Will Bunn at University Park
Speaking after Wednesday’s game, former Club Captain and old boy Giles Smith recounted that the last time St Andrews defeated Aberdeen 1st XV was way back in 2005, when Ma Bells’ backroom was the place to drink, and current Club Captain, Cammy Dickie, was only in third year. The long wait to get one over on the strong men from the north was felt by both players and fans alike, as the elation at the final whistle of this thrilling game showed.
Despite the weather, the sizeable crowd that braved the cold and the wet were well rewarded by a fierce and bruising contest between two sides lying second and third in the Scottish BUCS Championship. Aberdeen, coming off the back of a 74-0 thrashing of Robert Gordon’s University last week, arrived full of confidence and intent on imposing their powerful all-round game on the hosts.
St Andrews, for their part, have not played a BUCS fixture since December. The enforced mid-winter break allowed Director of Rugby, Dave Ross, to field a near full strength side. Giles Goatly and Matt Cannon returned in the front row, while Timmy Rogers resumed his place at openside, alongside ‘Downtown’ Browne and Alan Little. Captain Steve Sims moved to scrumhalf in place of the injured Euan Millar, while fresher Jamie Urquhart slotted in to partner Matt Hannay in the centres. On the bench, an injury in training on Monday forced Will Bunn to make way for Nick ‘Corona’ Richardson, with more freshers, J Gordon, M Oldroyd and Rob Davidson looking to inject some youthful enthusiasm into proceedings.
From the start St Andrews showed their intent to attack and quickly sought to put Aberdeen on the back foot, with Urquhart’s boot soon pinning the visitors back despite the slope. With powerful running for Robbie Lawrence and the mercurial deftness of Alan Little, St Andrews soon found themselves in a number of good attacking positions. From a good position inside the Aberdeen half, the ball went wide to Urquhart, who made a half break, off-loading to Sean Murchie who turned on the taps and left his opposite number trailing as he opened his account for the afternoon with the first of his three tries. The crowd could not quite believe their eyes, partly at Tare Nyabadza’s country squire outfit but mainly because Urquhart added the extras and St Andrews took a 7-0 lead in the opening minutes.
Aberdeen though, were never going to roll over and soon found themselves pushing into St Andrews territory, with the ever present threat of Redha Guedroudj on the wing giving veteran Saint, Stew Coleman plenty to think about all afternoon. The Saints however, soaked up the pressure and another foray into the visitors half soon produced a penalty opportunity that Urquhart gladly knocked over to extend the lead.
It did not take long however for the northern boys to reply and it was their go-to man Redha on the right wing who took advantage of some uncharacteristically poor Saints defence to beat four men and slide in to score in the corner. The Aberdeen reaction confirmed their desire to keep up the fight and the crowd licked their lips at the brewing contest.
In a tight battle there are a few who revel in it more than Man-of-the-Match Matt Cannon and Giles Goatly, who provided a base for the Saints throughout. With Nick ‘the Liver’ Winton’s fearless commitment and Tim Rogers scything down opposition attackers, it was no wonder St Andrews soon found themselves again pushing Aberdeen back. However, at the home of running rugby, it was fitting that the outstanding Matt Hannay slipped through the Aberdeen mid field, beating two men and off loaded to the omnipresent Cannon from where the ball again found itself in the hands of Murchie, who tore over the line to bag his second. It was a superb try, and proved that unless one builds a solid forward platform, the champagne rugby that St Andrews holds dear is nothing but fizz.
The first half continued to be a keenly fought affair, and Aberdeen were helped when Steve Sims got himself sin-binned for not rolling away as the visitors threatened. Urquhart and the Aberdeen kicker swapped penalties and the Saints went into half time with plenty of work to do.
The second half, if possible was even more physical and soon Downtown Browne found himself getting plenty of ball, coming to the fore with some strong forward carries while Jamie Irvine settled in for his best game in a Saints shirt for some time. Another Aberdeen penalty closed the gap further and it took Murchie’s third try to bring the St Andrews victory in sight. However, the visitors were not done yet and staged a ferocious come back, with another penalty and then a well worked try which they duly converted.
In a tense final ten minutes St Andrews extended their lead with another Urquhart penalty, before Aberdeen brought themselves within a score with a kick of their own. The last five minutes were completely dominated by Aberdeen looking for an opening, but cool heads and brilliant defence, despite a couple of nervous moments, kept them out. As Steve Sims thumped the ball into touch to end herald the final whistle, joy mixed with relief at a hard fought and well deserved victory.
As Dave Ross reminded the boys after the game, it was the first time St Andrews had truly held on after half time and that the feeling of closing out such a tight game should be remembered as the games against Stirling and Edinburgh point to tough challenges ahead. This vital win also keeps alive St Andrews hopes of nicking the league title, should other results fall favourably.
St Andrews: S Lang; S Murchie, J Urquhart, M Hannay, S Coleman; J Irvine, S Sims (Captain); G Goatly, M Cannon, J Sloan, R Lawrence, N Winton, A Little, T Rogers, D Browne.
Subs: N Richardson, J Gordon, M Oldroyd, R Davidson, T Weston-Davies, C Ferguson, G Hartley
Man of the Match: S Murchie
Man of the Match - Matt Cannon
Tries: Murchie (3)
Cons: Urquhart (1)
Pens: Urquhart (3)