DUNS entertained old friends Livingston at the Hardens on Saturday in their first home fixture of the season in East Regional League Division 1, and were narrowly defeated by their visitors after an afternoon of thoroughly entertaining rugby.
Livingston had finished bottom of National 1 last season, but a call to arms had resulted in many former players returning to the club. In particular, their number 8 and half backs - who had played Premier 1 rugby at Currie and Stirling County last season - were the best players on either side, and with their influence Livingston will be a force to be reckoned with this season.
The visitors kicked off down the Hardens slope on a perfect late summer’s afternoon. Dane Ivison gathered the ball, made a few yards upfield, and set up a ruck. The ball was then speculatively punted into the Livingston half, and took a kindly bounce forward. After that it was a foot race between David Hutchison and the covering fullback, and crucially Hutchison managed to hack ahead and won the race to touch down. The game was precisely 29 seconds old, and Duns had taken the lead.
Stung by this early setback, Livingston used their big pack to gain control of the game. They were in charge at the scrum, and at the lineout they used the rolling maul to great effect. Duns collapsed one such maul, and Edwards kicked a penalty to narrow the gap, then midway through the half their hooker Barrett scored after a lineout catch and drive.
Livingston then scored two tries in quick succession to take full control of the match.
Firstly, Duns threw a long pass across their 10 metre line which was gratefully intercepted by Neil, and he had the easiest of runs to the line for the first of his brace in the match. Then, from a scrum around the half way line scrum half Bruton - who last season had played in the British and Irish Cup for Currie against the likes of Nottingham and Swansea - broke on the blind side, had too much pace for the Duns back row, and stepped inside the full back to score number three. Both were converted by Edwards and Livingston lead by 22-5, and it seemed all over after only half an hour.
Duns did not let their heads go down, and attacked whenever possible. A chip into the Livingston 22 bounced over the try line, and although the visitors’ full back was clear favourite to touch down first he flailed at the ball once, twice, then three times like a kitten playing with a ball of wool. Meanwhile Stuart Thompson, who by now had replaced David Hutchison on the right wing, stole in and scored for Duns.
There was time for Edwards to kick his second penalty for Livingston before half time, and Duns trailed by 25-10 at the break.
Into the second half, and playing down the slope, it was vital that Duns scored first if they were to harbour any hopes of getting back into the match. Robertson kicked a penalty to narrow the gap, but it was Livingston who scored the first try of the half.
The visitors had a prolonged period of possession inside the Duns 22, which was met with resilient defence by the home side, and the danger apperared to have been cleared when Duns held the ball up in the tackle and were awarded a scrum. However, Livingston took a strike against the head, and shipped the ball along the line for Neil’s second try, converted by Edwards.
Midway through the half, home hopes were raised again when Robertson chipped over the rush defence and Scott Lindsay - probably Duns’ best player on the day - touched down between the posts. Robertson converted, although another Edwards penalty for Livingston almost immediately took his side’s lead to 35-20 with only 10 minutes remaining.
Duns now had the ascendancy, and even had the previously imperious Livingston scrum under pressure. After a prolonged period inside the Livingston 22 Colin Tait drove over from close range for the fourth Duns try and although Robertson’s conversion narrowed the gap to eight points Duns were still two scores behind.
A penalty to Duns in injury time was coolly converted in the strong cross-wind by Dale Robertson from the 10 metre line, and although there was still time for a match-winning score the visitors held out for a win which they probably deserved over the piece.
Livingston are now joint top of the table after two matches, while Duns picked up two bonus points in defeat - one for scoring four tries and one for losing by seven points or less. Those points take them clear of Langholm and Berwick, who are both to register a point this season, but the table does not make for pretty reading from the point of view of the Borders clubs in the league.
Duns have another home match this weekend, against North Berwick at the Hardens on Saturday, kicking off at 3pm. Please try to get along to support the team.
Duns: Dale Robertson (captain); David Hutchison, Kevin Aitchison, Scott Lindsay and Ben Black; Keiran Wilkinson and Danny Lamb; Scott McCraw, Cammy Hill, Andrew Connor, James Thorburn, Stewart Cockburn, Chris Blaikie, Dane Ivison and Chris Williamson. The replacements were Allen Whellans, Stuart Thompson, Neil Graham and Colin Tait.