Narrow win secures second place in the league
Duns played their final match of the season in RBS East Regional League Division 1 on saturday, and recorded a hard-fought, if error-strewn, victory over Ross High by 14 points to 6.
Ross High occupied fifth place in the table prior to the match, and knew that finishing the season in that position would be sufficient for them to retain their East 1 status for season 2012/13. A win against Duns was therefore vital, and having been unbeaten in their previous four league matches they came into the game full of confidence.
Duns kicked off down the Hardens slope, with perfect underfoot conditions, although a strong wind blew diagonally down the park throughout the match. Both sides took a while to settle, and it was probably Ross High who had the better of the early exchanges. No points were scored in the opening quarter, as the teams struggled to cope with the referee's interpretation of the ruck and maul.
Ross High took the lead after 20 minutes. They were awarded a penalty midway between the half way line and the Duns 10 metre line, and most thought that their decision to go for goal was speculative, to say the least. However, there was no doubt about the kick as soon as the ball had been struck as it sailed straight and true between the posts, and Ross High lead by 3 - 0.
Duns then enjoyed a period of control, but too often they went with the up and under, hoping for defenders to spill the ball in the wind. It was clear that the home wingers - Baxter and Hutchison - had gas, but their pace was used too infrequently in the opening half hour or so.
The home side eventually took the lead on 28 minutes when after a series of forward drives deep into the Ross High 22 the ball came along the line. Dale Robertson outpaced his opposite number on the outside and crossed between the uprights. The conversion of his own try was a formality.
Five minutes later Duns created some space down the left wing and set David Hutchison free on the visitors' 10 metre line. He ran unopposed to just inside the 22, and as the Ross High full back came across to cover, he stepped inside him and went over for try number two beneath the bar - his 67th National League try for Duns, tying the record previously held by Jock White. Dale Robertson again converted.
There was no further scoring before the interval, where Duns lead by 14 - 3, although there was a feeling amongst the supporters that the home side may not have done enough with the wind behind them to survive the second period.
The doubts increased when soon after the break Hooke scored his second penalty for Ross High to narrow the gap, but he was to miss two or three other kickable attempts as the half progressed. Ross High pegged Duns back inside their 22 with diagonal kicks to touch - it may have been more that 7 years since they had played at the Hardens, but they very quickly sussed the correct tactic when playing down the slope with a following wind.
Ross High pounded the Duns line for 20 minutes or so, but resolute defence - particularly at the scrum where Duns repulsed a whole string of scrum 5's to Ross High - kept them at bay. The Ross High lineout was also functioning very well, the catch and drive earning the visitors many yards up the touchline, but they just could not find that elusive score.
In the closing minutes Duns came more into the match, and right at the death were denied what seemed like a perfectly good try when Chris Blaikie appeared to cross in the corner. However the exchange referee from New York, Pat Wickman, saw a knock on where no-one else did, and he denied the try.
Duns therefore finished second in the league, a very creditable performance indeed when one considers that of the 9 opponents in East 1 this season no fewer that 6 were playing rugby in a higher Division last season. Preston Lodge have won the league by a country mile, but they only beat Duns with the last kick of the game at the Hardens last month and so are not infallible. Further league restructuring before the start of next season will see the top 5 in East 1 this season retain their East 1 status, and join the bottom 5 East-based clubs in National 1 this season, who are Livingston, Edinburgh University, Linlithgow, Langholm and RHC. The top 5 in East 1 are currently Preston Lodge, Duns, Berwick, Portobello and Hawick Linden. However, North Berwick have one match to play, and a win or a draw at pointless Lismore ( actually they have -2 points ) will secure them the final place in the new league.
The Duns team was :- Stuart Thomson; Andrew Baxter, Ross Turner, Colin Tait and David Hutchison; Dale Robertson and Ben Black; Scott McCraw ( captain ), Cammy Hill, Allen Whellans, James Thorburn, Duncan Budge, David Duncan, Jamie Renton and Dane Ivison. The replacements were Bert Grigg, Richard Burns and Chris Blaikie.