RESULT: Highland 15-15 Biggar

Only 1st XV game survives the big chill.

The big chill had wiped out all but two games in the top 5 divisions of Scottish Rugby – Newton Stewart v Kirkcaldy and our 1st XV’s game. 

Highland welcomed old foes Biggar RFC to Canal Park, with the home side eager to get back on the field after last weeks away game at GHK was postponed.

Highland won down at Biggar earlier in the season – but only securing the win in the last 10 minutes of that game. The team knew they were to be tested by a resurgent Biggar team, who had won 3 out of their last 4 games. This included wins against Melrose, GHK, and GHA. Their only loss being to run away league leaders Ayr.

Highland wanted to put on a show after the disappointment of their home loss against GHA – knowing that both set pieces had to improve to get a foothold in the game. 

So it was good to see that Highland’s opening score of the game came in 3 minutes from a good line out just outside the Biggar 22.

Highland set up a maul off a  long throw from Kevin Brown to Grant Jamieson at the tail. The maul took the ball up to the Biggar 22, when the ref indicated a penalty. Highland scrum half Crush, playing under advantage, moved the ball to centre Michael Gray.

Junior Waqanibau’s dummy run helped hold the narrow defence,  then Gray passed to looping stands off Scott Fraser. Dan Corr had tracked with Fraser providing an additional man along side full back Adriu Muritoki and Magnus Henry. The overlap was in place. As the Biggar defence scrambled to get wide, Fraser passed to Corr who in turn threw a miss pass to Magnus Henry on the outside. Henry sprinted in for the try from the 22m line.  Scott Fraser couldn’t land the conversion. Highland 5-0 Biggar.

About 3 minutes later Biggar mounted an attack off a line out in the Highland 22. They set up a maul initially, which Highland dealt with pretty well. The ball came out to the Biggar backs, who moved the ball infield through 2 phases without gaining too much territory. Highland were pinged for not releasing at the breakdown – much to the annoyance of the home crowd who felt the 2nd man in had won the rights to the ball. The penalty was a formality for Biggar No. 15 Euan Bogle to get on the score board. Highland 5-3 Biggar.

Biggar had the best of the play over the next 15min, they were on the attack again through a maul off a 5m line out. The referee penalised and yellow carded Highland loose head prop Stephen Murray. Biggar chose to scrum forcing Highland to bring on prop Paul Fraser, and have Ritchie Dinnes leave the field. 

Biggar pressed their man advantage in the scrum and drove Highland back over their own try line. When the try seemed a formality it appears that Biggar knocked the ball on when in the act of scoring. A huge let off for Highland. 

Worse was to follow for Biggar on the 30min mark. Highland had a scrum on the half way line. Hugo Crush found Michael Gray at first receiver. Spotting the space on the opposite side of the pitch due to the narrow Biggar defence Gray put in a cross field kick for winger Dan Corr to chase.  It looked like the kick was a fraction too long, but Corr got a deft touch on the ball putting it behind the covering full back. The ball took the sweetest of bounces straight back into Corr’s hands to go in for Highlands 2nd try. The conversion was missed. Highland 10-3 Biggar.

Highland almost scored from the restart. Grant Jamieson secured the ball under pressure, and Hugo Crush kicked for Henry to chase. The ball went behind the Biggar player who came into catch, with the ball breaking towards the Biggar try line.  The retreating Biggar player who attempted to gather the ball fumbled the catch. The ball broke to Magnus Henry who would have strolled in for the try untouched but the referee called the the game back indicating that Junior Waqanibau had tackled the retreating Biggar player without the ball. It’s debatable if  Waqanibau was committed to the tackle before the fumble occurred. Either way it’s the refs call and the game was called back. 

Around the 35mins, Highland had thought they had disrupted and stolen the ball at a Biggar line out on the home teams 22. Somehow they kept possession and trucked the ball up into the 22, and swiftly moved the ball to the left wing Rowan Stewart. Highland hadn’t folded quickly enough to cover a Biggar overlap. Things got very tight down at the corner flag, whilst there was no doubt about the grounding there was a discussion between the referee  and touch judge before the try was awarded. The conversion was missed. Highland 10-8 Biggar.

Once again Biggar had the better of the game leading up to an attack from their own 22 working all the way up to the shadow of the Highland posts, where Highland centre Michael Gray made a superb tackle to stop the move. Biggar successfully recycled a couple of times busting over the try line only to be held up by the efforts of Adriu Muritoki and Hugo Crush. Scott Fraser kicked the restart to touch which ended the half.

Biggar will have been really annoyed to have been behind at half time having crossed the tryline twice without getting the score. 

Highland will have been generally pleased to go in ahead considering the run of play. They will also be happy with an improved performance at the scrum and line out. 

Half time: Highland 10-8 Biggar 

The sun was setting rapidly as we moved into the 2nd half, but that meant the temperature dropping too which would test the handling for both sides.

