It may be a new team with a handful of new faces but Stornoway Rugby Club showed their traditional heart and spirit has been passed on through the club with a dominant and dazzling display against Ross Sutherland.
Pre-match team coach Anugs ‘Bubble’ Mackay had explained the team had welcomed a host of new players after many regulars had each retired at the same time, and couple with injuries, had left a new-look squad.
But the new squad performed admirably to whitewash an under-strength Ross Sutherland with a welcome bonus-point win.
The islanders know all too well that stiffer challenges lie ahead in Caledonia Division Two North, but to secure five valuable league points in the opening encounter is something that hasn’t happened for some time and more anyone could have hoped for, particularly bearing in mind the lack of game-time experience in the squad.
Bar Roddy Graham and Angus ‘Og’ MacArthur, this was very much a new-look Stornoway and the youngsters certainly stepped up the mark, none more so than the powerful and effective centre pairing of Jeff MacDonald and Calum MacKinnon. Indeed, they were the difference on the day.
While it was a promising start for the islanders, with some tremendous rugby on display at times, it highlighted the old problem of a lack of experience in the front row, an aspect of the game where Ross dominated up till the end.
Young Shaun Smith, playing out of position at hooker, did well in open play and threw himself into numerous tackles - and fellow front row Innes McCuish did some good work in the loose in attack - but both will need to knuckle down to the nitty-gritty of winning set piece ball if the team are to make an impact this year.
Big Rick MacLeod in the second row was as per usual all over the park and at times resembled a runaway, aggressive giraffe that takes some stopping, while David MacKay, skippering the side despite his tender years, steered the ship superbly from scrum-half.
Coach Angus Mackay commented: ‘I’m delighted for the lads, they have worked hard in recent weeks with so many key players moving on. We have a clear view of how we want to play and a gameplan that looks to use the pace we have out wide, it’s going to take a bit of time but it looks like they are going to give it a real go.”
The first try of the match came in the opening exchanges with a breakaway try finished by Jeff MacDonald, which MacKay failed to convert. They added a second through Calum MacKinnon following a good flowing move to make the half-time score 10-0.
At this stage, Ross were still very much in the mix, but on the 50-minute mark MacDonald added his second to give the home side a comfortable cushion. While the powerful centre will go down as the scorer, much of the credit lies with his centre partner MacKinnon who made a tremendous break to set him free of the defence.
As he ran in on the visiting full-back MacKinnon popped the ball to his left to give MacDonald the chance to romp him unopposed. It may have had the hint of a forward pass, but it was done at such speed that there was no way the referee could have called if from his position.
It was now a case of would the islanders secure that all-important bonus point. They looked to have done so when Roddy Graham burst clear, but he had no support and the move petered out.
But it was only delaying the inevitable. That duly came when good pressure at scrum time saw Kevin O’Hara pounce on the loose ball and touch it down over the line. It was great reward for O’Hara who again put in a power of work defensively in the back row and what he lacks in size, he certainly makes up for in bravery and work-rate.
This was a good start to the season, considering the youthful nature of the team and the number of call-offs they had to contend with.