Howe of Fife v GHK  14 April 2018

Fine conditions at Duffus Park, Cupar augured well for a decent game of rugby when GHK closed their BT National Two league season away to the team from Fife. The absence of the all too frequent howling gale and a firm surface underfoot gave both sides a good platform to show what they could do.

Howe kicked off and it was the visitors who were quickly in to the groove. James MacKinnon was managing the game well, mixing up the kick/pass/break options and keeping the Blues defence on their toes. Cammy Hughes found touch deep in the Howe twenty two and from that promising position Hugh Parker crossed for the opening score. This was due reward for a positive and composed opening spell from the visitors.

Howe looked to have a few potential large ball carriers and they began to make their presence felt. GHK conceded a few penalties that ultimately led to a line out close to the visitors’ line. A tidy catch and drive set the platform and the score followed with the two extra points from the kick.

The GHK scrum was on top throughout the afternoon. This provided an advantage that delivered a sound platform for GHK ball and seriously disrupted any Fife scrum possession. It was the hosts’ turn to fall foul of the whistle and the offences were punished by two well taken penalties from James MacKinnon. 11-7 to GHK.

A Howe assault was repelled by the GHK defence. Tony Lopez took off in chase of the clearing kick. As the Howe fielder gathered, the winger caught him on the high side and a ten minute rest was the outcome.

In the period that followed, GHK upped their efforts, initially snuffing out a couple of Howe drives. Play was then taken the length of the pitch and the understrength visitors were well positioned. A line out on the left secured good possession and Blair Forsyth intruded on a cracking line and showed power and determination to make the score. 16-7 to the fourteen men.

In a contest that was flowing from end to end Howe responded with another unconverted try. Restored to their full complement, GHK would have settled for that two point advantage at the break, but with the last play of the half Howe capitalised on some confusion in the visitors’ defence with a seven pointer. It was a disappointing conclusion to the first period in which the young GHK side had produced some very decent rugby and had looked to have the edge in control of the game. However, the scoreboard showed that it was 19-16 to the home xv.

An error gave Howe an early gift in terms of field position and the home side capitalised scoring their fourth try with barely two minutes of the second half gone. Not the start that GHK was looking for especially given the conclusion to the first forty.

In keeping with the see saw nature of the game, back came GHK. A combination of drives involving Angus Lindsay, Feargus Haston and Hugh Parker devoured multiple yards and committed the defence. When skipper Parker was held up short, his back row colleague Lewis Rowand (correct spelling unlike that sloppy GHK Twitter account!) was there to carry over for a superb score, finishing off a cracking sequence for the visitors.

Moments later Lewis was replaced by Robbie Harvey, another one from the Kelvinside conveyor belt. The young flanker had put in a lively hour. Further disruption to the GHK effort followed when an injury to Tony Lopez saw Duncan Campbell called in to action. The upshot was that, after a bit of rearrangement, a number of GHK players were now far removed from their starting positions.

It was getting to the stage where the next score would be crucial. For GHK there were some more great carries and offloads by Feargus Haston, Duncan Campbell, and that young man Harvey. In addition, props Smyth, Forsyth and Farmer added their own unique drive to the effort. The Howe defence looked to have tightened up in that last critical quarter. Added to which, those big ball carriers, whilst making the yards perhaps less frequently as fatigue set in, were still having an impact. From one such surge Howe got in to a good position and some tidy handling put the winger over wide left.

In the period that was left GHK tried to get that score with time left to give them one last play that might seal a great recovery. Unfortunately, when Hugh parker did cross for GHK’s fourth try there was no time left for that final flourish.

Final score    Howe of Fife 31   GHK 26

Congratulations to Howe of Fife – for taking your chances you edged a game that could have gone either way. The upshot of the result is that GHK and Howe swap places in the league as a result of Howe having a marginally better points differential. In a fortnight Howe of Fife have to play Peebles and it may be that GHK could leapfrog the Fife side to pip them for seventh place. It depends on the result, points conceded, bonus points, whether Mars is in line with Saturn etc etc. Anyway, many thanks to Howe’s President Chris and everyone at Duffus for a warm welcome to their splendid new clubhouse facility – hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy a pint on the balcony next year!

Another decent effort by GHK and a familiar game pattern and outcome. Two more bonus points places GHK at the top of the BT National Two bonus point table (although that could change in the next fortnight). However, try scoring and running sides very close gives some encouragement and indicates that, with some improvement and greater experience, GHK can look to compete in this league next time around.

A number of excellent performances from the GHK side, especially from those who have been introduced to the side relatively recently. The aforementioned Lewis Rowand and Robbie Harvey were very busy and combative. Feargus Haston and Duncan Campbell showed real dig going forward and one memorable catch and offload from Duncan was out of the very top drawer. James MacKinnon had another promising eighty minutes and the scrum halves, Hugo Anderson and then Danny Campbell kept the back line provided with tidy ball. However, the man of the match award goes to Mark Smyth who, despite being nowhere near one hundred per cent, put in a massive shift, helping to boss the scrum, carried umpteen battering yards and brought others in to play with some delightful offloads. Well done Mark, a great effort.

A few final thoughts.  Of the starting fifteens in the last two weeks, only three players were members of the successful touring squad to Canada in 2016. There has been a huge change in the make-up of the playing squad in the last nine/ten months. It does look as though most of the current squad will be returning next season and that can only be good.  There is a load of enthusiasm and determination in the group.

GHK should probably have beaten Kirkcaldy away and Hamilton home and away. Kirkcaldy are champions and Hamilton look odds on to join them in BT National 1. This young and relatively inexperienced team has run most of the promotion contenders very close indeed.

Grounds for optimism? You bet there are.

Also, a huge thanks to all who have supported the team home and away this season – mums, dads, families, significant others and assorted camp followers.  The boys really appreciate your presence.

PS The GHK Twos have a game scheduled for 28 April away to East Kilbride if you are looking for a rugby fix.

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