Howe of Fife 17 - 11 Hamilton
Poor Decision-Making and Handling Errors Cost Hamilton
There are many strategic plans for playing games of rugby. The Bulls have their way of doing things, whilst Howe go about things differently. The more mature reader will remember the great Dundee United side of the late seventies and eighties. United achieved considerable success both domestically and in Europe, but they employed a somewhat dull gameplan. They sat back and soaked up all that their opponents could throw at them, and then struck on the counter-attack. That’s how it was at Cupar.
Hamilton had the lion’s share of possession and piled attack upon attack. To their credit, Howe held firm and snapped up any chances they were given. From a comfortable, and well-merited six - nil lead, it all crashed and burned for the Bulls as they gifted the home side three tries in a 12 minute horror spell before half-time.
It would be churlish to suggest that Howe offered little in attack, but they really were gifted those three tries. The first required a string of passes to be put together, before a long floated pass gave winger Eden Cruickshank the room to squeeze over. Try number two came from a long Hamilton pass which went behind the entire Bull’s line, allowing Graham Thomson to pick up and jog over with nary a hand upon him. The third required a couple of passes to the lighting quick Cruickshank, who this time was held short, but stretched to touch down one handed. To add insult to injury, stand-off Fraser Ellison struck a lovely conversion from wide out to take the score to 17-6.
Each of those tries had come as a result of Hamilton handling errors as the Bulls tried to play their way out of their own twenty-two. Now back to that bit about strategic plans. The Bulls strategy seems to be to hold onto the ball and go through their phases, regardless of field position. Although there can be dissenting voices amongst sections of the Hamilton support, this is laudable, and great to watch for those supporters, but, and this is a big but, sometimes the skill sets don’t match up to the aspirations. Sometimes it makes sense to test the skills of the opposition, by banging the ball behind them, and making them work through their phases. Especially on a damp pitch down which a hand-numbingly cold wind was gusting.
When the teams re-emerged after the interval, Hamilton introduced Andy Murray, Josh White and Gregor Brodie into the re-jigged pack. Debutant Scott Leggate, Darren Carr and Jordan McLean donned the puffa jackets. RJ seemed to be limping before the break, so it was no surprise that James Howatson was introduced on the wing, with Andy Wilson switching to full-back.
The second half was better, but the effectiveness of the home defence limited Hamilton to only a single try. There was no shortage of ball for the Bulls, but the swarming Howe cover not only held the Hamilton attackers, but then slowed the ball down long enough to allow their defensive line to reset.
I can’t claim to be a fan of the driven line-out, but given the relative security offered by Gareth Jones on the touchline, it came as a surprise that Hamilton seemed reluctant to kick to the corner when awarded penalties. Instead, several penalties were tapped and run - unfortunately yielding nothing to trouble the scoreboard operator.
The try, scored after 64 minutes, was a cracker; typical of what Hamilton can do when the phases are built until a half-break is created. The ball swept back and forward across the line until coming right it was fed back inside to Andy Wilson who stepped and gassed the remaining cover.
With fifteen minutes to go, it seemed inevitable that Hamilton’s pressure would yield a further score, but Howe had a better spell and only good defence and good fortune denied the home side a bonus point try.
In an extraordinarily long spell of stoppage time Hamilton camped in the Howe twenty-two, but spurned half a dozen chances to notch a second try, giving the self-destruct button a real pounding.
Despite advice from a section of the stand to the contrary, referee Michael Todd was largely in tune with the laws of the game. However a deliberate knock-on less than ten metres from the home line during the overtime, earned Hamilton only a scrum and did not earn the Howe offender a yellow card.
One wonders what the Bulls might have decided to do, had a penalty been awarded. On the evidence of the preceding 80-odd minutes, it would probably have been the wrong decision.