It’s “challenging” – that being the current all-encompassing euphemism for indelicate epithets – to be running a club rugby team in Scotland right now.
The continuing wave of Covid has made for a massively disrupted season. For example, Dundee Rugby have had league games against Cartha QP alone postponed three times due to infections. They expect to be playing well in April making up lost fixtures.
After 18 months for the first lockdown, at least they’re playing. But the frustrations on and off the pitch were all too evident during Dundee’s 24-16 loss to Highland at Mayfield on Saturday.
Brutal penalty count against home side
Here are your senior teams for this weekend!
Tomorrow's 2nd XV game is unfortunately cancelled due to a positive covid case at Perthshire, we wish them a speedy recovery and look forward to the rescheduled game when it comes!#DundeeRugby #DundeeRugbyClub pic.twitter.com/kFttKPGOeg
— Dundee Rugby Club (@DundeeRugbyClub) January 14, 2022
Getting some kind of cohesion during a stop-start schedule has been supremely difficult. It reflected for Dundee in this game with a simply brutal penalty count that prevented them getting any kind of foothold.
Referee Grant Stephen probably won’t be on Dundee coach Alan Brown’s Christmas list even 12 months hence from this one. But even after an animated – but respectful – discussion between them at half-time aimed at taking advice back to his team’s huddle, the torrent of penalties kept going against Brown’s side.
Frustration built throughout the second half and when a ball was spiked petulantly after a knock-on decision against the home side, that immediately became a penalty as well.
The teams somehow ended trading some handbags in injury time, in what had been a hard-fought but decently-natured contest. It maybe just got too fractured by the whistle to everyone’s general annoyance.
You have to give credit to Highland, however, for being so dynamic over the ball and in contact. They swiped or disrupted possession so often that Dundee never built anything but for the first and last ten minutes of the game.
Dundee’s bright start not an omen
Dundee scored on their first attack, two superbly drilled forward drives off a lineout, then swinging it wide for Fraser McKay to coast into the line and score untouched. It was not the good omen they’d have hoped.
After the full-back kicked a penalty for a 10-0 lead following an enterprising break from their own 22, the home side barely had the ball for half an hour. Their few decent possessions were interrupted by the ref’s whistle as Highland jackalled furiously and frequently.
The visitors’ had their cohesion issues as well, though. Their backline seemed incapable of delivering a pass in front of the receiver to make their dominance really count. This despite their three Fijian backs – all Royal Regiment of Scotland squaddies stationed at Fort George.
But such was Highland’s domination at the breakdown they didn’t need slick back moves. A strong mauling game with field position won with penalties led to their first three tries. In lock Sean Blair they had the best player on the pitch; his off-load for replacement prop Patrick Ratumaisese’s score was a highlight.
Late try finally kills off the home side
— Highland Rugby Club 🦅 (@HighlandRFC) January 15, 2022
But Dundee were always in the hunt despite starvation rations. The inspirational captain Sam Cordesi kept them going forward and was well served by his vice-captain Finlay Ormiston in particular.
A monster drop goal from McKay gave him the scoring full-house and drew his side to within three points. But penalties continued to gift field position to Highland, their backs finally working a winning try for Rupeni Rokoduguni. McKay’s first miss of the day denied Dundee a losing bonus with the final kick.
Watsonians’ victory over Cartha narrowed the gap between Dundee and the National One relegation zone to seven points. They’ve three games in hand and Dundee traditionally come on strong in the spring. They’ll need to do it again to make sure of safety.