Backs to the Wall but Tremendous PL Hold Out for Victory
What a game! Taking chances and great defence = another great win for PL
After a run of five wins in a row, confidence was high as Preston Lodge kicked off at The Pennypit on Saturday but this was to prove a big test against visitors Biggar as both sides were locked on 26 points with five wins each in the middle of the National League Division 2 table.
Injuries within the squad had forced Head Coach Andrew Clark into making several changes and there was even a last minute change to contend with as Chris Dixon came of the bench to replace Scott MacColl – this brought plenty of experience but not necessarily to this key position.
Right from the kick off, Biggar showed that they were well up for the game when an attempted PL clearance was charged down in the 22 and the visitors were very much the livelier of the two sides in the early stages of the game. The wind was taken from their sails in dramatic fashion though when a fine handling move through their back line was halted when PL captain Jason Riley intercepted the ball on his own 22 and sprinted from there to the try line with even the fastest Biggar backs trailing in his wake. Robbie Griffin was unsuccessful with the conversion but the marker was set for the drama of the match to come.
Biggar looked very confident with the ball and their backs always looked dangerous going forward but PL's new midfield duo of Cameron Pallister and Ewan Runciman stood tall in defence, often forcing their opponents into making errors or kicking the ball unnecessarily.
Most of PL's problems lay up front though as the reshuffled pack struggled to get the ball out of the scrum and Biggar were enjoying much more possesson through their dominance of the set piece. This was highlighted in the 10th minute when the score was levelled with a pushover try as the visitors took a scrum against the head and PL could do nothing to halt the advance.
The restart brought some respite for PL and they enjoyed some good possession as Dale Gordon and Robbie Griffin were able to use the ball through the backs inside the Biggar half. Despite their apparent early dominance, Biggar sometimes looked vulnerable in defence and PL's full back Paul Glynn, was able to exploit this in the 13th minute with a fantastic break past several defenders to get into the 22 before passing inside to Alan Whittingham and from 15 metres, the No. 8 was able to stay upright and battle his way to the line to score an excellent try.
Despite their 10-5 lead, the PL pack were still under great pressure and although the front row of Baikie, Johnson and Anderson were doing their best, Biggar were winning the ball at nearly every scrum. However, in the loose, things were much better and when the Gordon was able to clear the ball from the breakdown, the PL backs looked dangerous. The 25th minute brought a long passage of patient play with Pallister and Runciman again featuring inside the visitors' 22 to get the ball back and forth along the line which was boosted by 2nd row Jonny Sked and the ever industrious Pete Johnstone. Again, Biggar's frustration at lack of possession got the better of them and they conceded a penalty 15 metres out which Griffin converted with ease to extend PL's lead to 13-5.
This slight chink of daylight in the scores seemed to give PL extra confidence and they finished the half much the better of the two sides and looked to have extended their lead in the 37th minute following a great move involving Nathan Ross and Pete Johnstone but the final, scoring pass which allowed Alan Whittingham to get to the line and touch down, was judged to have gone forward by the referee. Despite this setback, PL's workrate didn't drop and they were rewarded for their efforts in the 39th minute after the ball had been passed back and forth through forwards and backs inside the 22 but Riley was the one to beat the defence and cross for his second try of the game and notably his 50th for PL's 1st XV. Griffin was on target with the conversion and despite the problems up front, PL had somehow managed to establish a healthy 20-5 lead at the break.
Unlike the first half, PL started the brighter of the two sides and despite the scrum still being under intense pressure, somehow the pack was able to put together a great catch and drive which saw them carry the ball almost to the Biggar try line. Unfortunately it was lost and the chance of the vital fourth try never materialised and as the match reached the 50 minute mark, PL's error count and Biggar's confidence levels seemed to grow in equal measure.
The visitors were looking far more likely to score and this turned out to be the case in the 52nd minute when a fast, confident move was rewarded with a converted try to make the score 20-12.
The game was becoming ever more frantic and PL's chances weren't helped as the injury count started to rise. Sked and Ross both departed to hospital with facial injuries and Glynn was forced to retire with a shoulder injury, all of which combined to force a reshuffle to both the forward and back divisions as the replacements came on to keep the team fully functional.
Biggar sensed that PL were enduring some difficulties and after a period of pressure in the home 22, the score was narrowed to 20-19 after a decent handling move created a try in front of the posts which was converted with ease.
And so, with 19 minutes to go and Biggar well on top as PL tried to regroup and win some ball, it appeared that it would only be a matter of time before the visitors would be able to take the lead for the first time. Time after time, they threw everything at PL but the home defence absorbed it all and just as importantly their discipline was excellent because despite the lengthy pressure inside the 22, no kickable penlties were conceded and no easy chances given away. Johnstone, Riley and Whittingham tackled like demons and even won some quality ball in the loose which allowed PL to soak up some vital seconds as the clock ticked down ever so slowly as far as the home support were concerned. The atmosphere was electric inside the ground because despite the tackles and clearance kicks, it was always Biggar who came away with the ball and it would only take one missed tackle to allow them to break the defence and get through to score. But it was not to be and despite the adversity, PL held on to their slender lead until the welcome sound of the final whistle to claim a vital victory and extend their unbeaten run to six.
Biggar may rue their missed chances and the amount of possession they kicked away unnecessarily but more positively, it was a game in which PL grabbed their chances and then defended brilliantly to ensure that they got the result they deserved.
The result sneaks PL into the top half of the table and six points short of next week's opponenets GHK who are in third - so there's a lot to play for when PL travel to Glasgow on Saturday. Please note kick off times are now 2pm.
Preston Lodge Team:
P Glynn, A Penrose, C Pallister, E Runciman, N Ross, R Griffin, J Burns
C Baikie, T Johnson, C Anderson, C Dixon, J Sked, P Johnstone, J Riley, A Whittingham
C MacLean, J Burns, J Brash, S MacColl