Never-say-die Stewart’s Melville rugby coach Bruce Macnaughton believes a late fightback for a losing bonus point in a 23-29 home defeat by GHA could still be enough to help his side reach the BT Premiership play-off.
With Selkirk runaway leaders in National League Division One, second-place GHA are now six points ahead of Stewart’s Melville having played a game more.
Macnaughton said: “Absolutely, reaching the play off is still a possibility. We’ve got a game in hand and if we win that we might only be a point behind. It isn’t in our hands any more but there are a lot of twists and turns liable to occur.”
Macnaughton’s side reduced their arrears from 13-29 down. However, the coach acknowledged it was clearly a bad day at the office for a side who put together entertaining passages but lack serious grunt up front.
“The fact GHA score five tries to our two says we didn’t deserve to win,” said McNaughton. “Our set piece wasn’t consistent and the line-out remains a problem.
“The first two tries we lost were self inflicted and we always had trouble dealing with the way they came round the corners (of rucks) and standing off them made it worse.
“GHA’s last try came from a really cruel bounce of the ball to beat our defence but we didn’t deserve to win.”
What must encourage Stew Mel to press on regardless is the fact five of their last six games are against teams they defeated in the first half of the season.
The odd-one-out is a derby against Watsonians when they will have home advantage. It would only take a slip by GHA to let them back in and Stew Mel do have backs who thrive on firm going.
Full-back Michael Hanning showed good vision while stand-off Nick McCashin is adroit at breaking tackles to launch counter attacks.
Substitute scrum-half Gregor Porteous also had plenty of verve in sparking the final-quarter revival. But too often Stew Mel shot themselves in the foot with the loss of the opening try typical of that trait.
An avoidable knock-on saw GHA scrum half Peter Jericevich, the outstanding player afield, find acres of space down the blindside to kick ahead and win the foot race. A break by winger Matt Morrell saw Fraser Morrison link to send Hanning over for a try that put Stew Mel briefly in front but then a loose line-out throw was seized upon for John Brogan to go over on the opposite flank for the first of his two tries.
When McCashin levelled with a penalty, Stew Mel threw everything at the visitors, only for a succession of wrong options either in cutting for the line too early or butchering an overlap to prove fatal.
Making the most of their good fortune, GHA moved upfield for Ross Angus to drive over following a line-out.
McCashin’s second penalty saw Stew Mel turn round 13-15 adrift but revival hopes were dealt a blow by slick passing to send over Brogan.
When a speculative kick eluded Morrell and broke kindly for scorer Alan Auld, you could sense it wouldn’t be the Capital outfit’s day.
To their credit, they conjured up a converted try by Morrell from a McCashin dummy as well as a penalty to set up a tense finish.
However, lack of possession down the home straight meant GHA were never seriously threatened in proving well worth their five points.
Stewart’s Melville: Tries: Hanning, Morrell. Conversions: McCashin (2). Penalties: McCashin (3).
GHA: Tries: Brogan (2), Angus, A Auld, Jericevich. Conversions: Jerecevich (2).
Stewart’s Melville: M Hanning, M Morrell, N Bowie, S Trotter, A Rennie, N McCashin (c), F Strachan, W Aitken, R Mitchell, R Morgan, S Brewster, F Morrison, H Lindsay, F Christie, S Wilson. Subs: C Anderson, R Stewart, B Johnstone, E Bowen, G Porteous.
GHA: C Binnie, J Brogan, M MacFarlane, A Henderson, E Greer, A Goudie, P Jerecevich, S Carson, J Malcolm, M Fox, A Barnett, C McGeogh, D Malcolm, Grant Campbell, R Angus. Subs: Gordon Campbell, J Leslie, J Auld, A Auld, M Houston.
Referee: D McClement.