GHK v Preston Lodge December 1, 2018
Missing a few regulars, having a couple of debutants and with a number of others filling not their usual positions, the GHK starting xv had something of an unfamiliar look about it. The challenge that lay in wait was a powerful and workmanlike Preston Lodge side that had given GHK a good going over in Prestonpans earlier in the season.
GHK started really well, retaining possession, going through the phases and asking questions of the PL defence. In these early stages the powerful carrying of Fraser Christie and Hugh Parker was to the fore. The accurate kicking of Kyle Henderson also suggested that he was in the mood.
GHK probably deserved something on the board for their early efforts, but they could not quite capitalise on good field positions and the bulk of possession at this time. PL defended a GHK attacking lineout well and a breakout looked on until the visitors’ winger was felled superbly by Erwann Le Balc’h. His copybook tackle was the first of several.
Eventually the East Lothian side began to rumble and their stocky ball carriers made ground and probed the fringes of the GHK defence. Eventually this paid off when hooker Mackie was forced over from close range. PL got in to the GHK twenty two and came away with five points.
The visitors appeared to have a weight and power advantage in the set scrum. GHK coped well enough with this for the most part as number eight Parker and scrum half Cammy Grant worked tidily to get the ball away from the PL danger zone. The GHK lineout was back to normal and communications between thrower-in Angus Lindsay and his various targets were on the same wavelength. As a wee bonus, there were a couple of steals on the PL ball that probably created a bit of uncertainty in their ranks. GHK were on top in the lineout battle throughout.
However, there was no doubt that visitors principal and most effective weapon was to truck it up via their carriers. They drew in defenders and after several, albeit fairly slow phases, players were drawn out of position. On the twenty minute mark this process created space for the PL left winger to claim try number two. Having said that, there was a fair degree of controversy as the covering defenders looked to have pushed the winger in to touch and in the scoring the flag went tumbling.
From the restart PL tried to turn the screw. The home scrummage was put under pressure but somehow held out. GHK were repeatedly penalised at scrum time, even for being pushed backwards. The scrum regularly wheeled on the loose head side and again GHK were penalised for this. If this indeed had been a tactic from the home side, as it would appear to have been adjudged by the man in the middle, then it made no sense at all as it exposed the GHK try line to the PL eight as they tried to usher the ball to the line. It looked as though the PL front row were getting away with it.
Having defied the PL pack in a series of five metre scrums, GHK at long last got back in to the visitors’ half. The home cause was aided when the PL number six was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle. There was no complaint from the back row man. In his absence, Kyle Henderson opened the home scoring with a well struck penalty but only after PL had stretched the lead to thirteen points with a similar effort. Half time GHK 3 Preston Lodge 13
GHK upped the pace at the start of the second half and the intensity of their play looked to have taken the visitors a bit by surprise. The French Flyer Le Balc’h was inches short in touching down a chip ahead. GHK kept play in the PL twenty two and it was their turn to take on the opposition with their own spell of forward domination. The PL line was up so flat and fast that there was frequently limited space out wide. GHK took their lead from the visitors and Hugh Parker was driven over for a richly deserved forwards’ score.
The GHK centres began to take on and challenge their opposite numbers. Fin Callaghan and Callum Bowie looked to have the speed and guile to make a break. An illegal attempt to halt one such break i.e. a trip, saw the second yellow awarded this time to the visiting stand off. Kyle Henderson drew the scores level from the resulting penalty. There was a real momentum swing. A few of the visitors looked a bit weary and what had been working in the first half had not been seen in the second period.
When Fin Callaghan received the ball around the area of the Preston Lodge ten metre line, few would have thought that a try was on, but the young centre displayed pace, power and elusive running and once he was through the second defender he was never being caught. A simple conversion gave GHK a seven point advantage. Quite a turnaround.
GHK continued to boss possession and territory. When PL tried to punch holes in the home defence they were met by a series of ferocious tackles to which the entire GHK squad contributed. Special mention of Jez Hanks, Fraser Christie and the Frenchman is merited.
PL reverted to what they did best and the close quarter driving was rolled out again. It was not as effective as it had been in their purple patch in the first period. The GHK defensive effort made sure of that. However, with fifteen to go PL claimed try number three after a number of drives close to the line. The conversion fell short and GHK had a two point lead to protect for quarter of an hour. They oh so nearly did it!
The defence was immense. GHK might have missed an opportunity or two to clear their lines, but it is hard to be in any way critical as the effort, discipline and courage on display was out of the top drawer.
PL succeeded in taking play deep in to the GHK twenty two. The closing passage of play on the five metre line on the GHK left seemed to last an eternity. The wheeling scrum reappeared and clearly the referee did not approve of GHK’s part in this occurrence. Several scrums were defended, re-set, penalised, re-set, a yellow card was given to Hugh Parker. PL fed the ball in to another scrum and it looked as if not the tidiest possession might have been won. GHK appeared to have a sniff of one final steal. However, much to the utter dismay of all of a GHK persuasion, referee Clark was sprinting from the site of the scrummage to a position under the posts. He raised his arm. It was a penalty try for Preston Lodge with the last play of the game with the clock well over eighty minutes. Heartbreak at OA.
GHK 20 Preston Lodge 25
This was quite possibly GHK’s best performance of the season and offers great optimism for the games to come. Not a failure in the squad and superb teamwork throughout the game. A losing bonus point seemed a bit meagre given the effort.
Challenging fixtures ahead for sure, but this should be the standard set for the tests to came starting with Highland next week.
Pick any from the squad for player of the day, but for some wonderful touches in attack and some classic tackling, Erwann Le Balc’h gets GHK’s equaivalent of the Legion d’honneur. Well done sir.
Next week GHK v Highland k.o 3.00, but only after the Christmas lunch.
There was better news from Bellsland where Jason Carlin’s Twos secured the necessary bonus point victory over Kilmarnock to keep the pressure on Hill Jills. Well done men. We look to be involved in a real contest for the title. Exciting times for this squad.
Thanks to David Rowand for the photos.