EDINBURGH Accies face a future in the Premiership next season after fighting off the spirited challenge of a Stewart’s Melville side that played most of the rugby but lacked that extra bit of experience and composure when it mattered most.
Edinburgh Accies 23 - 13 Stewart’s Melville
SCORERS: Edinburgh Accies: Tries: Berthinussen, Godsmark, Reid. Cons: Bonner. Pens: Blair 2. Stewart’s Melville: Tries: McCashin. Cons: McCashin. Pens: McCashin 2.
Referee: J Matthew.
Accies hid their nerves well going into the play-off, but backroom uncertainty caused by the sacking of coach Jonny Else last week was bound to be preying on their minds before they got onto the windy pitch at neutral Lasswade in front of a crowd of around 1,000.
Director of rugby Bob Easson was in charge of the team for this last game, with former coach Simon Cross, now with Worcester Warriors, offering help and advice in the technical area, while the team executed a game plan that ultimately delivered the win that prevents them dropping to the championship. The outcome means only Aberdeen leave the top flight to be replaced by Boroughmuir.
“They made us work all the way,” Easson said afterwards. “We didn’t expect anything less. It was not a cup final because there are different prizes here and maybe we were more used to the pace and intensity required in Premiership rugby.
“With 16 points on the board in the second half I thought we would kick on from there, but our momentum actually came when they scored and got within three points. I would put that down to the emotional element in the game, what was at stake and the consequences of losing and all of that. We needed to focus back in on what we do well, not get excited and jump up and down, but concentrate on the basics.
“The result means we still have the opportunity to play in the Premiership next season and the club will prepare for that accordingly.” Accies won the toss and decided to play into the strong wind with the aim of containing Stewart’s Melville in the first half and applying pressure to rack up the points in the second.
It got better for Accies when they scored in 15 minutes with a fast-paced passing movement that saw the ball switched from stand off Alex Blair to winger Jamie Farndale to Ewen Campbell who gave it to his centre partner Iain Berthinussen for the try.
Stewart’s Melville responded with two penalties from New Zealand fly-half Nick McCashin that sneaked them back into the lead until Blair landed his first penalty to take Accies two points clear at half-time.
Within minutes of the restart, with the wind now at their backs, it all seemed to be going in Accies favour when Nyle Godsmark got the touch down after the Stewart’s Melville defence was overwhelmed by sheer weight of numbers.
Blair missed the conversion but kicked a penalty moments later to make the gap a daunting ten points.
This was the point where Easson expected the momentum to build for Accies and the tries to start to flow. Instead, he was confounded by Stewart’s Melville flinging the ball about like a hot potato so that they battled against the wind to reach the other end and, although a bodycheck on McCashin appeared to have stopped him scoring he somehow managed to twist round and get the ball down. He then got up and converted his own try to get within three points.
It was a shock for Accies because it made them vulnerable with just under 30 minutes remaining but they knew what they had to do, boot the ball the length of the field and retain possession in the opposition 22.
And that is exactly what they did, using lineout possession from locks Greg Campbell and Jamie McCarthey to set up mauls that then rumbled towards the try line.
The Stewart’s Melville defence was sound but the mauls were hurting them and could only be stopped illegally.
Twice penalties were awarded five metres out and the ball went straight back into touch for another lineout. When the referee gave one last warning the yellow card for replacement back row Jonathon Hamblin was almost inevitable.
Even so Stewart’s Melville battled to the end, somehow holding up the ball when a scrum was pushed over the line. But the Accies try line was a distant sight for them and they had to put all their efforts into defence as the Accies pack hammered away, and eventually wore them down in the 77th minute with Scotland Under-20 No 8 Callum Reid finding just enough space to score a try on the edge of a pile-up and make the game, and Premiership status, safe.
Stewart’s Melville coach Bruce MacNaughton said: “We have a lot of sore boys, and a lot of disappointed boys. They have done really well and were in the game for the full 80 minutes which is all you can ask. Our defence was outstanding and what we can take from this is that we are not a million miles away and will look to improve next year.”
Edinburgh Accies: R Young, N Godsmark, E Campbell, I Berthinussen, J Farndale, A Blair. M Campbell, D Morrison, M Kiness, P Cringle, G Campbell, A Toolis, T Stuart, R Snape, C Reid. Subs used: D Bates, C Lecour, J McCarthey, T Hancock, R Bonner, J Marples, S Pecqueur.
Stewart’s Melville: M Hanning, A Whittingham, D Hampton, N Bowie, M Morrell, N McCashin, F Strachan, W Aitken, N Hart, R Morgan, S Brewster, F Morrison, R Stewart, B Wilson, A Howie. Subs used: R Anderson, C McKay, J Hamblin, S Wilson, D Sangster, S Trotter, C Beattie.