Edinburgh Accies coach Simon Cross heaped praise on prop forward Duncan Morrison after the youngster – 20 today – went toe-to-toe with Scotland World Cupper Moray Low in an enthralling Raeburn Place clash with Aberdeen Grammar.
Battling Accies eventually lost 13-18 but, for Cross, there was plenty of encouragement, notably the way Morrison rose to the challenge against a direct opponent drafted in from Glasgow Warriors under an SRU directive so that he could get some game time.
There were moments of anxiety along the way and, in 49 minutes Morrison, who had been seen flexing neck muscles between scrums, briefly received treatment from the Accies physio.
But he stayed the course allowing Cross to remark: “Special mention for Duncan Morrison. He is going to be sore for a bit but he will have learnt a lot from being up against an international player.
“Actually he’ll learn a lot about himself and I certainly learned a lot about Duncan.
“For a 19-year-old lad he did an outstanding job the way he stuck at it and kept going for 80 minutes.
“We took them on and I thought it was 50-50 in the scrums.
“I hardly needed to use the bench because the players on the pitch were doing a job.”
While Accies were adequate in the set-piece, Cross did admit it was particularly useful that one of No. 8 Tom Drennan’s key skills is to clean up untidy possession at the base. “Tom Drennan is very good at getting the ball away at the scrum base (under pressure),” he said.
That told a story and one drive earned the powerful Aberdeen pack around 25 yards, but when Accies were able to spread play wide they looked especially threatening in a match where they led 6-5 midway through the first half but lacked an overall cutting edge.
“We have not got the sheer size and mass that other teams have in trundling up the middle. We have to try to spread the ball wide and find space elsewhere. We have to be fitter and more skilful and not make mistakes,” said Cross.
Accies seemingly made so many errors in the previous weekend’s defeat at Stirling that they drew the coach’s anger in programme notes which referred to a performance “disappointing and unacceptable on a number of levels.”
But such has been the advance of Premiership rugby that a few years ago this clash would have passed for a title decider rather than a scrap to get into the top eight before the league splits – a point lost on the English newspaper which rarely takes even a passing interest in the Scottish club scene but felt able on Saturday morning to herald an internationalist’s involvement under the headline “Moray Hits New Low”.
There followed a reference to Low being forced “deep down” just to get a game; such a statement belittles the actual quality but maybe if more respect had been shown by Murrayfield authorities to the Premiership, Scotland would not have slipped below Tonga in rankings or had one player alone in their group (Chris Ashton of England) score more tries than our entire national side.
To be fair, at least three current Scottish internationalists were sufficiently respectful to be in a sizeable crowd and they witnessed sterling displays from Accies’ Greg Campbell, Dan Teague and Kenny Blyth while Callum Reid, the Accies try-scorer looks, a star of the future at flanker.
“Callum debuted for us last season as a 17-year-old and has crept under the radar of Edinburgh age-group teams but I expect him to be competing for a Scotland under-20 place this time round,” said Cross, adding: “Whether they finish this season in the bottom four or top eight – and I believe we can still reach the title group – I’m convinced our guys are going to be a really difficult team to beat soon.
“They are very young, they are very Scottish and they work hard and that is all you can ask.
“If they apply themselves like that every week there will be great days for the club.
“Most of the time you get what you deserve (but) the effort the guys put in was so outstanding we didn’t get the win we deserved. That said that we had chances.
“It was a great game of rugby, though, and credit to Aberdeen. It was exciting for everybody and that is what Saturdays are about.
“Last week anger was my main emotion; currently it is pride.”
Accies fell behind to Shetlander Erland Oag’s seventh try of the season but, by the 26th minute, had revived to lead 6-5 through two penalties from the boot of Stuart Evans. A Warwick Percival penalty gave the Dons a narrow interval lead and even when Will Wardlaw’s try extended the advantage, Accies hit back through Calum Reid with Evans converting the try. The sin-binning of Moray Low for a ruck offence had come moments before Accies equalised but it was the visitors who held firm with Steven Aitken clinching the spoils with an unconverted try.
At least Accies were able to take a losing bonus point and they lie four points adrift of eighth place Stirling with a run-in comprising Gala (h), Melrose (a) and Currie (h).
Edinburgh Accies: Try: Reid. Conversion: Evans. Penalties: Evans (2).
Aberdeen Grammar FP: Tries: Oag, Wardlaw, Aitken. Penalty: Percival.
Edinburgh Accies: J Sole, M Coupar, R Browne, I Berthinussen, J Knight, S Evans, A Black, D Morrison, M Liness, K Blyth, G Campbell, D Teague (captain), C Reid, T Drennan, J Taggart. Subs: S Jeffers, T Jackson, N Pike, A Lamb, R Bonner.
Aberdeen Grammar FP’s: S Aitken, E Oag, W Wardlaw, W Percival, C Anderson, R Aloe, M Ward, N Fraser, S O’Connor, M Low, E Nimmons, M Douglas (captain), A Warnock, G Ryan, T McGuinness. Subs: M Dixon, C McConnachie, R Barrie, A Alapati, F Lyle.
Referee: G Vivavini (Italy).