Points shared at Greenock - frustrating
On a windy day, a 19-19 draw left neither side overjoyed, albeit Greenock seemed rather happier than EK at the end. The joys of rugby.
The delights of being a stand in match reporter. Grotty weather (I think I can remember only one nice day for playing or watching rugby in Greenock in over 40 years). And there now seem to be almost more roundabouts there than in EK, if such a thing is possible!
It was windy, and a tad wet, so we thought we were destined to watch the proverbial match of two halves. It did not quite turn out like that. EK started positively and dominated early stages while playing against the wind, while Greenock took some 20 minutes or more to realise that kicking long was more likely to give them some opportunities.
And in the second half, EK seemed determined (not for the first time) to try to run rather than kick long and press. Ah well, I am just an old git who knows nothing about rugby. Best leave the analysis to others.
There was also a tiny bit of truth in the rumour that I came out of retirement after I heard that the backs played well last week, and Robbie Greenfield was Man of the Match. Sadly, Robbie lasted less than 10 minutes so I may be in my 70s before he gets another MoM award (only joking Robbie, honest!). But normal service will resume next week when Alasdair Offin returns as your reporter.
EK started strongly from the kick off and Scott Aitken was possibly cruelly denied a try when the ref was on the wrong side to witness his efforts at grounding the ball on the Greenock line. Ethan Aitken, possibly starting at 10 for the first time for the 1s (I have only seen 3 matches this year so simply don’t know!), kicked a penalty so EK 0-3 up.
Greenock levelled it with their own penalty shortly after. But Alex Irvine restored the EK lead when he crashed over for an unconverted try from a well worked line out after EK kicked a penalty down the line. Score: 3-8.
Despite two improvised locks – Alex Irvine and Allan Steel – continuing in the EK scrum due to injuries elsewhere, the EK scrum did well all day
and made it difficult for Greenock. Good scrambling defence denied Greenock twice, but the home side’s backs were growing in confidence, with their full back, Tyley impressing with his strong running.
EK made it hard viewing for their supporters by preferring to tackle high, allowing Greenock’s runners to often shrug off several tackles. Greenock missed a kick at goal halfway through the half. But scored a few minutes later following a soft EK drop out.
From a ruck on the right about 20 metres out, EK assumed Docherty, the host’s scrum half would pass it out the backs. He did not, and with a quick dummy, he waltzed through the defence untouched. Davis, Greenock’s 10 who kicked well all day, converted. 10-8. And Davis kicked another penalty after 30 minutes to make it 13-8.
EK surged back upfield and Callum Simpson almost got across the whitewash, ultimately penalised for hands in the ruck. But EK were living dangerously, trying to run long kicks back upfield. And they just survived a try when the referee unusually overruled his touch judge to say the Greenock scorer had put a foot in touch. Rare good positioning by the man with the whistle!
But Greenock had a spell of pressure in the EK right corner, assisted by a succession of EK penalties for going off their feet or holding on to the ball in the contact zone. Mark Ellison, the exception with a succession of low tackles, made a brilliant tackle midfield to deny a charging, large home forward.
Simpson was penalised and yellow carded for a high tackle in midfield which Greenock happily kicked for 16-8. But fortunately they missed another just as the half ended (some 46 minutes of a half, with only one injury) so EK eight points down at the break but playing with the wind in the second half. Our best players were Scott and Callum Aitken, coach Steel and Sparky Ellison.
Encouragingly, EK scored first after the restart. After some forward breenges, led by Steel, the ball went out the backs and Ellison’s smart slip pass allowed young Gregor Hagerty to dart over for an unconverted try after 45 minutes. 16-13.
Stout EK defence then kept the home side at bay, with Allan Steel winning crucial turnover ball. Greenock had more possession and territory after the break than one might have expected, assisted by some loose EK passing and running. EK also lost two or three line outs on their own ball. Yes, horrible weather but we needed the ball.
Steel went off after 52 minutes, replaced by Ben Walters. EK continued to concede penalties allowing Greenock to advance upfield. Greenfield returned to the fray, replacing Ellison.
EK won two penalties in succession, further assisted by the Greenock loose head receiving a yellow card. Ethan Aitken (Editor‘s comment - three Aitkens in one team is a bit much, even if only two are related, but much better than three Craig Fergusons!!) went for goal as a result and kicked a super penalty to tie the scores, 16 -16.
On trotted EK’s most experienced player, Rian Anderson, full of Spanish energy after a week’s holiday in, yes, you guessed it, Spain! Strong EK scrummaging had the hosts in trouble and shortly after, Ethan Aitken kicked an excellent long range penalty from the Greenock 10 metre line to make it 16-19 for EK.
Simon Mukulamani came on for Alex Irvine, possibly Simon’s debut for the 1st XV. Could EK hang on? Well, with better discipline and concentration, they might well have. But three penalties in quick succession (one for talking back after the first penalty, and allowing Greenock to advance a further 10 yards – no comment necessary! Do I mention that they were all conceded by one player? Of course not – that would be unfair!) gave Greenock a difficult chance in the strong wind to kick at goal.
Davis kicked low and strong and the ball sailed between the posts for a magnificent equalising score given the conditions. 19-19 with some three minutes or so to go. Could EK get back upfield and claim the points? In short no!
Greenock secured the restart and kept it well in the forwards as they marched back towards the EK line. They went from their 22 line to half way only to be penalised. But EK could not capitalise, indeed Anderson was yellow carded almost immediately and EK found themselves defending again, desperately trying not to concede another penalty.
They managed to hang on so it ended 19 points all, a rather frustrating outcome for both sides. EK would have expected to win after their first half but poor discipline and an inability to exploit limited possession undermined them. Greenock seemed to have a clearer game plan and stuck to it throughout.
If one takes the conditions in to account, the absence of EK’s regular lock forwards and the relative youthfulness of many of the EK team, allied to poor discipline which in other circumstances might have drawn harsher consequences from the referee, perhaps two points was not quite so disappointing overall. But it did not quite feel that way as EK surrendered a narrow lead that they should have felt confident of defending.
Man of the Match: it has to be a forward, with most of the hard work done in the first half. As mentioned before, Scott Aitken, Allan Steel and Calum Aitken were the standouts, with the last named edging it for consistent strong running with ball in hand. He does however need to practice his No 8 pick up and link at the back of the scrum. Not a great day to be a back, with the brave, diminutive Mark Ellison the pick of the bunch before he went off.
Next week: EK are at home, hosting old rivals Cambuslang. I am not sure when we last played Cambus in a league match – possibly 18 or 19 years ago (I might check the archive before Saturday!)? Saturday is the Academy’s Patrons’ Lunch so there should be a strong EK support to cheer us on. Kick off is 2pm, now that the clocks have gone back!