Shetland 7 Stornoway 8
Shetland failed to clinch the North District League title last Saturday when they travelled to Aberdeen to play Stornoway in their last game of the league. Unbeaten in five matches they were full of confidence. And that was part of Shetland’s downfall. The quiet men from Stornoway clearly weren’t going to sit back and let Shetland take the title without a fight.
It is testament to both sides enthusiasm for the game of rugby football that between them they spent nearly 30 hours on vessels, about 10 hours driving and a night in Aberdeen for the Stornoway team to make this long awaited event happen. The game had already been postponed three times because of bad weather. Quite an effort for 80 minutes of sport.
The referee kicked off just before 10 o’clock and for a while the drone of the electricity station and the rattle of the trains passing the Woodside pitch were forgotten. The only thing to be rattled in the next wee while was to be the Northern Islander’s confidence.
Stornoway had the first of the pressure and kept Shetland camped in their own 22 for much of the opening phase. The defence was sturdy however, Stornoway couldn’t break through and Captain Brian Murphy eventually cleared the line.
Both sides were jittery. Stornoway settled first although it took them about 15 minutes to do so. But once they had, they kept a tight control over the game and didn’t let Shetland dominate in any area. Indeed, Stornoway had worked out Shetland’s lineout codes within that opening phase and was so predictable they may as well have just given the ball to their opponents to save them the embarrassment of losing it.
Despite one or two flurries of pressure from John Tait in support of Andrew Hough and Bruce Whakaari with a powerful run and kick, there were to be no breaks for Shetland. Robert Geddes missed a penalty that on any other day he probably would have knocked over with ease and he was later held up over the line after becoming isolated after a quick tap penalty. No support, no try.
A well-deserved try eventually came for Stornoway when Steven Liddle scored in the corner after a period of sustained pressure. 0-5 to Stornoway.
Robert McBain easily won the clown of the game award when Stornoway’s number 3, the largest man on the park by volume, sold him the most outrageous dummy. It was as if the move was in slow motion. In fact it was in slow motion, which made McBain’s shuffle past like a geriatric on a moving walkway even more comical.
Another missed penalty from Geddes and the half time score remained at 0-5.
Shetland skipper Brian Murphy must have thought all his nightmares were coming true. His performance was typical of the man and he remained cool while most around him were making basic errors by the bucket load.
And what errors. There were some handling mistakes by Stornoway but nothing to compete with the bungling of some of the Shetland players. Mike Skinner, normally as cool as a cucumber under the high ball at full back, had a shocker. After being tested by the Stornoway fly half and found wanting he was targeted again and again and dropped it again and again. Even Hough seemed to forget what to do when the ball is on the deck, choosing to diddle at it with his feet before eventually falling on it.
But to blame Shetland’s defeat on their mistakes would do Stornoway an enormous injustice. Had Shetland been on their game they would have won. But they weren’t and Stornoway just kept plugging away. Their scrum half even roared out at one point for them to keep up the pressure because “they can’t respond”. They’d settled first and were bent on keeping it that way.
They went further into the lead with a drop goal even the great Zinzan Brooke would have been proud of. From right on the half way line Stephen Nelson took a pop at goal and the moment his boot struck the ball he knew it was going over. What an absolute gem. And as it turned out it was the winning score. Nelson’s slightly more well known namesake Horatio once said, “Time is everything: five minutes makes the difference between victory and defeat.” Stephen Nelson might not have realised it at the time but his five-second effort was the difference.
Shetland lost what little composure they had, lost yet another line out on their own throw and Geddes lost control of his mouth to give away a silly penalty.
However, Martin Sidgwick fielded a high ball and although taken down by the hungry Stornoway backs he kept his cool and presented the ball back for his teammates. Sidgwick was one of the calmer Shetland players and had another fine run up field, rounding it off with a nice flick pass inside to the supporting Whakaari, and then to substitute Craig Webb who was eventually bundled into touch.
In the dying minute Shetland scored a try through substitute Alan Blair and this was converted by Murphy. The whistle blew and Stornoway had won a well-deserved victory by a point. The score of 7-8 flattered Shetland.
Stornoway played a solid, well-organised game and what was most striking about them was their ability to knock down every man who went near them. While Shetland has been used to the rampaging runs of Scott Hatrick and Andrew Hough in their earlier games they were invariably taken down without making much headway.
Shetland were left to cure their dysphagia in the bar of the Northlink boat on the way home.
So the champagne is on hold until Aboyne, second in the league, play Craig Dunain on the 27th of this month. According to the league table they have to win by 233 points to take the title. With only 80 minutes to do it that would seem just a little unlikely. Despite losing at the weekend the Shetland players really do have a lot to be proud of this season.