Duns back to their best to defeat Cougars

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DUNS entertained third placed RHC Cougars at the Hardens on Saturday, hoping to dispel the memory of a very disappointing showing at Berwick seven days previously, and recoded a stellar, six-try, bonus point win - easily their best performance of the season so far.

RHC, formed as a result of the merger of Royal High and Corstorphine rugby clubs eight years ago, kicked off down the Hardens slope with a strong wind at their backs. The ground, given all the rain in the previous week or so, was in remarkably good condition and all was set for an open match between two sides who like to give the ball some air.

Duns weathered the early RHC storm, and gradually exerted their authority on proceedings. Their performance in the first half must rank amongst the best 40 minutes’ rugby played for many a season, with handling and support play of the highest order, the right option taken at almost every turn, and the scrum and lineout functioning much better than in recent weeks. The visitors were, it must be said, hampered by the loss of three players to injury in the first half, including two of their front row, but nevertheless Duns were imperious playing uphill and into the teeth of the wind.

The home side scored first, when after the ball had been taken through many phases by the forwards Stuart Davies crashed over by the posts following a good offload by Allen Whellans. Dale Robertson converted.

RHC kicked a penalty, but Duns bossed the match for the next 20 minutes or so before scoring number two. It came after the ball had again been taken through many phases of play, and good offloading in the tackle by the backs allowed Dale Robertson the space to score under the bar. He converted his own try, and although RHC kicked a second penalty before half time Duns led by 14-6 at the break.

The wind had dropped slightly by the time the second half got under way, but Duns still had the better of the conditions after the interval. It was important that they make good use of them, and this they did in style with two tries in the opening three minutes. Firstly, hooker Cammy Hill ferreted his way over almost straight from the kick-off, and almost from the re-start Dale Robertson slipped an RHC tackle just inside the visitors’ half and just had the pace in his ageing legs to make it to the line. He converted the second of these tries to stretch the lead to 26-6. Only 43 minutes gone and the bonus point was in the bag.

After the hiatus of the opening minutes of the half had died down, Duns seemed to drop their guard. RHC had won three of their opening four fixtures, and were obviously a decent side, and they showed why with a spell of pressure inside the Duns 22. The home side did not help themselves as they conceded a whole string of penalties to heap more pressure on their defensive duties, and the referee eventually decided that David Hutchison should ‘take one for the team’ as he was sin-binned for the team’s persistent infringements.

It was while Duns were down to 14 men, and in the throes of a lengthy defensive shift, that the home side scored try number five. A miss move in the RHC centre resulted in the ball being spilled, and a fly hack from a Duns boot took play to the half way line. Another kick ahead saw RHC defending frantically deep inside their 22, and when Duns won the ball stand off Keiran Wilkinson had the easiest of tasks to score under the bar. Once again, Dale Robertson converted.

RHC stuck to their guns, and were rewarded with two tries in the final quarter of the match. First, their quick-thinking right wing took a tap penalty inside the Duns 22 and was allowed to cross almost untouched in the corner, and then their centre was given the freedom of the Hardens as he scored his side’s second try with 10 minutes remaining. The second score was converted, and the gap had been narrowed to 33-18.

Duns were to have the final word, however, and after gaining good field position with a hefty boot downfield they were able to take advantage of some untidy defending by the visitors. Colin Tait, on as a replacement in the unaccustomed position of flanker, nailed his opposite number as he picked up from a scrum on the RHC five metre line and the ball was spilled. James Thorburn was on hand to pick up and score, with Robertson’s conversion taking the tally to 40.

An excellent performance by Duns over the piece, particularly in the opening 40 minutes, and five league points gained. The hard-fought victory will surely set the side up for their next three matches, all of which are against sides below them in the table. The first of these is at Dunbar on Saturday - please try to get along to support the team if you possibly can.

Saturday’s match ball was kindly sponsored by Denis Lawson Ltd.

Duns: Stuart Thomson; Andrew Baxter, Kevin Aitchison, Dale Robertson and David Hutchison; Keiran Wilkinson and Danny Lamb; Scott McCraw, Cammy Hill, Allen Whellans, Duncan Budge (captain), Stewart Cockburn, Stuart Davies, Richard Burns and Chris Blaikie. The replacements were Andrew Connor, James Thorburn, Neil Graham and Colin Tait.