I’ve never been a big fan of sporting clichés, but I reckon it’s nigh on impossible to review Saturday’s performance by Hamilton Bulls against Hillhead/Jordanhill without the time honoured ‘game of 2 halves’ remark. Having struggled to produce the goods in their last two outings the Bulls also went into the match knowing that it was 11 months since their last home league win. It’s possible that the weight of all of this was playing on the collective consciousness of the young squad as almost from the first kick of the ball it looked as though it was going to be another ‘tough day at the office’ for Hamilton.
Hills gathered the ball from the first lineout of the game to form a maul on the Hamilton 22. As Hamilton’s forwards guarded the fringes for a breakaway, Hill’s pack drove through the middle of the lineout, quickly gaining momentum. The maul continued over the Hamilton line and there was nothing that the Bulls could do to stop Hillhead’s number 8 Blair MacPherson from dropping over for the try. The extra points were collected by full-back Harry Boyd, leaving the Bulls 7 points down with 2 minutes gone.
For the next 20 minutes, the game appeared to settle with both teams narrowly missing opportunities to cross the line. For a long period Hamilton were camped on the Hills line but strong defence – and the odd handling mistake – stopped the home team from turning pressure into points. On the 25 minute mark, the normally vocal Hamilton support were silenced as Hill’s prop Will Goulden collected the ball from a ruck on the Hamilton line and drove to the ground. After a brief consultation with his assistant, the referee awarded the try. Boyd missed the conversion from out wide leaving the score at 0-12.
Ten minutes from half-time it looked as though Hamilton’s fortunes were about to change when Ali Marshall stole the ball in mid-flight from a Hills throw-in. The ball was recycled and quickly passed out to Scott Whitelaw. The young centre broke through the tackle and drew the remaining defender towards him. A simple pass to Craig Inglis allowed the fullback to secure Hamilton’s first 5 points of the day and, at the same time, giving McLeish the easy conversion. It looked as though Hamilton fans could hold onto some hope for the second half. Unfortunately, Hills managed another try from prop Corey Buchan in the final moment of the half. This time the referee consulted the other assistant who confirmed that the prop had just managed to stretch out for the try as he was tackled. Boyd lost his footing as he took his conversion sending the ball wide of the posts. This left the half-time score at 7-17.
It was almost 17 minutes into the second-half before the scoreboard operator was once again required. Mirroring their opposition’s first score, albeit closer to the try-line, Hamilton collected the ball from a lineout and the pack drove towards their objective. Carrying the ball at the back of the maul, John Selfridge dove over for the score. The kick proved to be too wide out for McLeish and the score stood at 12-17.
This score seemed to lift the players and there was a distinct change in atmosphere as the crowd started to get behind the home team. Less than five minutes later, Hamilton flanker Kenny Brown gathered the ball from Gaston Ibarbaru rolled out the back of the maul and bundled over for his third try of the season. Mcleish’s kick took the score to 19-17. Hamilton’s fortunes it seems had indeed finally changed when Boyd missed Hill’s last opportunity to score when he failed in his penalty attempt with 14 minutes to go.
Within 5 minutes it was the chance of debutante winger Andy Wilson to make his mark. From a move instigated by number 8 Andy Hill, scrum-half Stevie Turnbull stepped through the defence to release centre David Lopez. Lopez passed out of the tackle to Wilson who gathered at pace to cross the line at the corner. McLeish’s kick drifted wide leaving the score at 24-17.
The reinvigorated Bulls decided to keep going. With nine minutes left, Hamilton’s forwards recycled the ball from a ruck 3 metres out. The ball was quickly spread to McLeish who dove over for the try. The conversion was kicked by Andy Wilson bringing the final score to 31-17.
A much improved performance by Hamilton, but possibly leaving a bit late to show what they are capable of. This weekend the Bulls travel to Myreside in Edinburgh to meet the ‘on-form’ Watsonians.