Howe of Fife 16-31 Berwick
Berwick visited Duffus in a rescheduled match from the end of November.
The visitors held the top spot in National 3 and with a couple of games in hand it was hoped Howe could catch up with a home win.
Berwick play a physical game and are not afraid to spread the ball wide.
Howe’s build up to the match was hampered by a succession of injuries. One in the warm-up.
The vastly improving Rory Johnstone had suffered a head knock against Strathmore.
Dylan Suttie was a full back with Fraser Ellison making a return after a shoulder operation taking up the centre berth with Jack Todd.
And it was a welcome return to Fraser Clark on the bench,
An hour before kick-off the weather was bright and breezy.
As the referee started the game, the heavens opened for 20 minutes.
Not ideal for a mobile Howe side.
This was evident, Berwick displaying a physical intensity and size, made life difficult for Howe in the wet, and slippy conditions.
Berwick were first on the scoreboard.
Winger Gareth Hill finding space outside his opposite number to score.
The kick was unsuccessful.
Howe were profligate in kicking aimlessly with Berwick easily securing the long balls, attacking right back.
It was admirable under the deteriorating conditions, both sides attempted to play positive rugby but Howe were more prone to mistakes in the conditions.
Berwick’s bulkier and more experienced forwards kept control of the ball.
Further mishap for Howe came when they fullback Suttie had to end his activity for the day following a knock to his head.
From a close quarter forward play Berwick’s loose head prop Darren Goodfellow scored their second try which their stand-off Jack Webster converted a superb kick for the extra points.
As the weather improved, so did the Howe’s attack play.
Although the loose nature of some of the passing, scorned a few opportunities when open space had been created.
Their pressure did result in a penalty from Iain Aitken and at the half-time whistle Howe were still in the mix at 3-12.
Howe came out in the second period with a far greater intensity and were immediately rewarded with another penalty from Aitken.
With the game still I the balance, Berwick scored through number 8 Ally Grieve.
It was their superiority in keeping the ball, making Howe’s defence work overtime resulting in a bludgeoning power score.
Webster had his kicking boots on and slotted another excellent kick.
Howe have shown a depth of character this season and it was Fraser Clark on for the injured Suttie who scored.
Aitken’s soft attempt at the conversion was pulled wide. At eight points adrift Howe needed to keep the ball but Berwick were the more controlled side.
Their stand-off Webster controlled the pace of the game and kept Howe pinned back with well positioned kicks into the Howe half, exploiting the lack of communication and awareness from the Howe back three. Berwick’s forwards, ran hard and straight, keeping the pressure on a Howe defence, which was working effectively. The more a defence is under that sort of constant attack, gaps open.
The visitors scored two more tries. Both from the emphatic hard work of their forwards. The first from hooker Ryan Wilson, converted by Webster. Then replacement Catalin Graur. Howe were not done. Coach Emerson and Fraser Allan leading the charge. Creating go forward ball. A couple of rare opportunities were lost. The visitors winning the battle on the ground, turning over Howe’s ball close to the try line. Howe persevered, rewarded with a rumbustious score from prop Dave Thomas. Minutes later referee Euan Clipston blew the final whistle, Berwick winning 16-31.
Circumstances conspired against Howe on the day, which did not help. But Berwick are a tough side, playing controlled rugby, deserving their merited win and deserve their top of the table status.