The Bulls were kicking themselves on Saturday as they left Inverleith, having failed to take advantage of the ideal opportunity to put further distance between themselves and the two teams sitting below them at the bottom of the league table. Indeed, apart from a disastrous 7 minutes of poor defending which saw them give away three tries to hosts Stewart's/Melville, Hamilton looked like the stronger squad - particularly in the line-out.
Despite the recent weather, the match was played in dry conditions with a bitterly cold wind blowing across the park making it difficult for the kickers to find touch consistently. The ground was pretty uneven and heavy having been torn up earlier in the day by a schools match.
The first period of the game involved a quick of exchange of penalties. Hamilton’s Owen McLeish got the scoring underway after 3 mins when the Stew/Mel prop was penalised for not binding properly in the scrum. Three minutes later, Hamilton were penalised for the same offence within kicking range of the posts. Mike Hanning’s kick evened the score.
For the next few minutes Hamilton’s defence kept Stew/Mel trapped in their own half. Some great counter rucking by Andy Hill resulted in Stew/Mel being penalised for holding on to the ball on the ground. McLeish secured the extra 3 points with a kick from 40 metres out.
Just as it looked like it was set to be a game decided by the boot Stew/Mel appeared to up their game. A series of crash balls and quick rucks carried them deep into the Hamilton half. The Bulls defence became stretched and outnumbered as Stew/Mel ‘s tighthead prop Grant the last 10 metres for the try – making the score 8-6.
Three minutes later Stew/Mel were once again crossing the Hamilton line to score in almost the exact same spot. Once again the Hamilton’s line was stretched as the Stew/Mel backs attacked in numbers, giving Marshall a relatively straightforward 5 metre run for the score. Fortunately for Hamilton, Hanning missed the conversion attempt. Stew/Mel were now ahead 13-6.
Within 4 minutes Hamilton were again under pressure – defending a series of rucks on their own line. After a three phases, Stew/Mels second row, Damsteeg, crashed over for the try. This time Hanning’s kick was successful giving the home side a 20-6 lead.
After the restart, Hamilton began to show some endeavour through the pack, who took them deep into the Stew/Mel territory. Unfortunately, after a series of 9 phases the wind played its part, blowing a long pass off course and into the hands of the opposition who counter attacked. A few minutes later the Bulls were once again pushing deep into the opposition half – forcing Stew/Mel to kick the ball to touch. McGrath’s lineout throw hit its target in Richard Maxton and Hamilton quickly recycled the ball for a mid field attack. The ball was passed to Hamilton lock Adam Barnett who charged the line. Unfortunately the referee judged that Barnett had knocked on as he attempted to score.
However, Hamilton continued to apply pressure with Maxton beginning to dominate the lineout and Stew /Mel found themselves trapped in their own half. The hardwork of the Bulls’ forwards paid off on the stroke of half-time when John Selfridge broke from the back of a 5 metre scrum to dive over for a try. McLeish secured the extra points to take the half time score to 20-13.
After 4 minutes of the second half, Hamilton closed the gap by a further 3 points from the boot of McLeish when Stew/Mel were penalised for being offside. There then followed a period of concerted effort by the home side as they kept the Bulls on the defensive. Eventually Hamilton conceded a penalty which earned Hanning a further 3 points to his tally.
On 60 minutes, Hamilton scored one of the best tries of the season so far. Stew/Mel were given a lineout inside the Hamilton half. Maxton beat his opposite number in the air and tapped the ball back to Turnbull. The ball found its way to Craig Inglis who managed to cut through the defence – carrying the ball to within 10 metre of the Stew/Mel line. Barnett was there to receive the offload and gained another 5 metres before being tackled. The ball was quickly recycled and passed out right to be met by Maxton who, having won the ball at the lineout, had the pleasure of scoring his first try of the season. McLeish’s kick evened the scores at 23-23. With 20 minutes left there appeared a real chance that Hamilton could steal this one back.
Unfortunately, 8 minutes from the full time Andy Hill was yellow carded in front of the posts and Hanning kicked for another 3 points. With Hamilton down to 14 men and the defence once again stretched, it took Stew/Mel only another 2 minutes to seal off the win with a try by Hare.
The final score of 31-23 denied Hamilton a bonus point. This leaves the Bulls with some work to do, especially after Biggar’s win at the weekend narrowing the league point gap to 8 points.