Bombardier J. Meister makes "just one more" report from Stoneyhill.
The fitness and conditioning for this season under James Docherty started way back in early June - the earliest ever recorded for Peebles RFC. Then in July the arrival of Peter Wright and Colin Brown as the new Head and Backs coaches respectively brought in the rugby side of the game as of Mid-July, arguably the best prepared squad seen at the club for some time. But it comes down to 3 o’clock of the first league game Saturday when it really has to count. Stoneyhill was in splendid condition, bathed in sunshine after a rainy morning but with the ever-present slope to test the players.
Peebles lined up without old heads Adam Clark and Alan Warnock. Adam had failed a morning fitness test on a calf strain and Alan was suffering from a swollen knee following a collision at training on the previous Tuesday, otherwise the team took much the same shape as the previous week at Melrose with a welcome return for Martin Cruikshanks and Sandy Smellie adding the experience to the bench and the youth being provided by David Wills and Jamie Menzies.
New Captain Dale Clancy led the P’s out as they kicked off with the slope against them. Musselburgh held the early position but kicked away possession after a monstrous first hit from Ryan McConnel, much to the disgust of the vociferous Musselburgh support which was gathered in front of the club house. Peebles then went on to control possession of the ball very well, as they did for much of the game, moving the ball wide on several occasion and with the forwards carrying plenty ball round the fringes. However the Musselburgh defence held strong and was well organised.
Musselburgh made the most of their first chance to attack in the Peebles half and the their wing, James Murray took his chances between two of the Peebles front rowers and blasted through to score under the sticks. David O’Hagan converted to make it 7-0.
Peebles re-started and were immediately rewarded with a penalty sweetly struck by Greg Raeburn on the 14th minute, making the score 7-3.
Musselburgh then took the game by the scruff of the neck and with ball in hand in attack were extremely dangerous. A 20 minute purple patched ensued in which Musselburgh executed three converted trys with only one in reply from Peebles, Andrew Cook first went in for Musselburgh, followed by powerful Kiwi full back recruit Lance Gahan, both converted by O’Hagan.
Peebles interjected with a try in the top right corner on the 25th minute courtesy of wing Conor Blyth following some good build up phase play for Peebles. 21-8. However Gahan of Musselburgh again proved his worth with an immediate solo effort reply to reward the bonus point in their favour. O’Hagan was proving a dead eye kicker and again converted. 28-8.
It is extremely disappointing for Peebles given the effort put in to tackle technique in the preceding months that when the pressure was applied they failed to deliver on this key skill. It was an Achilles heel in season 2011-12 and once again it had reared it’s ugly head. The players must rectify this and swiftly. Peebles must also work on their lineout accuracy and composure as 4 out 5 were failed to complete in the first half, often throwing away great attacking positions.
However with 5 minutes left in the half, things then looked to swing in Peebles favour, with two Musselburgh players in succession sent to the sin bin, 3 minutes apart for ruck and tackle infringements.
Half Time Musselburgh 28 – Peebles 8
With Musselburgh now down to 13 men and with the slope to attack down Peebles looked ready to turn their fortunes. Centre partnership James Hemara and Calum Scott, Neil and Graham Hogarth and hooker-come-back row Ryan McConnel were all carrying the ball forward with gusto but credit must go to the Musselburgh defence as time and time again they thwarted the Peebles efforts and forced the mistake or turnover to clear the danger. Musselburgh rode the storm out and were returned to their full compliment of players which must be highly respected.
A tactical substitution saw Peebles flyer Martin Cruikshank return to the fray after a year of injury doubt. Conor Blyth made way but immediately returned to the game as Neil Hogarth succumbed to a shoulder injury.
Another ruck infringement gave Peebles another shot at goal which Raeburn converted to take the score to 28-11 in the 14th minute of the second half. With Raeburn kicking well a couple of penalty chances were spurned for scrum or lineouts in the first half which is maybe something to consider for next week.
Peebles did go on dominate possession for much of the second half, and it was a delight to see Sandy Smellie back in the fold following several seasons out after knee surgery. If farming and family can be juggled with training, he could certainly add some oomph to the Peebles pack in particular his strength in the depths of the rucks. The youngsters Jamie Menzies and David Wills both came in to the fray with Rory Milne and Dale Clancy retiring. Milne looking particularly dejected after a summer of rehab on his knee seems to have not produced the desired result. Menzies came on to restore some strength to the scrum and had several good brenges, whilst Wills added some zip to the ball from the base marking fine league debuts for both of the former colts.
Despite the possession, Peebles just didn’t have the lethal edge, but even under sustained pressure in their own 22 managed to keep possession and keep playing rugby. However Musselburgh were to cap a fine performance when Gahan again broke through before putting Dave O’Hagan in at the corner for ‘Burgh’s fifth and final try. O’Hagan converted to take us to the end score of 35-11. Referee Campbell blew for full time leaving Peebles with much to mill over.
Not the start Peebles had hoped for by any means, however there were a few positives from the day. Largely possession was held on to well, and the attacking shape was OK. Tackling, communication and composure must improve though. New Kiwi Warren Kearney showed up well throughout the day, getting through a power of work at No. 8 and rightfully he deserves the Man of the Match award for Peebles. He also proved particularly useful with a yard of ale in his hand, which will again be on show next Saturday following a visit from Haddington.