Stornoway RFC were finally able to bring their first season in Caledonia Two North to a conclusion last Saturday, when they played host to Banff RFC, in the final game of the season.
This is a match that has been on and off more times than the Islanders would care to remember, nevertheless it was a game they had to win.
Previous correspondence between Stornoway, Banff and league committee, had suggested the fixture would not take place. Banff had called the game off twice, at short notice, and failed to commit to a third date offered to them in March. This left them facing SRU sanctions and possible ejection from the league. So it was with great surprise that Stornoway received word last Monday of Banff’s intention to travel.
In fact, Stornoway had already committed to travelling to Invergorden to take part in the Brin cup. With the short notice of the league fixture, which naturally took precedence, the home side were forced to pull out of the cup tie, in favour of the final league fixture.
Stornoway were able to put out a strong side, with only two first team players not available for selection. Iain McFee away supervising junior squads in Inverness and Peter Hobson who rather selfishly put a holiday on a sun kissed beach before his teammates.
Stornoway were aware from the relegation issues that they needed to win the match and a bonus point would do no harm.
They started as they meant to go on, pressurising the Banff defence from the off on a day that was perfect for fast, running rugby. Never giving the visitors a chance to settle, they were too strong in every department for the Banff outfit. Set piece was dominant and the searing running from the backs was a joy to watch for the large crowd that had gathered.
The home side ran in nine tries, seven of which Darren Beattie converted. Roddy Graham (3), Jackson Tucker-Lynch (2) and 1 each for James Kearns, Davy Graham, Gary Emans and Beattie himself.
It was a performance that coach Angus Mackay was pleased with as he commented: “I’m delighted with the way the boys have reacted today, considering we thought our season was over a month ago.
“We scrambled a couple of sessions together this week so the outcome is fantastic.”
Although there were any number of outstanding performances, perhaps the most satisfying aspect for Mackay was the inclusion of a number of junior players. “We found ourselves starting young Jeff Macdonald at outside centre, a position that he hasn’t played at senior level and he didn’t look out of place,” he continued, “we knew pretty early on that the game and bonus point were safe so we brought on Paul Afrin, Alick Graham and Ali Macleod and none of them put a foot wrong.”
It’s been an up and down year for the Island side but they had a target of survival by winning their last three games, which they have done with style, endeavour and tremendous commitment. They have managed to drag themselves off the bottom of the table, finishing ninth to avoid relegation and remain safe in Caley Two for next season.
“It has certainly been a learning curve for us, the quality of rugby was a clear step up but not one that is beyond us next year, now we know what we are up against.
“The home support has been incredible this season. Each home game seems to bring a handful more people and last weeks crowd was by far the biggest this year. I know it means a great deal to the guys.”
Stornoway must now consolidate and take stock for their approach to next season. They are losing a number of players but next season offers new challenges which I’m sure Stornoway will meet head on.
Stornoway RFC 59
Banff RFC 21