Peterhead 13, Shetland 26
A youthful Shetland side travelled to Peterhead last weekend for their must-win encounter with the Scottish Hydro North East Division Two bottom side Peterhead. A few changes were made to the squad from last week’s defeat to Ross Sutherland, with Callum Williamson returning at scrum half and Jon Pulley filling in at stand-off.
Nathan Coote started at outside centre, with Peter Farquhar – Shetland’s oldest player on the day at 27 – starting on the wing. In the forwards, Ieuan Webb returned from illness to take his place at hooker and Ashley James made his first start for Shetland on the blindside flank. James Sinclair also came into the side at second row.
Although Shetland had previously recorded their best result of the season at home to Peterhead, they knew the return fixture would not be as easy for them, and were aware of the basement club’s improving results over the past few weeks.
Peterhead won the toss and elected to play with the wind in the first half, which was blowing straight down the pitch. The home side used the conditions to their advantage in the first half, kicking the ball in behind the Shetland defence, who seemed to be unable to cope with this strategy and were forced to run the ball back at the home side.
Shetland centre Maurice Williamson ran back one of these returns after fielding the kick well, but a lack of support meant he had to try and hold on to the ball, and was penalised by the referee. Peterhead elected to kick the penalty, and the ball was carried through the Shetland posts by the wind to give the home side a 3-0 lead. This seemed to provide the visitors with a much-needed kick up the proverbial backside, with everyone upping their work-rate.
The visiting side, with an average age of just 19, were able to take the lead through a Paul Grant try. After some good work in the centre of the field by the forwards who managed to win possession at the ruck, the ball was worked wide through Pulley, Williamson and Coote before releasing Grant who broke two tackles before running in from outside the 22 metre line. Unfortunately though, Grant was unable to convert, leaving the visitors in front 5-3.
With the lead now gained, it seemed that Shetland took their foot off the gas again and conceded a number of silly penalties around the ruck. Fortunately for the young visitors, Peterhead were unable to take advantage of this, missing kicks at goal, or losing the ball at the lineout, and the score remained the same until half time.
During the break, winger Iain Nicol was replaced by Connel Gresham who was determined to make an impact with his family watching on the sidelines. Shetland came out for the second half in a more determined fashion following some strong words from captain Matthew Nicolson.
Shetland now had the wind on their side and used this to their advantage, while Peterhead resorted to keeping the ball in tight with their forwards when in possession. As a result they were able to work the ball up the field effectively. Eventually Shetland had too many players sucked in to the ruck to try and slow up the ball, and the Peterhead forwards were able to crash over for a try. The conversion was missed, leaving the score at 8-5 in favour of the home side.
Again Shetland worked hard to get themselves back into the lead, putting great pressure on the home side, and went through a number of phases inside the opposing 22, before Stewart Mouat was sent to the sin bin for handling the ball in the ruck.
The fact that Shetland were down to 14 men seemed to have an impact on the team, and everyone worked much harder to try and get back in the game.
From a Peterhead line-out, Nicolson stole the ball, which was shipped wide through the hands, including a wonderful looping move involving tighthead prop Kristian Fraser, before a little grubber kick put the ball in behind the defence. Maurice Williamson was able to touch the ball down for the score, despite the best efforts of the Peterhead defender to trip him up on his way through. Grant converted to give Shetland a lead of 12-8.
The visitors dug in well, and managed to hold Peterhead out before Mouat was able to come back on to the field. He was involved straight away, winning the ball at yet another attacking lineout in the Peterhead 22, which led to another try out wide for Shetland. This time Coote was the scorer following some good handling again from Fraser and the backline. Grant was once again able to convert, putting Shetland further in front at 19-8.
With Shetland requiring just one more try to secure a bonus point, the decision was taken to kick the ball downfield from the restart, in an attempt to keep the ball in the Peterhead 22. Mouat gathered the restart and subsequently put his right boot through it. He led the chase to claim the ball, and when it was gathered by the Peterhead player, he put in a big tackle on him.
The referee immediately blew the whistle, and the tackled player stayed down, and following some unnecessary comments from the Peterhead team, Mouat was shown the red card, leaving the visitors to play out the last 15 minutes with a man less.
At this point Ramsay Hogg was introduced for the tiring Ashley James, who had tackled like a man possessed all day, and Hogg followed in the same manner, showing great determination in defence. To a man, the Shetland team defended with great courage and skill in the face of great pressure from the home side who sensed a turning point in the game. The next score, however, went in favour of the visitors when Williamson picked up a dropped ball from the Peterhead backs and raced more than 50 metres to score beside the posts, securing the bonus point, and to the great relief of the Shetland team. Grant once again was able to convert, putting Shetland ahead by 26-8.
Peterhead continued their relentless attack however, keeping the ball in forwards and attacking around the edges of the ruck, which Shetland had no real problems in defending, although they could not stop the home side going forwards. Eventually Peterhead’s persistence paid off when they scored in the corner, despite a fantastic covering tackle from Matthew Nicolson which appeared to knock the ball out of the scorer’s hand before he put the ball down.
The referee gave the try, however, and again the conversion into the wind was missed.
The home side were able to hold out with yet more resolute defending for the last few minutes, and were relieved when the referee blew the final whistle following a knock on from the Peterhead prop. Although Shetland won and managed to secure the bonus point, they were far from happy with the performance, particularly in and around the ruck and that far too many players were isolated and had no support when running with the ball.
A number of positives can be taken from the game though, with the scrum being reasonably solid again, and the defence this week was much improved on previous games. This gives the squad plenty of things to work on in training in preparation for Shetland’s next game away to West Dyce tomorrow.
Best on the day for Shetland were Matthew Nicolson, who led by example in the forwards, and Maurice Williamson who was in deadly form in the backs.
There were also good performances from Ashley James, Connel Gresham and Peter Farquhar, and Paul Grant was solid as usual at full back. A spokesman said the club would like to thank NorthLink Ferries for their continued support.
Training continues on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6.30pm at Clickimin, and anybody wishing to play is more than welcome to attend. Further information can be found at www.shetlandrugby.com.