Bonus Point Win For League Debut
By Peter Martin
Highland’s good start to the season continued with a 40-17 victory over Orkney at Canal Park to add to the BT Cup win the weekend before.
With fine weather and an immaculate pitch the stage was set for a fast game of rugby, very much to Highland’s liking. With the visitors’ ferry delayed the game plan of last Saturday was bound to be used again and it saw points on the board very quickly. Highland didn’t let Orkney settle and the visitors were forced into giving away penalties, two kicked by Scott Fraser to be 6-0 in the lead before ten minutes.
The pace was maintained and although Orkney were battling hard up front they were outclassed out wide. A line-out near the Orkney line saw the ball go out wide and through several rucks before a popped ball on the blind-side saw Craig Findlater sneak in to score in the corner. The difficult conversion was missed by Scott Fraser, but it was now 11-0.
Highland still had the edge although they were having work harder to stop the ball being tied up in the forward contest. Underlining were Highland’s advantage lay a turnover inside their own half saw them counter at pace. The ball was spun wide and Findlater was released at pace to run the entire half before turning the last defender inside out to score by the posts. With Fraser converting it was now 18-0.
Highland were still on top and their mobile game and edge out wide kept Orkney pegged back in their own half, but the pace meant they kept infringing. So much so that the referee lost patience and handed out a yellow card after another penalty in front of the posts. An easy kick for Fraser and Highland were now 21-0 ahead.
Down to fourteen men Orkney did what many sides do in this situation and tightened up their game. They kept the ball in the forwards with short drives and even when it wide past the half-backs it was brought back into the pack. Nearing half-time and Highland were also losing focus and mistakes gave away an easy score. Even so they were not that threatening until a ball was chipped to touch near the Highland line. The ball was thrown in quickly by Highland, but sloppy handling saw the ball go forward leading to a scrum very close to the line.
This was very much to Orkney’s liking and a strong scrum saw a pickup and drive badly defended and the ball popped to Orkney’s number seven Cammy Gray to score. Converted by Philip Ross the half-time score was 21-7.
The break was a good chance for coaches Chris Brogan and Porky Wemyss to get the squad to refocus their game. Despite the visitors battling hard more fast play created chances, and although more scores should have come Highland’s way they at least saw Ruaridh MacDonald go clear and touch down behind the posts with Fraser’s kick making it 28-7. The win was now there for the taking by Highland as Orkney only seemed able to cause problems by rumbling up the park in forward drives.
Highland were now losing focus again and an error allowed Orkney to kick a penalty for 28-10. Even with more ball the visitors were clearly lacking attacking ideas in the loose and this led to a very speculative long range drop-goal attempt. Perhaps the islanders had given up a win and looking for a loss bonus point.
Yet the edge was always with Highland when the ball went wide and such good handling first saw Findlater in for an unconverted try and his hat-trick. Highland now had the bonus point at 33-10. This was soon followed by good play in the loose putting Lyle Archer free to touch down near the posts and with Fraser’s conversion it was now 40-10.
Orkney however went down fighting and they put some nice drives together, the best part of their game, to force a score by Liam Moar which with Ross’s conversion saw the game end at 40-17.
This was a good win and against a stubborn side with a very well drilled pack that would be a real handful on a heavy pitch. Highland at times didn’t use the width of the park as much as they should have, but you have to give the visitors some credit in tying up the ball. The run up to next Saturday’s trip to Haddington will see some loose ends tied up, as well as discipline being looked at.