Howe of Fife v GHK 13 October 2018

A much changed GHK XV headed to Cupar to do battle with another side that found themselves uncomfortably close to the drop zone in Tennent’s National League Division Two. A new half back partnership of Cameron Grant and Ben Frame was joined by debutant Erwann Le Balc’h  on the right wing. Lewis Rowand was making his first appearance in the ones for this season. He made a try scoring first fifteen debut on the occasion of GHK’s last visit to Duffus Park in mid April when it was another instance of what could have been with the Glasgow side losing out by a mere five points. The OA entourage would be hoping for a reversal of fortunes from what was already being viewed as a very important fixture in the context of the league campaign.

For the first time this season wet and windy conditions looked likely to play a significant part in how the game might be played. With most of the spectators enjoying the protection from the elements offered by the splendid stand at Duffus Park, it was perhaps fortuitous that the powerful gale was more cross-field than anything else, and much of the action was confined to the stand side touchline. Having said that, the elements were perhaps aiding GHK a little in the first half but that did not seem to concern Howe who started brightly and applied a bit of pressure to the visitors. The GHK rhythm was immediately disrupted by an early injury to Ewan Stewart which saw the flanker replaced by Duncan Campbell with barely three minutes on the clock.

An impressive breakout by left winger (or should that be ailier gauche) Le Balc’h, took GHK in to the home twenty two. Wet day, wet ball, windy conditions. For a while it looked as though GHK had worked out that a more restricted game plan might be just the ticket for today’s encounter and the dreich Fife weather. Having the edge in the lineout and domination of the scrum saw GHK turn the screw. Penalties were kicked to the corner and scrums re-set. After a couple of close run things, Hugh Parker escorted the ball over the line as the Glasgow eight shunted the home forwards back with the outcome inevitable. Danny Campbell added an important conversion.

GHK continued to dominate and with the Howe defence looking a bit ragged and uncertain, you felt that a second score was inevitable. However, a lack of composure and the odd unfavourable bounce of the ball meant that the home line was not breached. Had GHK capitalised on their significant dominance at this time, the feeling was that the game could well have been closed out in that first half hour.

An unfortunate spoke was thrown in to the GHK wheel with an injury to Mark Smyth, the tighthead cornerstone of the GHK scrum. Alasdair Howie took to the field for his first run out of the season. The absence of the captain for the day had a significant bearing on the game. Almost immediately there was a revival in the fortunes of the Howe scrum with them now being able to achieve parity. The hosts enjoyed a positive five minute spell when they tested the GHK defence which held out impressively. As the half entered the final moments, another Howe assault was halted when they knocked on about fifteen metres from the posts. GHK won the scrum comfortably and then, inexplicably, tried to run the ball out from a deep defensive position. The bar of soap was inevitably spilled and was gathered by the surprised but grateful Howe backs and centre Sean Murray was over for what was surely viewed as a bonus score. Half time Howe 5  GHK 7

With spirits undoubtedly raised by their good fortune at the hands of the Glasgow visitors, the hosts began the second half with a few energetic onslaughts directed at the GHK twenty two. They used the conditions well and seemed to sense the drop off in confidence and belief in the GHK group. Perhaps the only surprise was that it took them a good eight minutes in to the second period before they claimed their second score, again through that man Murray.

Such cohesion and rhythm as GHK had displayed in the early stages looked to have long since disappeared and Howe were very much on top. Thankfully the visitors’ defence had not completely downed tools and some important tackles were made ensuring that Howe were given no further encouragement by way of a scoreboard keeping turning over in their favour. Eventually GHK got back in to the game and spent some important moments in the home twenty two. Drives by Angus Lindsay, Lewis Rowand and Hugh Parker were all important contributions to the GHK revival. Scrum half Cameron Grant kept up the go forward momentum. Just when it looked as if the visitors could be the more likely to claim the next score, another fumble was instantly snaffled by the home backs and number thirteen, unlucky for GHK but superb for Howe, Sean Murray completed his own personal hat trick of tries, hacking the ball the length of the park and winning the foot race against several defenders.

By this time Danny Campbell had been forced from the field with a niggling injury. Replacement Kyle Henderson did well and demonstrated a skill and willingness to use the conditions to GHK’s advantage finding that stand side touchline securely and gaining vital yards and position. Another Campbell, Duncan, was making his presence felt with multiple tackles and a number of aggressive carries.

If GHK were going to continue to compete in this match, the next score was vital. Thankfully it did go the way of GHK with Hugh Parker forcing his way over wide left. The conversion was just outwith Kyle Henderson’s range. It was a seven point game with about nine minutes remaining. By this time  scrums had become uncontested at the prompting of the home side. Protection of the ball was vital as the outcome of a scrum was now inevitable.

GHK had the edge in territory and just needed good ball to try and work for that vital score. When a scrum was awarded to Howe in midfield in their half there appeared no great danger. However, it was the home side’s turn to turn down the perhaps obvious opportunity to lump the ball down the pitch. When they tried to move it left, a speculative pass was intercepted by Tony Lopez ,who still had thirty five metres to go, but the winger made it to the line. No kick would be simple in the circumstances  but Kyle Henderson made it look like a formality. All square – nineteen all.

GHK got back in to Howe territory and looked as though they might just sneak another score. Several phases of recycled possession were met by pretty solid home defence. Eventually GHK were penalised for holding on. Howe took a quick tap and the speed merchant Murray was off again probing for a gap. This lad could shift. Thankfully Ben Frame had the centre in his sights and brought him to a halt in the most emphatic fashion with a crunching tackle on the right hand touch line in front of the stand. It was the last action of the game.

Final score Howe of Fife 19  GHK 19

In all the circumstances, given the flow of the game and how it looked to GHK followers with ten minutes to go, this will probably have to be viewed as two points gained. However, there was a feeling that it should never have been allowed to get to this. The domination/upper hand/perfect platform that GHK enjoyed in the first half hour should have provided the foundation for a comfortable victory. It all unraveled rather quickly and all too easily. Yes, the injuries to key players undoubtedly disrupted the GHK pattern but there has to better control when we have they advantage. However, the spirit that was exhibited to come back when the game might well have completely run away from them reflects well on the GHK group’s heart and determination.

A few noteworthy performances – Cammy Grant and Kyle Henderson added quality at times. Erwann Le Balc’h showed flashes of dangerous running. The forwards all had their moments. In addition to those mentioned earlier, Andy McCulloch put in a good eighty and Lewis Brock carried powerfully. However, today’s man of the match for GHK goes to number eight Hugh Parker. In addition to his two tries he was all over the place, did his usual lineout duties and, if truth be told, looked quite likely to match the try scoring exploits of the Howe centre Murray. Well done Hugh – we appreciate your efforts.

Next week – Falkirk at OA – 3.00 kick off

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