Highland came out fast in the 2nd half pressing and winning two potentially kickable penalties. On both occasions Highland turned down the goal opportunities to kick for the  corner. Unfortunately neither situation resulted in any score. 

50mins, Highland had a scrum on their own 10m line, and broke up the park through Calum MacPherson and Stephen Murray. An interchange on the left wing saw Highland up to the Biggar 22. The ball was recycled and Waqanibau put in a cross field kick for Dan Corr to chase. The kick was a bit narrow, it did find ground, only to be recovered by the Biggar winger. 

Their turn to attack. They broke up their left wing and kicked ahead to the Highland 22. 

A favourable ricochet of the Biggar wing  saw the ball into Scott Frasers hands. He immediately found support from Adriu Muritoki, who scampered across the pitch before sending a pass to Michael Gray just outside the 22. It looked like he would the tackled into touch around the half way by a posse of 4 Biggar players, but a stutter step and a cut to the outside saw him clear of the 1st line of defence putting him into open space. He just evaded the last ditch tackle on the Biggar 10m line before running to score in the left corner. The conversion was missed.  Highland 15-8 Biggar.

The conversion attempt was Frasers last action of the game as he was replaced by youngster James Blair at stand off. 

Highland seemed to be gaining the upper hand at this point, but they stalled their own momentum several times by giving away penalties and conceding possession to Biggar. There was a feeling of frustration rising amongst the Highland players and the home crowd that they weren’t getting the rub of the green. 

Meanwhile Biggar were warming to their own task. 

On the 72mins Biggar had a line out on the halfway line. The ball found its way to Biggar’s outside centre Robbie Orr, who made a searing break up through the middle of the park. It looked like Orr was going to go all the way, but Dan Corr managed to tap tackle Orr short of the line. 

Biggar tried to work the ball over the line through the forwards, but they didn’t make the breakthrough. Highland did concede a penalty, so playing with advantage Biggar moved the ball to the right. I thought if the winger pinned his ears back and went for the outside he would have scored in the corner, however he cut back inside to be met by two Highland tacklers – a decision that would shortly be proved correct. The forwards came into play again, and once more, Highland held Biggar out but again conceding another penalty. Play had moved to a position 10m on the right side of the posts 5m out.  This time scrum half Kotze moved the ball to inside centre Jardine to crash through a weak 2 man tackle on the try line to score under the posts. The conversion was a formality for full back Bogle to chip over the bar. Highland 15-15 Biggar.

Highland day was going to get worse, and the task of winning the game made that bit harder, straight from the restart. On 73mins Highland’s Euan Milton was yellow carded for a high tackle on Biggar’s hooker Andrew Orr who had received the kick. 

There was a frantic three minute spell when the game restarted. First with Biggar on the attack, and then Highland. Highland were awarded a pen just inside their own half, and as ever scrum half Crush was looking to up the tempo. He took a quick tap and the referee allowed play to continue but Biggar hadn’t retreated before tackling and Highland were awarded another penalty. There was some debate before James Blair indicated a shot at goal from approx 42m out plus some extras for the angle.  Unfortunately the kick didn’t quite have the legs dropping below the crossbar. Biggar cleared the ball to touch. 

Highland seemed to have secured the ball at the line out only for the ball to appear on the Biggar side of the ruck. They again set off in attack before making an error around the Highland 22. The resulting Highland scrum was solid the was ball passed right before switching and throwing a long dipping pass back left. The pass was asking a lot of the received on a warm dry sunny day never mind a sub-zero night in Inverness. The pass was knocked on, conceding the ball to Biggar in dangerous ground. Highland couldn’t afford to concede a penalty at the scrum. They didn’t. 

Biggar were secure on their own ball, scrum half Kotze swung the ball to Stand Off McLeish to fire off a snap drop goal attempt which drifted just wide. The referee immediately blew the whistle for full time. 

Biggar will be rueing their lack of accuracy in the first half, Highland in the second when the penalty count started stacking up. Going down to 14 men for a total of 20 mins does not help – nor does the back chat which only makes the oppositions field position better. Having said that this was a far better performance from Highland than their last two outings – but there is much further to go to recapture some of our early season form.

Undoubtedly this is a game that both teams will have thought they could have won. A draw was probably a fair result at the end of the day. 

Biggar’s Robbie Orr had a great game – causing problems on the ball and defending well. Highland’s Dan Corr was excellent. Going looking for work on the ball, taking his try well, and also making some excellent tackles including a superb tap tackle on Robbie Orr. Having said that the Man of the Match award, as sponsored by The Walrus & Corkscrew Wine Bar, was Michael Gray. Michael put in a fantastic shift on both sides of the ball, popping up at first receiver to vary the Highland attack, some great kicking from hand leading to Dan Corr’s try, some excellent tacking including a try saver in the first half. Then there was his superb 70m solo try. 

FULL TIME: Highland 15-15 Biggar.  

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