ST ANDREWS 1STS 26
ABERDEEN 2NDS 22
Speaking after Wednesday’s game, former Club Captain Giles Smith recounted that the last time St Andrews defeated Aberdeen 1st XV was in 2005. The long wait to get one over on the “strong men from the north” was felt by players and fans alike, as demonstrated by the elation at the final whistle of this thrilling game.
The sizeable crowd that braved the cold and wet were rewarded with a fierce and bruising contest between two sides lying second and third in the Scottish BUCS Championship. Aberdeen, coming off the back of a 74-0 thrashing of Robert Gordon University, arrived full of confidence and purpose.
Saints, for their part, had not played a BUCS fixture since December. The enforced mid-winter break allowed Director of Rugby, Dave Ross, to field a near full strength side – a luxury not often afforded to the Saints at this point in the season with a small squad and such a bruising fixture list.
Giles Goatly and Matt Cannon returned in the front row, while Timmy Rogers resumed his place at openside, alongside “Downtown” Browne and Alan Little. Captain Steve Sims moved to scrumhalf in place of the injured Euan Millar, while first year Jamie Urquhart slotted in to partner Matt Hannay in the centres.
On the bench, Nick Richardson replaced the injured Will Bunn and he was joined by Jeremy Gordon, Matt Oldroyd and Rob Davidson.
From the start St Andrews showed their attacking intent and quickly sought to put Aberdeen on the back foot, with Urquhart’s boot soon pinning the visitors back in their own territory.
With powerful running from Robbie Lawrence and the mercurial deftness of Little, St Andrews found themselves in a number of good attacking positions. From one such position inside the Aberdeen half, the ball went wide to Urquhart, who made a half break, off-loading to Sean Murchie who turned on the taps and left his opposite number trailing as he opened his account for the afternoon with the first of his three tries. Urquhart added the extras and so St Andrews took a 7-0 lead in the opening minutes.
Aberdeen, though, were never going to roll over and were soon pushing into St Andrews territory, with the ever present threat of Redha Guedroudj on the wing giving veteran Saint Stew Coleman plenty to think about all afternoon. The Saints did well to soak up the pressure and another foray into the visitors half forced a penalty that Urquhart gladly knocked over to extend the lead.
Yet it did not take long for the visitors to reply and it was their go-to man Redha on the right wing who took advantage of some uncharacteristically poor Saints defence to beat four men and slide in to score in the corner.
In a tight battle there are a few who revel in it more than Goatley and Man of the Match Cannon, who provided a base for the Saints throughout. With Nick Winton’s fearless commitment and Rogers scything down opposition attackers, it was no wonder St Andrews soon found themselves again pushing Aberdeen back.
At the home of running rugby, it was only a matter of time before the outstanding Hannay slipped through the Aberdeen midfield, beating two men before off-loading to the omnipresent Cannon from where the ball again found itself in the hands of Murchie, who tore over the line to bag his second. It was a superb try, while proving that unless one builds a solid forward platform, St Andrews’ champagne rugby is nothing but fizz.
The first half continued to be a keenly fought affair, and Aberdeen were helped when Sims was sin-binned for not rolling away as the visitors threatened. Urquhart and the Aberdeen kicker swapped penalties and the sides went into half time with the game still in the balance.
The second half was even more physical and Browne found himself in the thick of the action, coming to the fore with some strong forward carries while Jamie Irvine settled in for his best game in a Saints shirt for some time. Another Aberdeen penalty closed the gap further and it took Murchie’s third try to bring the St Andrews victory in sight.
The visitors were not done yet and staged a ferocious comeback, with another penalty and then a well worked try which they duly converted.
In a tense final ten minutes St Andrews extended their lead with another Urquhart penalty, before Aberdeen brought themselves within a score with a kick of their own.
The last five minutes were completely dominated by Aberdeen looking for an opening, but cool heads and brilliant defence, despite a couple of nervous moments, kept them out. As Steve Sims thumped the ball into touch to herald the final whistle, joy mixed with relief at a hard fought and well deserved victory.
As Dave Ross reminded the boys after the game, it was the first time St Andrews had truly held on after half time and that the feeling of closing out such a tight game should be remembered as the coming games against Stirling and Edinburgh point to tough challenges ahead. This vital win also keeps alive St Andrews’ hopes of nicking the league title (they now sit joint second with Aberdeen and are only three points behind leaders Edinburgh), should other results fall favourably.
The next match, against Robert Gordon University, was awarded to St Andrews on a forfeit due to the visitors’ inability to field a team.
The Men’s 2nds did play, however, and they recorded their first league win of the season as they defeated Abertay 1sts 19-12
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