A Shetland rugby team with only 12 players gained a superb away draw against Ellon 2nd XV on Saturday, and were moments away from victory.
Ellon 2nd XV 22, Shetland 22
A much-depleted squad headed to Ellon to fulfil the latest fixture in Scottish Hydro Caledonia Division 2 and only 12 players took to the field against a full compliment of Ellon players, who even had two substitutes turn up before the game was over.
After a magnificent effort, Shetland were finally undone at the last as Ellon equalised with the last play of the game to break visiting hearts.
Following last week’s good, but ultimately losing, performance against Banff at Clickimin, Shetland should have been fairly confident heading into the weekend, but a few late call-offs saw the side depleted to three short of a full squad.
The 12 who took to the field were veterans John Roy Nicolson and Jeff Shaw, Kristian Fraser, James “Maori” Sinclair, Jake Watt, skipper Stewart Mouat, Jeff Dobson, Jon Pulley, Joe O’Connor, Paul Grant, Iain Nicol and Nathan Coote. Needless to say they were very grateful of the pitch side support from injured captain Matthew Nicolson and Jillian Isbister.
Prior to the match the side were noticeably quiet, and although one or two players thought this was not a good sign, it proved to be a sign that the players were focused purely on the task at hand.
Pulley kicked off and Shetland won the ball following a big tackle from captain Mouat and Shaw’s steal. From this the ball was spun wide and first Grant, then Shaw took the ball upfield.
A final crash from Nicolson saw him being held up over the line, the result being a Shetland scrum. From the base of the set piece, the ball was worked to Grant who crashed over from short range to open the scoring. Unfortunately he could not add the conversion but Shetland led 5-0 in the opening minutes.
Shetland’s next job was to focus on defence, and they did this well for a number of minutes, until the Ellon stand-off was able to burst through the Shetland line to score beside the posts. He added the extras to put the home side in front at 7-5.
The Blues, in their change kit of white, responded brilliantly and pinned Ellon in their own half for long periods. They were rewarded when Ellon were penalised close to their line. A quick tap from Mouat saw him stopped just short but a good offload saw Kristian Fraser crash over to put Shetland in front again. Grant went close with the conversion and Shetland led 10-7.
Unfortunately Shetland again could not hold on to the lead and Ellon added a further score before the break, but somehow contrived to miss the conversion from directly in front on the sticks, the ball hitting the post and going wide.
So going into the break, Ellon led by 12-10. It was clear that the home side were rattled, and had not expected their understrength visitors to put up such a fight. Shetland, meanwhile, knew that they had to up their work rate if they wanted to get anything from the game.
Ellon kicked off again and the kick was well fielded by Shetland, who began to try and run the ball upfield. This was proving to be a successful tactic as Shetland were able to keep the ball away from their more numerous opponents.
Eventually the home side conceded a penalty near the Shetland 22. A quick tap and break from Pulley saw him evade most of the Ellon defence before passing to the supporting O’Connor to take the ball into the home 22 before he was taken down.
Quick recycling saw the ball spun wide to Coote who was able to dive over and score in the corner to put Shetland back in front again. Grant missed a difficult conversion but Shetland led again by 15-12.
The home side rallied once again, and scored through their outside centre following some good play from their forwards. Once again a fairly routine conversion was missed, but importantly the home side had regained their lead at 17-15 and were looking to really kick on.
The never-say-die attitude of the Shetlanders came to the fore again though, as they not only put pressure on the home side, but again were able to pin them back in their own half.
After some concerted pressure, Shetland again took the lead with a cheeky score from Shaw, picking off the base of the ruck and running through unopposed to score under the posts. Grant nailed the conversion to give Shetland a five-point cushion at 22-17.
Ellon again tried to raise their game, but could not break through a solid line of Shetland defenders who either turned the ball over at the ruck or forced the home side over the sidelines. Indeed, the visitors could also be thankful for some poor decisions and execution by their hosts, whose wide, looping passes made the defensive job easier than it should have been.
After withstanding heavy pressure for 5-10 minutes, Shetland again tried to break upfield through Grant, whose strong running was a threat all day. Eventually though, the pressure told, and with the very last play of the match, Ellon were able to score out wide after working through a number of phases which sucked in a tired Shetland defence. The conversion was missed, leaving a final score of 22-22.
It says something for the 12 Shetland players that they felt disappointed to not win after the performance they put in over the 80 minutes, and to concede in the dying seconds was particularly galling.
All 12 played out of their skins, and it is impossible to choose any who stood out more than the rest. The Northwards man of the match award was presented to Jeff Dobson, after much deliberation, for providing quick, clean ball all day to keep Shetland going forward.
A spokesman said the club wished to thank NorthLink Ferries for the continued support of the team, and also commented that it must be the most subdued return trip ever seen aboard the Hrossey.
Senior training continues on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6.30pm at Clickimin, while the junior teams train on Saturday mornings. Anyone wishing to play the game is invited to attend.