Shetland travelled almost 500 miles to Fort William looking to get their league campaign back on track following recent defeats to Highland and Ross Sutherland. Lochaber had made an impressive start to the season having won 4 of their first 5 games, which saw them occupy 4th spot in the table, and Shetland knew they would be in for yet another battle.
Shetland finally arrived in Fort William at lunchtime after travelling almost 4 hours from Aberdeen by bus. The venue couldn’t have been more picturesque with the pitch overlooking the Caledonian Canal and sitting at the foot of Ben Nevis.
Whether it was the impressive surroundings or the epic journey that fazed the Shetland players is unknown but within 20minutes of the kick off Shetland found themselves 17-0 and with a mountain to climb as big as the adjacent Nevis range.
Shetland had again been forced to make several changes with over half of the team missing from last week. Despite these changes, and conceding three tries after the first quarter, Shetland started to dominate territory and were awarded a penalty in front of the posts following a Lochaber infringement at a ruck. Jon Pulley made no mistake with the kick and the blues were truly back in the game when Matthew Nicolson scored just before half time. Following several good phases of play from the forward pack Nicolson managed to burst through the defence and score in the corner. Unfortunately Pulley missed the kick from out wide but Shetland had closed the gap to 17-8 by the break and the competitive nature of the game had finally woken the Shetland team.
Following two early penalties in the second half, one from each team, Shetland further narrowed the gap when Pulley spotted a gap in the defence and darted to the line touching down in the corner despite the best attempts of the Lochaber cover defence. Despite missing the conversion Shetland had pulled to within 4 points and were very much in the ascendency.
A rare mistake at the breakdown gave Lochaber an easy penalty which meant Shetland were a converted try behind with only 10 minutes to play.
The Shetland pack were now dominant and looking certain to score until a disagreement at a scrum led to prop forward Mark Bingham and his opposite number earning an early rest when they were sin binned for violent conduct.
Shetland made a couple of changes with coach Neil Scott replacing John Roy Nicolson and Jordon Wiseman making his debut for the injured Matthew Nicolson.
The changes had no impact on the direction of play and with both teams down to 14 men gaps were starting to appear. With only 90 seconds left on the clock Shane Jamieson managed to round the defence and score after some great work in the loose by Craig Mann and Stewart Mouat. Pulley added the extras and the game was tied at 23-a-piece with just seconds to go. From the ensuing kick-off Jamieson’s clearance went into touch and the referee brought the entertaining game to an end with Lochaber probably grateful to get away with the point following a dominant second half display from the visitors and Shetland equally grateful after their slow start.
Shane Jamieson was awarded the Jewson Man of the Match award for his strong counterattacking display and faultless cover defence from fullback.
Coach, Neil Scott felt that the draw was a fair result and was delighted that Shetland had put an end to the recent string of defeats following such a mammoth journey. “I thought we started too slowly but after the long drive and ferry journey it was probably no surprise. I was delighted with how we responded though and I felt that we dominated large portions of the game. We have a lot to work on but we can’t keep giving teams a three try head start before we start playing.”
He added “It was great to see the forward pods working so effectively and creating gaps for the backs to exploit. I think Daniel Gray and Craig Mann had fantastic games in the midfield with both players playing out of their normal positions. But I think Mike Skinner deserves a special mention for the way he controlled the game from fly half, his experience will be critical on how Shetland move forward at this level”
The fixtures don’t get any easier for Shetland with current league champions, and early pace setters, Garioch up next at Clickimin this Saturday, kick off at 12noon.
The club would like to thank Serco Northlink for their continued support.
Training continues at 7pm on Tuesday and 6:30pm on Thursday nights at Clickimin North. New players would be more than welcome as Shetland look to strengthen their squad for the season ahead.
Shetland team: John Roy Nicolson, Kristian Fraser, Mark Bingham, Adrian Morrison, Stewart Jamieson, Stewart Mouat, Harry Morton, Matthew Nicolson, Jon Pulley, Mike Skinner, Gavin Whitrow, Craig Mann, Daniel Gray, Tom Laing and Shane Jamieson. Replacements; Neil Scott and Jordon Wiseman.