In January 2015, a small contingent of rugby union players at Strathmore decided to enter a team to play rugby league over the summer months. Remarkably, the Strathmore ‘Silverbacks’ have managed to come out on top vs. Edinburgh Eagles in a hotly contested Grand Final, which was held in the capital city earlier this month. League veterans Stuart Gray and David Vernon provided vital contributions on the day. Both players have founded and developed the club together off the field over the past two years and both men are happy to see their efforts come to fruition.
The final began with Strathmore taking an early lead. The Silverbacks have had limited opportunities to train together in the build up to the cup final, but this did not prevent the visitors from completing a powerful opening set and steaming over in the top corner. Lee Alexander slotted the conversion from out wide, in what was to be a man of the match performance for the local hero.
Edinburgh struck back with three tries of their own as the physicality and experience of the home side started to affect the scoreboard. Bruising defensive sets and some tough weather conditions before half time kept the game tight, until Strathmore started to regain their dominance. Fighting back, the boys in black broke into double figures through Stuart Gray and James Kiely, the latter scoring his second of the day before halftime. At three tries apiece, Strathmore held on to a 14-18 lead thanks to Alexander’s precision from the tee.
Strathmore looked noticeably fitter as the second half got underway. As the rain came down over Edinburgh, Smith exploited a tired looking Edinburgh defence on his way over the whitewash, extending the lead for his team. Not to be undone, Edinburgh hit back through Callum Kennedy who completed his double to bring the score to 18-22. The tension began to rise as the game moved into the final quarter, and it was Edinburgh who broke first under the cup final pressure. Alexander blasted a kick off deep into the Eagles’ half, where the bounce of the ball duped the men hoping to restart their attack. The ball was reluctantly kicked back from under the posts into the jaws of an eager Silverbacks attacking set. After some brave defence, Alexander found his way over the line, pushing the Strathmore lead up to 26-18.
The Eagles were not prepared to take defeat lying down, not least on their own park. Tom Murray burst through on 67 minutes with Callum Kennedy converting after a period of sustained pressure on the Strathmore line. The end-to-end action continued, as Scott Strachan belied his size to cut a sweet line through a rejuvenated Edinburgh defence. Alexander’s conversion took the Silverbacks into a commanding position, at 24-32 with less than ten minutes to play.
However, Robert Stitt set the game up for a nervous final period of play, as he capitalised on a succession of penalties against the leaders. Darting under the posts left an easy conversion for Kennedy, who duly cut the Strathmore lead to just two points, with even fewer minutes still to play on the clock.
Strathmore collected themselves and kicked deep, presenting the Eagles with a mountain to climb in order to snatch victory in what had been a thrilling fixture. Unable to complete their set, Strathmore held on to possession through Feighan and Alexander, who sustained a heart-breaking injury seconds before the final whistle. Despite losing Alexander late in the day, the Silverbacks held on to possession long enough to hear the final whistle, which signalled a memorable win for a deserving Strathmore side.
Spectators praised both sides for what was a spirited and hugely entertaining final. Strathmore begin their rugby union campaign later this month as they look to bring more silverware home to Inchmacoble.
Match Report by Dave Smith