Saturday saw the first visit of Highland to Braidholm. Our visitors have made astonishing progress through the leagues and have already served notice in League 1 fixtures that this is a club founded on ability, hard work and commitment. GHA were disappointing at Gala last Saturday and well understood the importance of a good performance in this fixture. The players and supporters embraced a sunny day with a wind chill factor creeping across the pitch at times. The playing surface was in very good condition and both sides went through a number of preparatory drills to assist their readiness for the match.

Bob Auld had the luncheon crowd laughing with his game of ‘Play Your Cards Right’ and there was an air of expectancy amongst the crowd.

As usual, the teams were welcomed onto the arena by a guard of honour by our super Junior Section. Andrew Goudie led the home side out for his 101st appearance in the colours of GHA. Highland kicked off and on receipt of the ball the home side immediately attacked the midfield defence of the visitors. Combined work by Messrs Mollison and McCutcheon tore gaps in the Highland defence who were immediately placed on the back foot. The combined thrusts and accurate drives by a bewildering combination of GHA forwards and backs caused real problems for the visitors right from the kick off. As the home side forced their way deep into the Highland half, GHA were awarded a penalty. The home side moved forward and on receipt of the ball Andrew Goudie cleverly twisted his body around in the tackle to go over and score. The try was converted and after only four minutes the score was: GHA 7 HIGHLAND 0.

GHA were intent on increasing the pressure on the visitors who seemed shaken by the efficacy of the early dominance from the home side. Excellent close order work between a highly mobile pack and a back line bursting with positive energy, was exemplified by Charlie Lonergan and driven on by the ham and eggs at half back of Messrs Baird and Goudie- who gave the visitors no respite at all. Highland conceded another penalty inside their half and a kick to the corner and excellent lineout take and drive allowed the hardworking Ruari Campbell to go over to score. The conversion failed and the score after seven minutes was: GHA 12 HIGHLAND 0.

Despite this whirlwind start by the home side, Highland were determined to force their way into the match and great work by Stephen Murray with support from Messrs MacPherson and Milton forced the home side to defend inside their own half. The visitors, enjoying something of a recovery fought their way into GHA territory and indeed won several penalties as home players handled on the ground or strayed offside. A good chance after twelve minutes for Highland came to naught when, Hugo , from inside the GHA twenty-two, knocked the ball on and relieved pressure on the home defence. Highland attempted to build on this foray and there were several minutes of both sides defensive tackling cutting down promising moves around the ten metre areas. The veracity of the home defensive tackling was forcing the visitors to crab across the pitch as they looked to find a way through a resolute rearguard. Deservedly Highland, after some lovely inter-passing, prised a way through to allow Gordon Gregor to score from inside the GHA twenty-two area. The try was converted, and the score after twenty minutes was GHA 12 HIGHLAND 7.

Almost from the restart the home side- with excellent accuracy- forced their way into the Highland half with a combination of drives and recycle and moves which put a huge strain on the visiting defence. The speed and accuracy with which GHA moved forward was impressive. Desperate defence by the visitors resulted in conceding penalties which allowed Andrew Goudie to kick to the corner. Constant good field positions were being won by the drives of all GHA forwards, especially Messrs Callaghan, Kilpatrick and McCutcheon and the ball retention by the home side made it very difficult for Highland to prevent the progress. Following a penalty kick to the corner, the aerial dominance and craft of Adam Kerr secured a lovely line-out ball to allow Ruari Campbell to smash his way over the line to score once again. George Baird converted the try to make the score after twenty five minutes: GHA 19 HIGHLAND 7.

GHA continued to dominate and the visitors found it very difficult to make yardage. Their attempts to retain the ball in the loose were constantly negated by the marauding exploits of Messrs Fox, Callaghan, Kilpatrick, McCutcheon and Low.  An impressive patch of phased progress allowed the ball to be given to Grant Mollison deep inside the Highland half, and he burst through a despairing defence to score. The try was converted, and the score was now: GHA 24 HIGHLAND 7.

