GHA 16 – 12 West of Scotland

The midweek rain may have been bad in downtown Giffnock, but it was obviously nothing compared to the precipitation north of the Clyde. This fixture, originally scheduled for Milngavie, was flooded-out and hastily re-arranged for the balmier south side. This saw West of Scotland travelling to Braidholm for the second time this season. The previous match, back in November, had seen the homesters prevail but only by the margin of a mere two points. And special mention must go to visitor Michael Gilliland, now a Wests player, but for so long a sterling servant to the Giffnock cause.

A keen rivalry between both sets of boys has developed over the past few seasons, and matches between the two have tended to be meaty and intense. So there was trepidation when it emerged that some of the green-and-red regulars were posted missing, and the call had to go out to the P7’s to make up the numbers. Any concerns about their ability to perform at the higher-age level would evaporate, and how!

The match started with the anticipated arm wrestle in the middle of the park, but GHA managed to grind ahead and good work by the forwards at the breakdown saw Wests penalised for illegal handling. With GHA in possession, quick hands saw the ball played from left to right to Michael Risi who was suddenly in the clear. He looked set to score until he was met by a thumping tackle. He did enough to get the ball out to junior guest debutant, Zach Mercer, and he bashed past three would-be tacklers to touch down in the corner for a superb score. Max McFarlane then stepped up and added an extra point with aplomb.

Wests re-started but GHA took the game back to them. Max McFarlane saw a gap down the left wing and made for it, releasing Cole Clark on the overlap just as he was tackled. Cole pinned his ears back and it looked like he might go all the way until last gasp Wests tackles nudged him over the bye-line. Wests took the line-out in their own 22 and, from a set play, there was quick feed. The recipient ran like a deer down the right touchline all the way to the line. More than one green-and-red jersey may have missed a tackle but it was a superlative score, more than deserving of the applause from the parental posse. The conversion tied the scores at 4-4 and, with the game a mere few minutes old, it appeared that a sporting treat was in store!

Wests were next to threaten but, just as a scoring pass looked set to be released, Zach Mercer put in a crunching tackle to avert the danger. Sean Smith then made a trademark break for the Braidholmers, but a knock-on at the breakdown halted momentum. GHA regained the ball soon after. Max McFarlane kicked ahead, Michael Risi won the chase and nudged it further ahead with his boot before a Milngavie mitt could touch it. Cole Clark plucked it from the turf and, looking up, saw Michael Risi cutting inside. He played the pass but the ball went forward and the visitors sighs of relief were so audible they might have heard them back at Canniesburn Toll. The respite was brief however and Max McFarlane charged down an attempted clearance. GHA were on to the loose ball but it was knocked forward at the breakdwon once again.

The GHA front row was proving to be more than a match for its hooped-jerseyed counterpart. Wests were competitive, but sometimes the tactics were more akin to Jesse James than Butch James, and the tighthead prop was warned for shoulder-charging Douglas Canning. Meanwhile, out in the loose, Lucas Schmulian was tackling superbly, putting in some big hits on the Bearsden bears.

Scott Plumridge was next to set up a break and he sent Sean Smith away after a scrum. Sean made his customary rampage and got within 10 metres of the line. It was recycled to Marc Waters who made an impromptu tribute to recently-deceased Ali Bongo by ‘magically’ juggling the ball behind his back before being brought to ground.. GHA retained possession and a push by the forwards on the Wests line saw the ball pop out and Scott Mathers touch it down for a well-worked three pointer. Metronomic Master MacFarlane proceeded to add the extra point.

Half-time: GHA 8, Wests 4

GHA started the second half in the ascendant with Sean Smith making a break but his pass to Ally MacGregor was knocked-on. Ally was in the thick of it again soon after, being tackled close to the line after being fed by Sean Smith once again. The move has been started by a Max McFarlane grubber kick that was prised from terra firma by Michael Risi.

A further GHA score looked imminent and superb work by Marc Waters through the middle created an overlap on the right. His pass found P7 Thomas and he unselfishly shipped it out to Zach Mercer who raced past the last defender for his second try of the afternoon. Max McFarlane added the conversion, that kick, his 19th point of the season, taking him to the top of the scorers chart.

Wests were determined to make a game of it, and if GHA thought they’d shrugged them off, it was time to think again. A Scott Plumridge tackle stopped a certain score, but GHA were penalised close to their own line soon after. Wests decided to go for the power play and a big forward’s momentum couldn’t be halted. Their own kicker was following in Max’s footsteps and he flawlessly added an extra point to reduce the arrears to a margin of four.

GHA had the put-in at a scrum soon after. Scott Plumridge took the ball from its base and then charged up the blindside on the right hand touchline. His pass found Zach Mercer and he would have had his hat-trick but for a foot in touch. A tap-penalty close to the Wests line was then played to Sean Smith, but he was held up on the line as he attempted to force his way over. A move from a further GHA scrum yielded another try however. Scott Plumridge passed to Max McFarlane and his kick through was picked up by Zach Mercer who out-paced the covering defence to claim that hat-trick. No mean achievement in a season where tries have been less common, his contribution takes him to joint-second in the try scorers chart! Max followed-up to end the day with a 100% record with the boot.

Wests scored again soon after, but the match ended with GHA in attack, Lucas Schmulian passing to Michael Risi whose foot in touch was the last act.

Full-time: GHA 16, Wests 12 – try-scorers: Zach Mercer 3; Scott Mathers

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