Shetland 14, Huntly 22
Shetland took to the field at Clickimin in a confident mood for their Scottish Hydro North East Division Two match against Huntly on Saturday. Fielding a strong squad, they knew that in order to win, they would need to take the game to the visitors and keep the ball away from the large visiting forwards.
Shetland made a few changes to the squad which lost to Garioch a fortnight previously, welcoming Jon Pulley, Dom Odell and Nathan Coote back into the back division. In the forwards Kristian Fraser moved in to hooker and Robbie Hall made his debut at tight-head prop, and fellow uncapped players Allan Colvin and Tristan Sinclair were on the bench. There were also recalls for Stewart Jamieson and Lindsay Leslie, who were both among the replacements.
Huntly won the toss and decided to play against the wind and with the sun in their eyes in the first half. Shetland used the conditions to their favour, and it was not long before they took the lead. An error from Huntly saw them concede a penalty and Paul Grant kicked it into the corner to give Shetland the lineout. Good work from the forwards saw Matthew Nicolson claim the ball, and after one tight phase, the ball was released to the backs and fly-half Odell jinked his way over the line. The try was converted by Grant to give the home side a 7-0 lead inside five minutes.
Shetland continued to exert pressure and their barnstorming start got better before the 20-minute mark. They used the wind and kicked well downfield, and after a good chase caused a mistake in the Huntly defence. Advantage was played and Shetland used it to maximum effect, with Matthew Nicolson able to crash over from an Odell pass. Grant once again made no mistake with the conversion and Shetland were 14-0 up before a quarter of the game had passed.
It looked at this point like Shetland would put Huntly to the sword and really rack up the points, but it seems a few of the players took their minds off the task at hand, believing the game to be won already. The visiting side sensed this and were able to gain momentum and field position through a combination of strong forward play and plenty of mistakes from the home team.
Huntly got their first try after a kick in behind the home defence. Winger Tom Laing passed the ball back inside when under pressure from the Huntly winger and Maurice Williamson’s rushed kick landed in the arms of the visiting player who simply had to fall over the line to score. The conversion was missed leaving the score at 14-5.
It was thought that this would give the home side a much needed kick up the backside, but Shetland worryingly could not raise their game. Their lead was cut further on the stroke of half time, with Huntly scoring after some good work by the forwards which sucked in the Shetland defence. The conversion was again missed, leaving Shetland in the lead at the break 14-10.
Some motivational words were said at half time, and Lindsay Leslie was brought on to replace Robbie Hall, who had a solid game on his debut. Leslie moved in to the hooking position, with Kristian Fraser reverting to his usual position at prop.
Shetland kicked off into both sun and wind, knowing that they needed to score first to bring momentum back to their side. It was not to be, however, as Huntly kept the ball in tight with their big forwards and were able to rumble over near the posts following some courageous defence by the home side. This time the conversion was kicked, and Huntly led 17-14.
Again the home side huffed and puffed, but weren’t really able to gain much ground. Grant’s kicking was compromised by the wind, and although centres Maurice Williamson and substitute Peter Sidgwick were able to make some yardage, they were ultimately undone by a lack of supporting players, meaning Huntly were able to win the ball.
Huntly’s fourth try came about in similar fashion to their second with the forwards sucking defenders in towards them, before the ball was spun wide. The try was awarded in the corner, depite Pulley’s protestations that he had managed to hold the ball up. The conversion was again missed, putting Huntly 22-14 up.
Finally Shetland managed to get on the attack again, perhaps with their visitors taking their foot off the gas. The last 20 minutes were action-filled, with the home side going all out in an attempt to rescue the game. Huge pressure was mounted on the Huntly line but the visiting defence was resolute, and Shetland could not find a way round, through or over the defence.
The game ended when Williamson’s chip was gathered by the Huntly scrum half just ahead of Coote, and the ball was bundled out over the side line.
Despite suffering another loss there were a number of positives to take from the game. The most notable was the intensity with which Shetland started the game, as this has been a major problem for a couple of seasons.
The performance in the last 20 minutes was also encouraging, although the middle part of the game was a cause for concern. Other positives were the performance of the pack, particularly in the set piece, with the line-out – and particularly the scrum – being exceptional. Technique around the ruck is certainly something which could be worked on, however, and the whole side could benefit from upping their work rate.
On Saturday Shetland are at home again, this time in the Scottish Hydro Regional Bowl competition, where they will take on a Ross Sutherland side, many of whom will be no strangers to these parts, having been league adversaries for many seasons, although not this year.
A club spokesman said any players, new or old, wishing to be considered for selection should attend training on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Clickimin from 6.30pm. As always, supporters will also be more than welcome at the match, which kicks off at noon.