by Adam Drummond
at The Hardens
DUNS turned around a six-point half time deficit to run out winners by four points at The Hardens on Saturday against local rivals Berwick.
The win extends Duns’ advantage over Berwick to seven points, but Preston Lodge remain unbeaten at the top of the division, 12 points clear of Duns.
The home side, defending their long-standing unbeaten run at The Hardens, put in a dominant second-half performance which delighted coaches Peter Gallagher and Brian Richardson.
Speaking after the game, Richardson praised the ‘huge committment’ the players put in during the second half.
He added: “It is great to get the win, which keeps us in second in the league. We just need to keep it going. We had players playing out of position, but what they have given us is total effort. The players upped it in the second half, which was what we had asked them to do, and I’m delighted for them.”
Richardson said the team were confident that if they went into the second half still in touch they could use the downhill slope at The Hardens to their advantage.
That game plan certainly paid off, and they pinned Berwick back into their own half for the majority of the second half.
Berwick had used that same slope to their own benefit in the first 20 minutes of the first half.
Following on from a Gareth Hill break, when only his footballing skills and a sideways bounce of the ball prevented him crossing the try line, Jack Webster slotted a penalty from in front of the posts in the eighth minute.
Berwick maintained their pressure on Duns, but a rare period in the Berwick half following some indiscipline at the ruck led to a Duns penalty from just inside the Berwick 22m line. Dale Robertson hit it well, but the ball slid wide of the right upright.
The visitors then went back on the attack, and only the pace of home winger Andrew Baxter thwarted Webster from reaching a well-placed kick by Hill.
The sustained pressure eventually told however. Berwick moved the ball wide to the right wing before switching play across to the left in a flowing move involving both forwards and backs, which resulted in a try for centre Neil Graham, who spun out a last ditch tackle to reach the line.
Webster missed the conversion from wide on the left to leave Berwick 8-0 up at the mid-way point in the first half. Jamie Renton pulled the home side back into contention with a quickly taken penalty inside the Berwick 22, after the referree penalised Berwick scrum half James Patterson for feeding the scrum.
Renton’s ingenuity caught Berwick unawares and he burst through untouched for the try, which Robertson easily converted.
With Duns beginning to use their forwards more effectively, slowing the game down from its earlier hectic pace, they gained control of the remainder of the first half, only to see Berwick go up the other end to add another try. Aaron Hall stole a Duns lineout and the ball was moved out to the right as Berwick charged over half way. Stand-off Hill received the ball and chipped ahead, collected and then chipped again.
The ball bounced invitingly over the try line and Hill and Duns’ Baxter both threw themselves down on it. Despite it appearing to most observers to have been grounded by Baxter, referee Henry Stuart raised his arm, much to the delight of Hill.
Another missed conversion by Webster was followed three minutes before the whistle by a missed Robertson penalty. Both kickers were then relieved of their duties at the break, with Berwick 13-7 up.
The second half was almost all one-way traffic, with Roberston controlling the game at 10 with both hands and feet, allied to some good work by the back three of Baxter, David Hutchison and Stuart Pearson.
Just five minutes into the second half Stuart Thomson pulled three points back for Duns after Berwick were penalised for being offside and then not retreating 10m from a quickly taken penalty.
Duns were in the ascendency and although Berwick’s Patterson added three points from distance, Duns quickly replied with Thomson calmly popping over a penalty.
With half the second period gone, Duns were looking the more likely winners, and it was then that the referee won favour with the large home support.
A break from centre Scott Lindsay on half-way led to a ruck wide on the right. Duns’ forwards kept the ball tight and rumbled their way towards the posts and were within five metres from the line when referee Stuart gave Duns advantage for a Berwick infringement. Ben Black deliberately dropped the ball then took a quick penalty from almost on the Berwick line, instead of five metres out, and popped over for a try, which was converted by Thomson to give Duns the lead for the first time in the game.
The home side then restricted Berwick to their own half, with only long clearance kicks relieving the pressure briefly.
With 10 minutes left on the clock, Robertson took the kicking tee back from Thomson for a shot a goal from over 30m, but he drew the ball to the left of the posts.
Berwick, looking increasingly desperate, were given a lifeline as the full time whistle approached.
Winger Jamie Pick was tackled high as he crossed half way and Patterson put the ball into touch on the Duns 22.
However, as was the way with the majority of the game’s lineouts, the ball was won by the defending side and was hoofed into touch by a Duns player who thought time was up.
He was wrong, and Berwick had another lineout on the Duns 22. This time the Blacks secured the ball and were in the process of moving it out along the line when a Berwick back was smashed to the ground by a Renton, who made no attempt to use his arms in the tackle. However, the referee, instead of awarding a penalty to Berwick, blew for full time, to the delight of the Duns players, coaching staff and large home support.
A losing bonus point was no consolation for Berwick first team manager Owen Weatherhead. He said: “I’m very disappointed, it is hard to take. In the second half Duns seemed to be hungrier than us and they came into the game, although we let them a bit.
“The game was there for the taking in the first half but we didn’t take our chances. We tried to play rugby from the wrong places and they kept it in tight and we just didn’t perform in the second half. Duns played to their strengths to be fair.”
Duns: S Pearson, A Baxter, C Tait, S Lindsay, D Hutchison, D Robertson, S Thomson, S McCraw, C Hill, A Whellans, J Thorburn, D Budge, C Blaikie, J Renton, D Iveson. Subs: B Hamilton, D Duncan, B Black.
Berwick: R McFarlane, J Webster, N Graham, T McCall, J Pick, G Hill, J Patterson, D Eagleton, G Black, S Pringle, A Hall, S Cockburn, T McDougall, A Grieve, A Pearson. Subs: M Broadbent, C McGuire, L Douglas.
Referee: Henry Stuart.