Howe of Fife 36-22 Whitecraigs
Following a break from league rugby Howe were back in action against visitors Whitecraigs from Newton Mearns.
Earlier in the season both sides had served up a cracker of a game with Howe edged out 52-46.
There was an air of optimism at Duffus Park, the team bolstered by the return of, a few high-profile injuries.
Back in the side were vice-captain Chris Mann, winger Eden Cruickshank, centre Sean Murray, co-centre Connor Holborn and on the bench available from his soldiering work, rumbustious Fijian Robert Cabemaiwasa.
Yet it was the visitors who were first on the score sheet with a lineout catch and rumble for their hooker Jack Ramage to emerge from the pile of bodies.
The conversion was unsuccessful.
Howe chipped ahead inside the 22 for winger Ben Mitchell to latch onto the ball skidding on the greasy surface for Howe’s reply to the early set back.
Sam Rowlands conversion bounced of the upright.
While the Howe were playing with a lot more aggression and purpose, there were a few wayward passes which had they gone to hand would have created real scoring opportunities
Seven minutes lapsed before Howe found themselves in the lead.
Another neat little chip from Murray, a good tactic with the underfoot conditions, was collected really-well by Eden Cruickshank to score wide out.
Conversion missed, Howe in front.
Having gained the lead, it was disappointing to then give it up six minutes later.
it appeared the referee missed a couple of glaring visitors’ transgression at a ruck only for Howe to be penalised.
The resulting kick to touch gave the heavy visitors pack the chance once more to rumble and role from a lineout for prop Ian Laidlaw to score, with the conversion goaled by Sam Adair.
The resolute nature of the Howe play in a rejuvenated side, attacked once more, to regain the lead three minutes later. Another attack sprung from within the Howe half lead to a Sean Murray try which was converted by Rowlands.
Whitecraigs continued to play with width and their competitiveness at the breakdown paid dividends in maintaining possession long enough to allow winger Stuart Murchie to score unconverted in the corner.
It should have been so much better for Howe if centre Holborn had passed with support on his outside.
Despite missing that opportunity, it was with much more relish the home side approached the second period.
Mann was showing signs he had lost none of his driving play, Dylan Hartley at 10 displayed control, the front row union of Hood, Crawford and Johnstone enjoyed a few belligerent runs. And the backs kept asking question of the visitors, even if some of the running angles were across the park.
With forwards and backs combining well, space was created for Cruickshank to stretch his legs and outpace the defence for a well-constructed score, and bonus point try, converted by Rowlands. Howe began to win the contact battles, and more importantly make important tackles in defence. An area of weakness in the last few games.
Another Howe score was crafted from strong ball retention by the forwards before the backs put on the pace for Murray to slip the ball to Holborn, who sprinted away, with a huge grin, one might say relief, to score. Rowlands made the conversion and Howe led 31-17.
You could feel tension easing among the Howe players.
Yet for some supporters, it was feared the frailties of the last two months may reappear. This was soon dispersed when a typically bullish run from Hood gave him the power to dive over the line and score Howe’s sixth try of the afternoon. Not a position Howe had been in for some weeks. The conversion was missed.
There was a slight sting in the tail, with Whitecraigs rarely having threatened in the second half they scored through their second row Ross MacDonald.