A shell shocked Highland side bravely attempted to take the game to GHA from the restart but soon found themselves losing possession of the ball to a combined force of forwards and backs, whose only intent was to move the ball at pace and accuracy through the Highland defence. Lovely work by Messrs Campbell and Kerr tore gaps through the Highland defence before releasing a combined strike by Dixon, Mollison McCutcheon and Goudie, which allowed the dangerous Mollison to take the pass inside the visitors twenty-two metre area and go over and score in the corner to loud cheers from a very appreciative home crowd. George Baird, from a difficult angle, converted the try and the score after thirty six minutes was: GHA 33 HIGHLAND 7.

The half ended with the home side once again charging towards the Highland line before the ball was scrambled away to safety. It had been an astonishing display of “joined up” rugby. Excellent cohesion between forwards and backs, consummate ball retention, great support play throughout the home side and a killer instinct when chances materialised. Rarely has this talented group of GHA players been able to sustain this intensity and accuracy for a whole half. It is clearly the benchmark for the rest of the season.

Highland emerged from the interval clearly determined to take the match to the home side. They may have struggled to hold back the pressure in the first half, but they were not about to sit back and admire the GHA power play. The restart produced some helter-skelter, frantic rugby across the ten metre areas. Highland were intent on moving the ball carefully into contact to draw in the very mobile GHA pack before releasing running ball. It was a feature of the visiting sides’ approach that they did not merely attempt to kick for opportunity and or safety but wanted to bring their own game to bear on proceedings. This approach tended to force the home side to look to defence and to buttress persistent drives by Highland in the half.

After several minutes Highland began to make some yardage into the GHA half especially through the immense efforts of Messrs Jonny Milton, Calum Carson and Calum MacPherson. It was clear that Highland were not about to be made to play second fiddle without a huge effort by the home side. This mental and physical determination seemed to slightly unsettle the confident manner in which GHA had played out the first half. Highland benefitted from the rather stop-start scrappy nature of play as we moved into the fiftieth minute. The endeavour of the Highland side was rewarded when they put a lovely passage of play together to retain possession inside the GHA half, then move the ball with flair to allow Callum Boyd to burst through a gap to score. The try was converted and the score after about fifty four minutes was: GHA 33 HIGHLAND 14.

The home side began to recover their earlier poise after this set back and Grant Mollison and Michael Hughes asked questions of the visiting defence as we moved towards the hour mark. Both sides were conceding a number of penalties and this contributed to the rather ragged nature of play at times in this half. Despite this, the home side were again putting some passages of play together which were forcing the visitors back. The GHA backs- being given good, quick, quality ball- were continually interpassing and looking for gaps in the opposition’s defence. As we moved toward the sixty fourth minute, another skilful passage of play by the home side forced the game deep into the Highland half where effective play by Messrs Callaghan and Dan Kilpatrick provided quality ball for Charlie Lonergan (who had caused the Highland defence problems since the start) to fly through despairing tackles and score. The conversion attempt failed. The score was now: GHA 38 HIGHLAND 14.

Highland refused to abandon their attempts to play constructive rugby and GHA had to ensure their defensive tackling was sound to prevent late incursions from the visitors. The final score was: GHA 38 HIGHLAND 14.

It had been a memorable performance from the home side, especially in the first half. This standard of play and effective teamwork must surely become the benchmark for the difficult matches ahead. Coach Calum Forester informed me that he was very pleased with the overall performance and recovery especially after a poor display last week. He was impressed with how the players had coped with late changes to personnel, the debuts of several players at this level and the controlled phases of effective driving play.









NEXT FIXTURE: Saturday 23rd September, GHA v Glasgow Accies, AWAY New Anniesland, KO 3pm.

NEXT HOME FIXTURE: Saturday 30th September, GHA v Dundee, HOME, KO 3pm.


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