Stornoway put up a brave fight against a strong Garioch side as they continue their fight for their Caledonia North Division Two lives.
The tie came a week after Garioch had thumped Inverurie 81-7 but there was no danger of such a margin in Stornoway where the hosts battled valiantly at Bayhead.
The return of Rick Macleod and other home based players who were unable to travel last week bolstered the home ranks but in the end Garioch had a little extra in the tank to take the points.
Garioch made a strong start, building phases and stretching the Stornoway defence in search of gaps. After missing an early penalty attempt they continued to pressure the Stornoway line and with 10 minutes gone Stornoway found themselves 8 points behind.
From the back of a strong scrum the Garioch No. 8 scored an unconverted try. Soon after Garioch were awarded a penalty for not releasing in a ruck and the resultant kick at goal was successful.
Stornoway worked their way into the match with some strong running by the forwards and good chasing of well placed kicks by scrum half Gareth Baker.
The Stornoway scrum was put under pressure at times but they dug in and No.8 David Campbell dealt well with retreating scrums. The game developed into an intriguing contest with both defences holding firm and forcing errors in the slippery underfoot conditions.
Stornoway lost the services of skipper David “Bubble” MacKay to injury and had to reshuffle their back line. The home side continued to press and following a period of pressure Garioch infringed at a ruck and Euan Macleod reduced the deficit to 5 points with the last kick of the half.
The second half was fiercely contested and produced some stirring periods of play, with both teams trying hard to master the conditions with ball in hand and defending aggressively. Both sides had to work hard to gain ground and Stornoway delighted the vociferous home support with some terrific passages of play combining forwards and backs.
Small errors hindered the progress of both sides and the scoreboard remained unchanged until the last 10 minutes of the match, and it was Garioch who broke the deadlock.
The Garioch forwards produced quick ball deep inside the Stornoway 22 and a slick backs move created room for their left winger to score in the corner. The conversion was missed and the home side stormed up field with some strong driving play from the front five and were rewarded with a second penalty from Euan Macleod.
With time running out Stornoway pushed hard for a score that could have drawn them level but it was Garioch who finished off the stronger, stretching the home defence to create room for their centre to score under the posts for a converted try to end the contest.
This was a thoroughly entertaining match, with Stornoway producing some terrific periods of play. The young side continue to improve, and there is clearly a strong team spirit amongst them that will serve them well for the future. At full strength the pack is a match for most teams in the league and given decent ball there is plenty of talent and pace in the backs to cause teams problems.
Innes “Kong” Maclean looked strong throughout, obviously benefitting from some extra scrummaging practice on the Kong Sled. Man of the Match David Campbell continues to impress, and Alick Graham also deserves a mention for another hard working display.
Coach Angus “Bubble” Mackay was delighted with the overall commitment and work rate of the team and commented: “The players have gained a lot from a busy spell of ‘back to basics’ training and a tough spell of games.
“Hopefully this performance against one of the top sides in the league will set them up for the final run of matches, culminated with the away fixture against Shetland on April 9.”
The club would like to wish young Ronan Sinclair a speedy recovery from illness. If Ronan shows the same bravery and determination he displays playing rugby and shinty he’ll soon make a full recovery. We wish Ronan and his family well.