Stand off Alex Blair believes Edinburgh Accies maintaining a high tempo so that opponents Stewart’s Melville gradually started to wilt was key to a 23-13 play-off win that maintains Premiership rugby status next season.
With Accies the higher ranked team odds were always on familiarity with that greater intensity having an impact, to force mistakes at the crucial time – and so it proved after an enthralling match at Lasswade which saw both teams deservedly applauded from the pitch at full-time by a crowd of around 1500.
“At 16-13 with about 20 minutes to go it was tense,” admitted Blair. “But we kept our structure knowing they would tire going (deep) into the second half. We kept them in their ‘22’ and pressure led to a try at the end.”
In fact, StewMel were so at sixes and sevens, facing a strong wind and backed up on their line, that sub Jonathan Hamblin was only on the field a minute before he became the one who finally stretched ref James Matthew’s patience and a yellow card was inevitable after a series of technical offences.
There was no way back for 14 man StewMel and with three minutes remaining Calum Reid crashed over for a try to add to earlier efforts by Jamie Farndale and Nyle Godsmark. With sub Ruaridh Bonner’s conversion Accies were finally safe.
Any further widening of the victory margin would have been a travesty given StewMel’s contribution, particularly Nick McCashin who scored all their points but was a doubtful starter right up until kick-off due to a calf injury.
“We were in that game for almost 80 minutes and as a coach that is all I could ask,” said StewMel’s Bruce Macnaughton. “We certainly didn’t leave anything on the pitch and overall the experience of the play-off taught us we are not a million miles away from Premiership standard. We’ve got to learn from that.
“If we had won the toss that might have helped because the wind played a big part.
“We had first use of the wind and at the start there is a lot of feeling out which goes on especially with us the National League team playing opponents from a higher division. By the time we began to realise we were well in the game a good amount of time had elapsed.
“When we settled, and playing into the wind, we tried to keep the ball in hand.
“As a Premiership side, though, Accies were good at getting numbers to breakdowns and turning us over.
“We gave it our best shot and even the subs who came on for cameo roles made notable contributions and the great thing is we are not going to lose many players from what has been a settled side.”
For Accies there was relief rather than any jubilation as confirmed by Blair who noted the extra responsibilities created by the club changing coaches just days before the play-off.
“It has been a tough season and with Jonny (Else) and Malky (McVie) getting released we had to re-group again with a week to go.
“We had three sessions (under interim coach Bob Easson) and gave it everything. Thankfully it came together but there is almost no happiness in the dressing-room. Rather, it’s more relief because we should not have been in that position.“
The pressure felt by a team with everything to lose and only their current status to maintain was shrewdly summed up by director of rugby Bob Easson who was joined in the technical area by Simon Cross, coach of Accies last season before joining Worcester.
“There were consequences of losing. The approach was just about looking at the result taking care of itself by sticking to the pragmatic with a clear focus.”
As for Accies’ composure, particularly in the first half when StewMel asked some serious questions near the interval, Easson added: “Maybe that is where the Premiership pace and intensity is greater and you have to learn to do that (stick to the game plan).”
Accies drew first blood through Jamie Farndale scoring on his opposite wing only to fall behind through two McCashin penalties.
Blair’s boot gave Accies an 8-6 interval lead but although he added a penalty after Godsmark’s try for 16-6, brave StewMel would not be shaken off, McCashin converting his own touchdown. StewMel’s attempts to play the ball out of the tackle seemed almost desperate at times and being forced on to the back foot by a more muscular and physical Accies would have made it hard enough without that stern breeze making their task even more uphill and ultimately futile.
Edinburgh Accies: Tries – Farndale, Godsmark, Reid. Conversion – Bonner. Penalties – Blair (2).
Stewart’s Melville: Try – McCashin. Conversion – McCashin. Penalties – McCashin (2).
Edinburgh Accies: R Young, J Farndale, E Campbell, I Berthinussen, N Godsmark, A Blair, M Campbell, D Morrison, M LIness, P Cringle. G Campbell (captain), A Toolis, T Stuart, C Reid, R Snape. Subs: R Bonner, T Hancock. D Bates, J McCarthy, S Pecquer, J Marples.
Stewart’s Melville: M Hanning, A Whittingham, D Hampton, N Bowie, M Morrell, N McCashin (captain), F Strachan, W Aitken, N Hart, R Morgan, S Brewster, F Morrison, R Stewart, A Howie, B Wilson. Subs: R Anderson, C Mackay, J Hamblin, C Mackay, R Anderson, S Wilson, D Sangster, S Trotter, C Beattie.
Referee: J Matthew.