Shetland 44-0 Strathspey
Third time lucky, Shetland eventually got their home campaign underway on Saturday against a new opponent in the league, Strathspey. Having never played before Strathspey were something of an unknown quantity and Shetland were told to focus on their own performance rather than worry about what the opposition may bring. With a few players away, Shetland coach Bryan Leask called back a few ‘old’ faces and handed some debuts to new players. Jeff Shaw, captain Kristian Fraser and Craig Mann made up the front-row, Stuart Jamieson and Robbie Skinley were in the second row with Thomas Meadows, Stewart Mouat and Matthew Nicolson in the back row. Debutant Alistair McMillan started at scrum half with student Callum Williamson returning home to keep the number 10 shirt. There was a new centre pairing of Peter Sidgwick and 16 year old Harry Morton making his debut. Daniel Gray and Gavin Whitrow – another player getting his first start – were on the wings with Paul Grant returning to full back to complete the line-up. A strong bench consisted of Blair MacGillivray, Dhanni Moar, Mike Skinner, William Coghill, Nathan Coote, Stuart Gray and 17 year old Sandy Cluness.
Shetland won the toss and Williamson kicked off. Strathspey recovered the kick but was immediately tackled by Mouat after a good chase. With first up tackles being made, the away side were not making any ground and it was only a matter of time before Shetland regained possession. They did so after the tackler was penalised for not releasing the ball. Grant elected to go for the points but his kick went narrowly wide.
Mann caught the twenty-two restart and punched a hole in the defence. Nicolson received an offload and then earned a penalty following a nasty high tackle. This time, Grant made no mistakes with the penalty and slotted away 3 points. Five minutes later, Shetland earned another penalty in the same position; just inside the ten metre line in the centre of the pitch. Again, Grant easily sent the ball over the posts.
After a great start, Shetland knew they could not take their foot off the gas. Strathspey seemed to come to life and started to play. They used their forwards to go through a number of phases but Shetland were patient and soaked up the pressure. Eventually the ball was knocked on and Shetland got the put in at the scrum. Nicolson did a number eight pick up and Fraser took on the second phase before McMillan gave the ball to Williamson. A miss pass to Morton drew two defenders into the tackle before the young centre offloaded the ball to Grant who cut inside and dived under the posts to score. He then duly added the extras with ease.
From the restart, Mann caught the ball before offloading to Nicolson who looked like he was on a mission. McMillan then gave the ball to Williamson who used simple hands along the line to Grant who once again broke the line to score underneath the posts. The conversion was simple enough for the full back to increase Shetland’s lead.
This time, Strathspey’s restart bounced out of play and from the resultant line-out Nicolson cleanly gathered Fraser’s throw to set up a driving maul. After making considerable ground, Grant sent a kick downfield that was not caught by his opposite number. Following a great chase, the ball was turned over and the ball was spun wide left but Gray was tackled within ten metres of the line. Shaw picked up and made a few more metres before Jamieson inched Shetland even closer to the line. McMillan spun the ball to Williamson who popped the ball to an onrushing Sidgwick. The inside centre was tackled just short before McMillan spotted a hole in the defence and picked the ball and strolled under the posts to score his first try on his first appearance. Grant again made the conversion easily and the referee brought the half to a close with Shetland 27-0 ahead.
After an excellent first half by the home side, coach Leask reiterated that there were still 40 minutes to be played and that, more importantly, he didn’t want to concede. Leask opted to freshen things up and brought on MacGillivray for Shaw, Moar for Skinley and Coote for Gray.
These changes made an immediate impact as Fraser caught the restart and offloaded to Moar. He handed off a would-be tackler before running over a further two attempted tackles. He was one-on-one with the full back before the ball somehow popped out of his arms. Shetland managed to win the scrum against the head and Grant sent a chip over the defence and with a great chase from himself and Coote, the away full back had no choice but to kick the ball into touch. With a line-out inside the twenty-two, Nicolson again went up and secured the ball. Another big drive brought the Shetland pack over the line and substitute MacGillivray was on hand to roll out the back and touch the ball down over the line, another player scoring on his first appearance and gaining a vital bonus point for Shetland. From wide out, Grant narrowly missed the extra two points.
Mann again gathered the restart and popped it to Nicolson. The number 8 passed the ball on to McMillan. Following a flowing backs move Whitrow was tackled on the wing and with several of the backs having to be in the ruck Jamieson took the ball off Williamson and broke away up field. He offloaded out the tackle to Fraser who was stopped around the half way line. McMillan put a box kick over the defence and Coote and Morton pressured the full back into giving away a penalty. Following the success of the previous line-out Grant kicked for the corner. In almost identical fashion as the previous try, Nicolson went up and the forwards again drove the maul over the line. Again, the experienced MacGillivray was on hand to touch the ball down for his second try of the game. This time from wide, Grant made no mistake and slotted the conversion away.
Coach Leask ran another couple of changes with Cluness coming on for Jamieson, Coghill for Morton and Stuart Gray for Whitrow. With Strathspey tiring, Shetland began to boss the game and controlled the possession. With just under 20 minutes left to play Shetland were in cruise control. Using the fresh legs, Coghill ran half the length of the field before being forced into touch inside Strathspey’s 22. A good jump from Nicolson won the line-out for Shetland and McMillan threw a miss pass straight to Sidgwick who looped Coghill before getting it back from his centre partner and ran through to score. From a difficult position, Grant hit the upright and the ball bounced away.
With just over ten minutes to go Shetland made their final substitutions with the timeless Skinner replacing Williamson and Shaw returning for a tiring MacGillivray. Shetland seemed to rest on what they had and the game got stuck in midfield with neither team managing to break the line and both keeping possession of the ball really well.
The game finished 44-0 to Shetland, a tremendous first home result of the season. It was important for Shetland to lay down a marker to other teams in the league. There was not a missed tackle on the pitch from a Shetland player, the line-outs were solid all day and the scrum was outstanding, winning a number against the head. The backs moves ran soundly despite a somewhat makeshift back line.
Following an outstanding team performance Leask singled out those making their debuts; McMillan, MacGillivray and, particularly, youngsters Morton and Cluness who all performed really well. While not making his debut, Moar returned after several years concentrating on Strongman competitions and played as though he had never been away.
The Northwards man of the match was awarded to Matthew Nicolson for another stand out performance, running hard lines all day and being flawless in the line-outs.
Shetland’s next match is away tomorrow against West Dyce with the blues looking to build on this week’s performance and edge toward the top of the table.
Training continues on Tuesdays and Thursdays, commencing at 6.30pm at Clickimin. All players, new or old, are very welcome to attend. Shetland rugby would like to thank the continued support of their sponsors, Serco Northlink.