Deflated, frustrated and bemused would probably sum up the feelings of Hamilton’s travelling support as they left Myreside on Saturday. Deflated - because the Bulls, who had showed much improvement in last week’s fixture against Hillhead/Jordanhill, lost 62-30 to Watsonians. Frustrated - by continued weaknesses in defence which leaked 9 tries. Bemused - as despite the loss, Hamilton somehow managed to score more points than any other team against what is undoubtedly the strongest squad in the RBS National League.
Hamilton were up against it from the very first moment of the match. The starting drop-kick from Watson's scrum-half Brian Walls floated high above the ground for what seemed like an age, giving his forwards loads of time to collect the ball close to the Hamilton 22. Fortunately Hamilton managed to counter on the first ruck of the game and the ball was passed to McLeish for the clearance to touch. The respite was short-lived. Watsonians secured the ball from the line-out and, in a situation not too dissimilar to last week, Hamilton found themselves struggling to stop a driving maul which travelled deep into their territory. As soon as the maul collapsed the ball was quickly passed along the Watsonians’ line to reach ex-Hamilton full-back Rory Steele running at pace. Steele drew the last defender towards him and popped the ball to winger Ewan Winger who ran over the line for the first 5 points of the game. Walls’ kick deflected off the far away post but went over for the conversion.
Hamilton seemed to settle into the game after a period of assertive play and were rewarded with a penalty kick in front of the Watsonians posts when the home team drifted offside. McLeish’s kick brought the score to 7-3. A few moments later Walls was given another penalty opportunity from the middle of the park and once again hit the woodwork – this time the ball was cleared by Hamilton.
The Bulls took the lead at the 10 minute mark after the ball was spun out wide to Inglis who carried deep into the Watsonians’ half. Inglis passed inside to Scott Whitelaw who dove over for the try. McLeish converted to make the score 7-10. Unfortunately Hamilton could only sustain their lead for 5 minutes. With a hole opening up in the Hamilton defence, caused by missed tackles, Watsons’ winger Jack Ferguson was set up for his first try of the match. Walls’ kick brought the score to 14-10. A few minutes later and Walls added a further 3 points from a penalty.
Hamilton continued to play positively and Hamilton 8, John Selfridge was next to score. Gathering the ball at the back of a driving maul, Selfridge timed his dive perfectly and touched down on the line. McLeish was accurate with the boot, tying the game at 17 points apiece.
Watsonians then seemed to kick up a gear as stand-off Ben DiRollo broke through the Hamilton defence to release Steele who carried a short distance before offloading to winger Jamie Winger who ran behind the posts for the try. Walls kick made it 24-17. A further 5 minutes on and Steele secured his first try against his old teammates following a break down the wing. With the conversion Watsons’ then led 31-17.
Two penalty kicks by McLeish after 36 and then 38 minutes gave some belief that the Bulls could not be written out of this game. However, Selfridge was sin-binned for not rolling away, giving Walls yet another kick for goal on half-time. Unbelievably the scrum-half hit the far post for the third time in the match. Hamilton were caught off-guard by the rebound which was carried over by Watsonians’ lock Mark Rennie. Walls missed his kick leaving the half time score at 36-23.
Starting the second half with only 14 men, it’s full credit to the Bulls that they almost managed to prevent Watsonian’s from taking full advantage. On the 48th minute of the match, a well place crossfield kick by DiRollo was collected by Niven who simply had to fall to the ground for the score. Another successful kick by Walls widened the gap to 43-23. Ferguson added to the tally on 56 minutes after the Hamilton defence had been stretched out of position. The conversion brought the score to 50-23. To add to the misery, Hamilton had only been back to full strength for 8 minutes when Yan Young was yellow carded for offside at a ruck.
On 65 minutes Steele scored his second try from a DiRollo cross-field kick. In almost identical circumstances to the try by Niven, the full-back caught the ball and fell to the floor. Walls’ secured the extra points making it 57-23.
Hamilton showed their attacking potential when Chris Stannage broke from well inside his own half for Hamilton’s third try which was converted by McLeish to reduce the deficit 57-30.
The final score of the game came from Watsonians’ replacement prop Riaan Basson who dove over from the back of a driving maul 3 minutes from full-time.
There is little doubt that this was a tough loss for Hamilton who were unable to secure a bonus point for their efforts. However, despite poor defensive work, they demonstrated that they still have the capacity to take points the top side in the league.
This game marked the half-way point in the league campaign. Next week is the return match against Biggar, away from home, with the Bulls requiring a significant improvement in performance to overcome their Lanarkshire rivals who are sitting 7 points behind them in the league. The teams drew in the first match of the season - with a penalty kick to Biggar on full-time.