Two tries in the final 10 minutes saw the University of Aberdeen Men’s Rugby first XV come from behind to beat St Andrews 24-14 at University Park in a battle of unbeaten table-toppers.
Saints had led 14-10 at the break following a topsy-turvy first half thanks to converted tries from Stephen Tue and Dan Cox and looked set to take the win before Aberdeen’s late show secured the away side the maximum five points from their trip to the East Fife coast.
St Andrews and Aberdeen were both unbeaten through their first three games in Scottish 1A (they were, in fact, the only sides with winning records in the league), with Aberdeen only topping the table by virtue of having secured three try-scoring bonus points to Saints’ two.
The respective quality of both sides was on display early on, with both sides putting in a number of big hits and fiercely contesting possession. The difference makers early on for St Andrews were fly-half Scott McGregor, whose kicking game pinned Aberdeen in their own half and number eight Dan Cox, who made a series of strong carries and tackles, but it was another forward who opened the scoring after ten minutes.
Second-row Stephen Tue burrowed over after some excellent phase play from the home side and full-back Kelvin Chen duly added the extras to give St Andrews an early 7-0 lead.
Just three minutes later, however, Aberdeen got themselves on the scoreboard as their left wing went over in the corner. His try was a direct result of some strong offloading from the away side and they were to add another after 21 minutes to move 10-7 up.
The second try came after a lineout in Aberdeen’s own 22 that saw them retain possession and rapidly shift the ball from left to right, with the right-winger exploding into the space before chipping the ball downfield. His kick was collected by the outside centre who, despite the best efforts of the retreating Saints defence, went over to put the away side into the lead.
That try, and the fierce team-talk given by captain Roland Walker, seemed to pep the Saints up and they were able to roar back and dominate the closing stages of the opening period, getting their second try of the afternoon with almost the last play of the half. After a strong rolling maul had got them territory, Saints ran phase after phase on the Aberdeen five-metre line, desperately probing for openings. Eventually Cameron Galloway found one following a line-out, offloading to Dan Cox who powered over for the try his hard work so justly deserved. Chen once again made no mistake with the kick to give St Andrews a four-point lead.
Saints would maintain that lead for well over 30 minutes of the second half before Aberdeen eventually found a way through. Both teams sought to keep up the pace and aggression of the first 40 minutes but tiredness began to set in and attacks often ground to a halt as the game became increasingly attritional. It did appear set to peter out into a rather drab affair in the wintery conditions before Aberdeen got a second wind in the closing 10 minutes and secured their third try on 73 minutes.
It came after a series of powerful hits in the Saints 22 and after playing the advantage, they hit a tap-and-go penalty from five metres out and crossed the whitewash with relative ease. Their fly-half made the conversion to give Aberdeen a three-point cushion and he also did the same five minutes later as Aberdeen got their fourth try of the afternoon, securing both the victory and another bonus point.
Saints responded to the third try well and pressed hard for a potential winner but they were caught cold and the Aberdeen inside centre made a lung-busting run before hitting a grubber kick than another player gleefully dotted down to ensure the away side’s victory.
Aberdeen now move six points clear of St Andrews at the top of Scottish 1A, but the final score of 24-14 does not reflect the entire picture. Saints made several visits to the Aberdeen 22 in both halves, with players like Rob Lind, Michael Sutherland, and Will Syme all making strong line breaks, but on each occasion they seemed to lack composure, either rushing the play and giving away costly penalties at the breakdown or getting sucked into blind avenues with their forward ball that allowed Aberdeen to rest and push them back.
Saints return to action next Wednesday at University Park against the University of Dundee first XV, a side they will be looking to beat and get back to winning ways.