Greenock Wanderers 35
(After extra time)
COLIN RENTON @ BT Murrayfield
BERWICK produced a heroic fightback from a seemingly hopeless position to lift the National Shield in a dramatic contest. Greenock Wanderers looked to have completed an unbeaten season with panache when they led 35-11 with less than 20 minutes to play. But nobody had told Berwick that the game was over and they mounted a finale that was brimming with character to send the match into extra time.
Then, having never held the lead during the 80 minutes, they scored the only points of the additional 20 minute period to record a memorable victory.
Both sides benefited from the presence of players who have performed at a higher level and their experience combined with youthful exuberance on both sides to deliver an open encounter worthy of the occasion.
A Berwick knock-on from the kick off handed Wanderers field position and they spent the opening couple of minutes attempting to unlock a solid opposition defence. Berwick had not yet visited opposition territory when Graham Hogg banged over a long-range penalty to open the scoring.
A brief spell on the front foot for Berwick ended with a spillage in midfield. That led to another period of Wanderers pressure that culminated in a move that saw the ball swept along the line to Brendan McGroarty. He drew the defender and fed Callum Harrison, who sent Scott Bellew scampering in at the corner. Hogg’s conversion rattled back off a post.
As the clock ticked towards the 20 minute mark, the East League men had an opportunity to apply pressure to the opposition defence. A penalty was despatched into touch and when the subsequent drive was halted, the ball was moved out wide to Jack Dalrymple who showed impressive finishing power to force his way over.
Andrew Skeen’s conversion was just wide, but the former sevens international made no mistake with a penalty from in front of the posts to tie the scores after 25 minutes.
Hogg and Skeen then exchanged penalties before Wanderers finished the half with a flourish. Chris McCarron broke through two tackles before being hauled down on the edge of the Berwick 22. Several phases later, Martin Lavelle took a scoring pass on the opposite wing and crashed over to complete the first half scoring.
The lead grew to double figures within a minute of the restart when Brendan McGroarty showed his pace to race into the Berwick 22 and offload to McCarron, who sprinted over, leaving Hogg a simple conversion.
And the creator of that previous score bagged try number four for Wanderers when he blasted his way over following a pass from Hogg, who then added the extras to stretch the gap to 19 points. McGroarty was now showing his class and cut through the heart of the Berwick defence with another powerful break. He passed to Bellew who was tap tackled by Dalrymple but recovered to dot down.
The Scremerston men responded with their best rugby of the second period and they trimmed the deficit when Gareth Hill squeezed in at the corner and Skeen slotted the touchline conversion.
Wanderers finished the regulation 80 minutes with 14 men after Matt Gray was yellow carded for an offence just after the referee had spoken to both captains. Within seconds of his departure, Berwick had grabbed a lifeline when Hill showed impressive composure to step one way then the other before darting over for his second score.
They edged closer when Euan Thompson plunged over from close range to leave the gap at seven points. And the fightback was complete when, with the clock in the red, Scott Owens crossed the line and Skeen calmly stroked over the conversion.
Skeen claimed the first points of the additional period with a penalty that gave Berwick the lead for the first time.
Wanderers responded with several attacks, but the calmness and control they had shown earlier was no longer evident, and it was Berwick who struck again when Ali Grieve broke from half way and chipped ahead, then gathered and dived over the whitewash to hand his side an eight point advantage as the teams changed ends.
And Dalrymple sealed the silverware when he pounced on a loose ball in his own half and, shrugging off any fatigue, raced the length of the field to touch down – leaving Skeen to bring up the half century with the conversion.
And the elder statesman of the Berwick side added gloss to the final tally in injury time when he raced in between the sticks and added the extra two points.
Berwick skipper Tom Jackson was quick to share the credit for the success. “It was a great team effort,” he said. “I’m so proud of the boys. We’ve got a real mix of young and old and that showed. I thought the bench had a massive impact.”
And of the success that is the culmination of a momentous season for the club, he added: “We won East League 1, we’ve managed to take the Shield home and it’s our 50th anniversary season. It’s absolutely massive for us. We couldn’t have done anything else.”
Replacement winger Andrew Guthrie spoke on behalf of the vanquished Greenock side. Reflecting on the late collapse, he said: “We became complacent. It was our game to lose at that point. A couple of decision by both players and management held us back. We were needing fresh legs but some of the decision by players as well – going for balls we maybe shouldn’t have done and going in to make tackles that ended up not being tackles. And a few decisions that just didn’t go our way.”
Berwick: R Hindhaugh; G Hill, A Skeen, D Hardie, J Dalrymple; J Webster, C Rogerson; D Goodfellow, R Wilson, T Jackson, S Owens, T McColl, M Emery, J Pick, A Grieve. Subs: L Douglas, E Thompson, A Rosie, A Pearson, P Pringle, A Hardie, S Gilchrist.
Greenock Wanderers: C McCarron; B Cleary, B McGroarty, C Harrison, S Bellew; G Hogg, A McDougall; M Macdonald, D Bolster, A Graham, M Gray, D McIntyre, C Spriddle, D Smith, M Lavelle. Subs: D Paton, H Davies, A Abernathy, L Hoodless, C Robb, A Guthrie, M McLaren.
Referee: G Reid
Berwick: Tries; Dalrymple 2, Hill 2, Thompson, Owens, Grieve, Skeen, Cons; Skeen 4, Pens; Skeen 3.
Greenock Wanderers: Tries; Bellew 2, Lavelle, McCarron, McGroarty, Cons; Hogg 3, Pens; Hogg 2
Yellow cards –
Scoring sequence: (Berwick first): 0-3, 0-8, 5-8, 8-8, 8-11, 11-11, 11-16 (h-t) 11-21, 11-23, 11-28, 11-30, 11-35, 16-35, 18-35, 23-35, 28-35, 33-35, 35-35. (extra time) 38-35, 43-35, 48-35, 50-35, 55-35, 57-35.
Man-of-the-match: It’s handy to have a man of Andrew Skeen’s experience in your side, and although Greenock’s Brendan McGroarty was outstanding for most of the match, his contribution was eclipsed by Skeen who steered his men to a success that had seemed unlikely with 20 minutes to play.