for good measure.
But Saints bounced back almost immediately with a Jordan Kerr penalty from in front of the posts after their first period of continuity, and things got even better for the men in black when an excellently orchestrated throw to the tail of the line-out transformed into a powerful drive, and number eight Michael Scott had the ball grounded over the line before Kelso had cottoned on to what was happening.
The Borderers were clearly rattled. Several times they fumbled possession under no real pressure, and there was a sense of inevitability about Jack Steele extending Saints’ lead when he cut back against Kelso’s drifting defence and nipped over from close range, with Kerr adding the conversion.
Sam Hiddleston then scored an absolute screamer for the Saints. He received the ball inside his own half on the left touchline, slipped a grubber past his marker and gathered himself, then backed himself to swerve back inside and outpace two defenders on his way to the line.
Mein managed to pull the gap back to ten points with a penalty in front of the posts just before the break, but Saints were undoubtedly in the driving seat at the turn.
The curious thing was that Kelso looked sharp when they managed to get the ball moving. However, having manufactured space out wide with crisp passing, their hands would invariably turn to blocks of clay at the moment of reckoning.
“Dumfries defended really well. They got in our faces and our guys clearly felt the pressure because there was a high error rate, which gave the opposition plenty front foot ball,” said Kelso coach Gary Stevens. “We’re very disappointed, we turned up in a good frame of mind and having played plenty of rugby this season in pouring rain we were excited about getting a good day, but we didn’t deliver,” explained beaten head coach Gary Stevens.
The second half started in a similar vein, but then – finally – it clicked for Kelso, when Josh Irvine rampaged through a gap and fed Ross Cooke, who outpaced the cover defence and even made it round under the posts to tee-up an easy conversion for Mein.
All of a sudden it was a three-point game, but if Saints were feeling the pressure it didn’t show. They charged straight back up field, and Hiddleston perhaps held onto the ball for a second too long when he had options on both his inside and outside at the end of another lung-busting break.
A charged down kick offered another scoring opportunity, but the ball bounced over the dead-ball line a nanosecond before the chasers could get to it.
Kelso just couldn’t clear their lines. Their line-out was all over the place, their scrum was beginning to creak and clumsy hands was still a problem.
Saints got their fourth try, and it was another beauty: clean ball from the tail of a line-out near halfway, slick hands across the backline, another incisive interjection from Steele, and pace and power from Hiddleston to finish the move off.
Kelso roused themselves for one last tilt at rescuing this match, but Mein missed a penalty which would have brought the deficit back to five points, and Saints weathered the storm.
Victory was secured when, after a period of well controlled pressure, the excellent Steele collected the ball on the short side and put Gavin Wilson over in the corner.
Dumfries Saints: S Hiddleston; A Whiteford (K Henderson 49), J Steele, J Carlisle, K Jones (A Birdsall 75); J Kerr, J Johnstone; C Goldie, Z Dyson, S Goodwin (T Martin 10-20, 29), L Scott, M McClatchey (??? 76), A Jackson (P Coupar 29), G Wilson, M Scott.
Kelso: R Cook; R Thomson (K Wilson 75), P Hume, G Mein, A Roberts; A Skeen, A Tait; S Karlsen (K Cooney 28-61), R Henderson, B Robertson (K Cooney 75), P Lawlor, H Gaiser (C Brown 72), J Irvine (H Gaiser 76), K Dryden (K Dunbar 70), K Mein.
Referee: C Clark
Dumfries Saints: Try: Scott, Steele, Hiddleston 2, Wilson; Con: Kerr; Pen: Kerr
Kelso: Try: Roberts, Cook; Con: G Mein 2; Pen: Mein.
Scoring sequence (Dumfries Saints): 0-5; 0-7; 3-7; 8-7; 13-7; 15-7; 20-7; 20-10 (h-t) 20-15; 20-17; 25-17; 30-17
Man-of-the-Match: Saints captain and outside centre Jack Steele was a real handful, not only in picking holes in the Kelso defence by hitting good lines hard, but also in getting over the ball on the deck like an authentic mongrel openside.
Talking point: A good atmosphere in this match at a venue suited to the size of the crowd, but there is a romantic element to club teams getting to play at the national stadium, so which option is preferable?
As Hawthornden reverberated to the noise of the victors celebrating with a rendition of ‘Saints are on fire, your defence is terrified’, it was hard to escape the feeling that the moment would have been lost in the vast expanse of Murrayfield’s West Stand.