Rugby: Coach believes his Edinburgh side can improve further

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Edinburgh ACCIES coach Simon Cross has warned his men that they must step up their game to build on an impressive 24-7 win over Stewart’s Melville at Raeburn Place if they are to challenge for a place in next season’s top flight.

It was a second successive derby success for Accies and means they and their next opponents, Hawick, are the only two sides in RBS Premier B, who have not yet lost a match.

That underlines the intensity of the race for the two available spots and will offer some hope to a previously unbeaten Stewart’s Melville outfit that had started the day at the top of the table.

While clearly delighted with the outcome, Cross, right, was less than satisfied with some aspects of the game, saying: “Elements of our performance were disappointing, so it’s back to the drawing board with a few things. The guys will work hard and we’ll come back next week against Hawick and hopefully get a decent away win.”

However, with five league points harvested from an encounter that again underlined the quality of rugby being played at club level, the coach was eager to hand out praise where it was merited.

“I was disappointed that we weren’t as accurate as we were the previous week [against Heriot’s]. We made a number of mistakes in their 22 and we have to sort that out before we play Hawick away, but five points against a quality side like to Stew Mel who are playing a really good brand of rugby – if you had offered me that before the match, I would have bitten your hand off.

“We controlled the game well in the second half and played in the right areas. I thought Stew Mel were worth their lead at half-time and actually I thought we defended excellently in the first half. In the second half, we looked after the ball better in contact and didn’t give away any silly penalties – that made the difference.”

In the Stew-Mel camp, coach Bruce MacNaughton acknowledged that the Accies pack had been key to the result, but he lavished praise on his players for refusing to buckle in the final quarter.

“They dominated up front and dominated the ball. They did a lot of driving mauls and that just sucked the energy out of us,” he said before pointing to the loss of No.8 Phil Hendry and skipper Scott Brewster, the latter with a broken leg, as having an impact on the shape of his side during a second half in which the hosts had the upper hand. But we kept playing and the heads didn’t go down. It was 24-7 with 20 minutes to go – it could have been 44-7 if we had just packed in, but this team is not going to do that.”

That assessment was evidence of the progress Stew-Mel have made since their last visit to Raeburn Place in October 2010 when the visitors capitulated and suffered a 69-8 defeat.

MacNaughton knows his players are relishing the tests that lie ahead in the coming weeks as they push for a top two finish, stating: “They are all tough games, but this is where we want to be.”

MacNaughton had seen his men carve out a well-deserved lead 7-5 at the break after Andy Hughes touched down for a try, converted by Mike Hanning, in response to an earlier score form Ruaridh Bonner. Bonner was a significant contributor in the second half, setting up Tom Drennan for his side’s second try then adding the conversion before firing out a long pass to send his brother Euan in at the corner. And Accies captured the bonus point try when replacement lock Andrew Findlater showed an impressive turn of pace to power over and leave Bonner a simple conversion.

Accies will travel to meet Hawick on Saturday in a rearranged fixture, and Cross expects nothing less than another fiercely contested match against the improving Borderers.

“Hawick are a different team under Phil Leck,” he said. “They are organised in defence and have a good axis at nine and ten. But these boys enjoy a challenge and it’s something we look forward to.”

Scorers: Edinburgh Accies: Tries: R Bonner, Drennan, E Bonner, Findlater. Cons: R Bonner (2). Stewart’s Melville: Try: Hughes. Con: Hanning.

Edinburgh Accies: E Bonner, N Armstrong, R Browne, I Berthinussen, J Knight, M Campbell, D MacLeod, M Liness, K Blyth, G Campbell, T Stuart, D Teague, J Taggart, T Drennan. Subs used: S Jeffers, C Murray, A Findlater, G Douglas.

Stewart’s Melville: L Steele, R Borthwick, S Riddell, N Bowie, M Hanning, K Whiting, W Aitken, R MacKenzie, R O’Leary, S Brewster, M Wilson, F Morrison, D Sangster, P Hendry. Subs used: A Howie, R Patterson, A Edmonstone, M Hannay.

Referee: R Dickson