Fortune favours the brave, but you’d have a hard time convincing Howe of Fife supporters of that after Saturday’s dramatic finish to the BT National One derby with Dundee High.
Howe had shrugged off the harsh straight red card shown to prop Grant Henderson after less than half an hour to be the better side, to lead for an hour and to be narrowly ahead as referee Craig Clark called the last play.
In Dom Martin at stand-off Howe also had the game’s outstanding player. Dundee, meanwhile, wanted to take their stand-off Fraser McKay off with 15 minutes left and he was actually at the touchline looking somewhat depressed at his afternoon’s work when coach Colin Sangster sent him back on to the pitch.
Sangster wanted to replace McKay – usually a wing but filling in because of High’s terrible injury list and Duncan Leese not due back until Christmas – with Colin Strachan and put Jack Broadley in at 10.
Inconveniently, Broadley, who has had a nightmare with injury since coming to Mayfield, had just suffered a shoulder blow and couldn’t continue, hence the quick change of mind and a rather sheepish return to the field for McKay.
And guess who then scored the two tries that turned 16-7 and 19-17 deficits into a 24-19 win, the latter on that same last play of the game?
It was mighty hard on Howe, who had withstood an early onslaught and were starting to control the game when referee Clark stepped in.
He’d just called the captains together to try and stop the constant verbals from both sides pointing out infringements and accusing foul play. This form of dissent is a plague on rugby at the moment, and as distinguished a ref as Nigel Owens had much the same conference with his captains in Glasgow on Friday night.
But when Clark blew against Howe at the next scrum and Henderson objected with an unsuitable epithet attached, the ref surprisingly produced a straight red. One understood his frustration, but a yellow and a stiff final warning to both packs would surely have sufficed in the circumstances instead of leaving Howe staring down the barrel.
Thanks to their skills at the basics, the never say die spirit of Graham Steedman – who started at No 8, carried tirelessly and even propped both sides of the scrum in the second half – and Martin’s promptings, Howe actually thrived a man down against a Dundee team that looked more than a bit flat.
Martin gave High’s teenage full-back Ryan Fairweather fits with a series of well-placed chips and grubbers, and then scored the try and kicked the penalty – his fourth – that seemed to have won the game for them.
High were down to 14 themselves with Neil Dymock off on a yellow when they started to rally at last. They scored a try from a fine mauled drive, and then McKay, reprieved from the bench, weaved his way through a tiring defence for the solo score to put them ahead.
When Martin’s penalty put Howe back in front, Dundee’s pressure on the fatigued Howe scrum via the old prop partnership of Brown and Dymock started to pay dividends with penalties, and in the dying seconds McKay twisted over the line for the winner.
So Dundee somehow ended up with a try bonus win in a game they never dominated despite having an extra man for an hour, while Howe left the field to find that one of the teams they’re chasing to avoid relegation, Stewarts Melville, had beaten title challengers Falkirk away.
Sooner or later, their luck surely has to turn.