Shetland travelled away to play Huntly with a neat squad of fifteen which included a few experienced faces and a couple of new ones too. The Blues were looking to maintain their form and build on their last two victories. After a delayed train, causing two of the players to be late, Shetland tuned up with only twenty minutes to warm up before kickoff. RJ Anderson, captain Kristian Fraser and the returning John Roy Nicolson made up the front row, Jeff Shaw and Glen Hunter were in the engine room while Cal Brown, Stewart Mouat and Matthew Nicolson made up the back row. Alistair McMillan and Callum Williamson were again the pairing at half back, a new look centres partnership of Jon Pulley and the inform, versatile Craig Mann, Ben Cranie and Danny Farnworth were on the wings with the evergreen Mike Skinner at full back.
Shetland won the toss and Williamson kicked off with another of his high restarts that have been present all season. The kick was knocked on by the Huntly catcher following a good chase from the Shetland pack. The resultant scrum was good and a pick up from Matthew Nicolson at the back gained a few yards. Shaw took on the second phase before McMillan gave the ball to the backs. With the moves still a bit fresh in the memory of the new backs, Williamson’s pass to Mann was adjudged to have been forward. Huntly got the scrum and were able to clear their lines.
Huntly got on the score sheet first around the ten minute mark with a penalty. Handling errors by Shetland allowed the home side to get decent field position and following a scrum in Shetland’s half, Huntly’s number 8 picked and went, passing out to the scrum half. A great hit in the midfield from Mann on his opposite number caused the ball to be loose on the ground. Huntly managed to recover possession but as they crept into Shetland’s 22, they were awarded a penalty for a player being offside at the ruck. The home kicker was successful with his attempt and Huntly took the lead.
This was a bit of a wakeup call that Shetland needed and again the chase was excellent, especially from Farnworth and Mouat. After a sustained period of not going anywhere, Huntly opted to kick. Spotting this, Pulley managed to charge down the kick and it crossed the try line. In a foot race with a covering winger, both players dived and got a touch on the ball. The referee could not see who touched the ball down first so had to give the benefit of the doubt to the defending player and awarded Huntly a 22 drop out.
With only fifteen minutes played, Matthew Nicolson had to leave the field for nearly the rest of the first half after being poked badly in the eye accidently. With no replacements, Shetland had to play on with only fourteen men.
As it has done in previous games, it worked to Shetland’s advantage as they opened the scoring with just under twenty minutes played. Following a line out inside Huntly’s ten metre line, the pack drove a maul up field. McMillan spun the ball to Williamson who popped to Farnworth coming steaming on his inside. J. R. Nicolson picked at the next ruck and gained a good few yards before McMillan passed to captain Fraser who weaved his way through two defenders using his trademark sidestep and grounded the ball over the line. With a few hecklers at the sideline, Williamson easily added the extra two points with the conversion putting Shetland ahead.
For much of the rest of the half, the ball was stuck in the midfield with handling errors being made by both sides and no-one really threatening. McMillan went to within five after a great kick through but the Huntly fullback kicked the ball into touch. Huntly managed to reduce the deficit to a single point after receiving a penalty for a high tackle between Shetland’s ten metre line and 22.
With half time just about to be blown for, Huntly were reduced to fourteen men. After tackling the home fly half and getting back to his feet, Mouat then went to rip the ball and was awarded a penalty for the Huntly man holding on to the ball. With the referee only a matter of feet away, he seemed to lose his head and punched Mouat three times in the face. After being dragged away, there was no option but for him to receive a red card and head for an early bath. To cool matters down, Shetland kicked the ball into touch to bring the first half to a close.
It was important that Shetland capitalised on the extra man and captain Fraser’s speech reiterated this. It was also key that the Blues kept their heads as Huntly would be out to try and get one of their players sent off.
Shetland started the second half with M. Nicolson back on but with limited vision and Brown being roughed up a lot by the home side. Like Shetland, Huntly raised their game for the second half and showed it right from the off. For the first ten minutes, Shetland hardly got out of their half with Huntly piling on the pressure. Huntly managed to turn territory into points soon after. With rucks galore in Shetland’s 22, the defence held firm but one lapse in concentration at the side of a ruck allowed a Huntly flanker to bash his way over the line from a few metres out and Shetland conceded their first try in two and a half games. The conversion was successful putting Shetland behind by six points.
Shetland never really started playing as they received a lot of turnovers. They were not able to keep their own ball for what seemed like more than two or three phases. This along with poor decision making at rucks and scrums from the forwards and poor handling errors as well as not using the overlap that was presented by a team missing a player meant Shetland were unable to move forward consistently.
With ten minutes remaining, Shetland started to up their game. M. Nicolson took a pass off Williamson and stormed towards the line. With three men trying to tackle him, he crossed the line and managed to get the ball down. Unfortunately for him and Shetland, the referee could not see the grounding so Shetland were awarded a scrum five metres out. Another poor decision from the pack meant that two Shetland players were pinged for crossing and Huntly then received a scrum from which they were able to clear their lines.
With only a few minutes left, the ball got spun wide. A miss pass past Mann to Skinner who drew his man and passed wide to Pulley. Side stepping one man, he was unfortunately then tackled into touch inside Huntly’s 22. With the line out going to be the last play of the game, Hunter managed to steal the line out and create a maul. The maul was driven over the line but could not be grounded due to a pile of players so the referee blew for full time.
It was a narrow and disappointing defeat for Shetland although they did not do enough in the second half to deserve the victory. Wrong decisions being made, not being able to secure their own ball and overlaps not being used were the main areas where Shetland let themselves down. Also, with Huntly being down to fourteen, Shetland should have capitalised on the extra man and, on hindsight, there were penalty opportunities to kick in front of the posts and inside Huntly’s 22 that Shetland could have taken points from. It was more a case of Shetland losing the game than Huntly winning it.
It was a great effort from everyone, particularly those players who had to play out of their usual positions but best for Shetland were the father and son combination of John Roy and Matthew Nicolson, Brown and McMillan.
The Northwards man of the match was awarded to Cal Brown for terrific tackling all game and the extra effort he put in while Shetland were down to 14 men.
Shetland’s next game is at home tomorrow against Banff in the first round of the RBS North Regional Bowl with a 12 noon kick off at the Clickimin rugby pitch. All supporters will be greatly appreciated.
Training continues on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Clickimin from 6.30pm. All players, new or old, are very welcome to attend.
Shetland would like to thank the continued support from Northlink and the rest of their sponsors.