On the face of Mayfield’s rather fetching new electronic scoreboard, Dundee High Rugby could not have had a better start to the season than Saturday’s comprehensive victory over Falkirk.
A 33-0 scoreline, five tries, bonus point, a handsome win over a team who finished just below them in BT National League One last year and won at Mayfield impressively last year, top of the table after week one, what could be wrong?
Well, a whole lot, actually. Foremost was the double fracture suffered by debutant Campbell Cunningham inside the first ten minutes, which led to an eight minute delay to get him safely off the pitch.
The flanker then had to wait 40 minutes lying under the trees on the east side of the ground before an ambulance arrived to safely convey him to Ninewells.
That incident – Falkirk’s Calum McPherson was yellow-carded for the tackle – set a tone for the afternoon where the home side could never get their rhythm ticking. High swiftly scored three tries with the man advantage to effectively end the game as a contest, but didn’t get the bonus until near the hour and only one other try after that.
What prevented a complete rout was an astronomical penalty count against the home side, 17 in all. A few were possibly to be expected – nobody’s quite up with the new breakdown laws yet – but surely not that many.
“Discipline was so poor, and every time we gave away a penalty we let them put us under pressure or relieve pressure we had on them,” said director of rugby Colin Sangster. “It’s something we’ve spoken about improving but there wasn’t much evidence of it.
“Our execution wasn’t good but we’ve got new players and have changed our systems slightly, and we talked about keeping them for scoring so that was a plus. But it’ll all have to improve before we got to Gala next week because if we play like that we won’t trouble them.”
Falkirk could be a microcosm of why the change in club rugby at the end of this season is needed. Last year they came to Mayfield with a strong team, the ex-Scotland squad lock Craig Hamilton in the pack, Finn Russell’s brother Harry at scrum-half and Liam Brims, one of Caledonia region’s best young playmakers, at 10.
They were all gone from Saturday’s team, in fact there were just two survivors from the side that won 36-18 almost exactly a year ago. Money coming into the club dried up, and they’ve been left with players who were in their 2nd XV playing in the regional leagues.
Under such circumstances it’s really hard to gauge where High are at from this one game. They’ve undergone a significant amount of change themselves – there were just three survivors from last year’s Falkirk game – and unfortunately will be without skipper Duncan Leese until December due to a pre-season injury.
However the pack look as strong as ever, and veterans Alan Brown and Danny Levison leading the way with Ali Mackie a huge ball carrying force.
Levison’s try, the fifth, was a rare kind of solo score – catching a lineout cleanly and then swatting off four tackles at sprint pace over 35 metres to the line. His availability this season will be a key to the team’s success.
There’s some real promise in the backs, where Fraser McKay seems to have settled at full-back and kicker, Neil Herron made a very welcome comeback at centre with a try after nearly two full years out with injury, and Rory McGinn looks a tidy operator at 10, with a good boot and awarness of when to use it.
Josh Rutnagur, who seems to have been around the club for an age, was impressive at both scrum-half and when he switched to 10, particularly so as he finished a long all-night junior doctor shift at 9 am that morning.
Andy Redmayne, a former pro with Glasgow who has returned to Mayfield, could be available for next week. With him on board, Dundee should have a pack as physically big as anyone in the league.
When the pitches get considerably less lush than they are in September that will be to their advantage. Should they steer clear of the injuries that plagued them last year, there’s no reason why they can’t contest with league favourites Gala and Edinburgh Accies.