The sense of relief was palpable afterwards. “We absolutely needed that,” acknowledged victorious head coach Rob Chrystie. “I think within the group we were disappointed that we weren’t being as accurate as we felt we could be throughout all the games. We just felt that any little mistake we made was costing us quite big – so to be able to put in a performance like that in those conditions, to minimise the mistakes, was really good and gives us a launchpad now to build on.”
A vicious wind whipped a relentless deluge of icy rain across the Meggetland pitch and ensured that this was always going to be a battle of wills rather than an opportunity to give voice to the SRU’s vaunted “technical blueprint”.
The stand was packed, but the rest of the ground was – quite understandably – sparsely populated, and while the game was heavily punctuated by errors and niggle, there was enough rugged endeavour to keep those 673 hardy souls who braved the conditions engaged – if not quite bouncing on the edges of their seats.
Despite playing into the wind during the first half, the Knights battled their way to a 7-12 lead at the interval thanks to some smart kicking on their part and shoddy tidying up by their opponents.
The Knights took the lead on 22 minutes when a well-judged kick to the corner by Struan Hutchison spooked the Bears’ backfield and Gavin Wood capitalised for an easy flop-over. They then grabbed their second eight minutes later when the hosts initially tried to run the ball from deep then kicked in panic, only to fire the ball straight at James Head loitering on the 22, and a few minutes later Ewan Mcquillan powered over from close range.
The Bears dragged themselves back into it only a few seconds before the break when a penalty was kicked to the corner and winger Jordan Edmunds added his weight to the drive to claim the try. But the Knights were soon back on top after the resumption and scored their third try from yet another close-range line-out drive, with Russell Anderson grounding the ball this time.
Australian blindside Jale Vakaloloma was recruited by Glasgow Warriors last summer principally as cover for the international windows, but shoulder surgery meant that he missed the first half of the season, including the World Cup period, and last night’s appearance for the Bears presented him with his first game time on these shores. He offered himself up with a couple of forceful carries in the lead up to Ewan Stewart’s try, which pulled it back to a seven-point game.
But the Knights had the bit between their teeth, and they muscled their way back upfield and, after a sustained bombardment of the opposition line, Mcquillan rumbled over from close range for his second and his team’s bonus-point securing fourth try.
In the final few seconds, some good scavenging work by Ruaridh Knott and Dylan Traylor facilitated an opportunist try for Joseph Jenkins, which rounded off the scoring.
These teams meet again at the Greenyards next Sunday and they will be praying for slightly less hostile weather conditions.