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OBAN LORNE 47
BT WEST DIVISION 1
Oban Lorne welcomed Argyll rivals and fellow league strugglers Helensburgh RFC to Glencruitten on Saturday for the second West Division One game between the sides this season. The Green Machine sitting ninth, one place above their opponents, had won 47-7 at Helensburgh earlier in the season and were looking for a repeat performance to lift themselves clear of the relegation zone.
With the visitors struggling for front row cover, Oban Lorne agreed to donate some of their scrummaging strength in the form of prop Liam (Lomu) Burns, who started in the visiting team.
Oban coach Corrie Louw made a few changes to the team that suffered a poor loss to Annan the previous weekend. Most notably, there were places on the bench for 17-year-olds Jack Strachan and Daniel Speirs.
The home side made a good start to the game, being cheered on by a large home crowd. Oban were using the ball well and were managing to feed their dangerous runners. Winger Calum MacLachlan and second row Jack Baxter impressed with some dangerous runs in the opening phases of play.
After five minutes, a Helensburgh clearing kick was gathered well by Welsh fullback Iwan Rhys Roberts, who spun the ball wide to captain Craig Wright. He made a storming run down the right hand touchline and was brought down short but managed to squeeze the ball off the ground with a superb offload to the onrushing back row Vladi Mihov, who scored in the corner. Finlay Carmichael narrowly missed the resulting conversion.
Oban should have built on this lead straight away but were found guilty of taking their foot off the gas.
Helensburgh gathered the ball and immediately stormed upfield, pressurising the home defence. A penalty awarded five meters out was tapped quickly to result in a try and a 7-5 lead for ’Burgh.
The loss of a try failed to dent the confidence of the home team as they looked to hit back. Dave McCabe was starting to put in a commanding performance and provided a fantastic pass to hooker Radi Maksimov who was working hard to make himself available in attack. Play was disrupted briefly with an injury to Rhys Roberts who was briefly replaced by blood substitution Rudolphe Bertrand.
Oban tasted the potential of a try as they were awarded a scrum five meters out from the Helensburgh line. While the scrummage was strong, the resulting try came after a few phases of play with Struan Smith taking a quick tap from a penalty and powering over the line. Unfortunately, Smith was injured in the process and was replaced by Lorne MacLachlan. Carmichael slotted over the conversion with ease for a 12-7 lead after 15 minutes.
The third try of the day for Oban followed shortly after. A break from fullback Rhys Roberts took Oban into the danger zone, an offload to Radi Maksimov drew in a couple of defenders with the Oban hooker passing to Craig Wright who broke free to score. This brought the score to 19-7 with another Carmichael conversion.
With the crowd encouraging Oban to build on their lead the visitors dampened their confidence by hitting back. First a well-struck penalty reduced the deficit to 19-10. This was followed by a promising period of attacking play with impressive runs from the away centre pairing. A further successful penalty attempt just before half-time gave a score of 19-13 at the break.
Coach Corrie Louw made a couple of changes at half-time by introducing 17-year-olds Jack Strachan and Daniel Speirs into the pack. A proud moment for both players and well deserved from their performances in the U18 team this season. Speirs follows in the footsteps of his father Walter in turning out for Oban Lorne, who was watching excitedly on the touchline.
It was not to be the start to the second half that the home side wanted as Helensburgh began as the better team and scored what was a contender for try of the day from 30 metres out to take a shock 20-19 lead and leaving the Oban team and squad stunned.
Oban worked hard to push themselves back up the pitch following this setback and were unlucky not to regain the lead as a Carmichael penalty narrowly missed after the visitors were penalised for hands in the ruck.
A 22 drop-out kick was gathered by Oban who were putting some promising phases together against what was now a tiring defence. Some good handling between McCabe and Wright allowed the ball to find second row Jack Baxter with space out wide and he used his strength from 15 metres out to score Oban’s fourth try of the game. Carmichael’s conversion gave a 26-20 lead after 50 minutes.
Debutants Strachan and Speirs were doing well in their opening moments of senior rugby, with Strachan tackling extremely well and Speirs looking hungry at the breakdown and looking for the ball in attack.
Oban had another chance for a try with a bulldozing break from prop Tommy Sutherland producing space for Calum MacLachlan, who was bundled into touch near the tryline.
MacLachlan featured again in the following phase of play linking well with Radi Maksimov, who was putting in a very impressive performance.
Another try should have arrived for the home side on 60 minutes but a mix-up between Louw and Speirs resulted in a knock-on. Helensburgh should have cleared their lines but were shoved off the ball on their own scrum five meters out. Oban stand-off Finlay Carmichael was on hand to pounce on the ball over the tryline as it was knocked out of the scrummage. Suddenly the Green Machine were ahead 33-20 and were in control of the game.
Credit must be given to the victors, who refused to give up and will have impressed coach Adam Hart with the effort as they pressed to get back into the game. Aided by some poor Oban discipline at the breakdown, the visitors found the field position to attack the Oban line. With a try disallowed due to a knock-on Helensburgh claimed a deserved try with 10 minutes to go scraping the score back to 33-25. The visitors could have brought themselves back to touching distance of the hosts had a routine conversion in front of the posts gone over.
Oban dug deep to ensure a home win with the spectators looking a little nervy going into the closing stages. Man of the match Jack Baxter went close to a second try followed by another close effort from Speirs.
Dave McCabe again pulled the strings in midfield putting in prop Robin MacQueen from close range to put the game beyond Helensburgh at 40-25.
The biggest cheer of the day was to come in the last couple of minutes as Speirs capped an impressive 40 minutes of senior rugby by grabbing his first Oban Lorne try. Speirs picked the ball and dived over the middle of a ruck on the line to score his first senior try and Oban Lorne’s seventh of the afternoon.
Referee Ali Steven from Kilmarnock below his whistle to end the play and confirm Oban Lorne as 47-25 winners in what was one of the best games witnessed at Glencruitten in a long time. Despite the heavy final score, Helensburgh did themselves proud by making Oban work hard in all areas of the game and put together some fantastic attacking phases of play. While relegation looms for the fellow Argyll side, they will no doubt rebuild and come back into the league with more strength.
There were many impressive performances from Oban Lorne on Saturday, particularly that of hooker Radi Maksimov, second row Jack Baxter, centre Dave McCabe and solid showings from debutants Speirs and Strachan.
The two 17-year-olds are the first products of Oban High School’s inaugural School of Rugby with the two players taking part in the Scottish Rugby-funded programme since they were in S1. With a conveyor belt of youngsters following, the future is looking bright for Oban Lorne’s male and female 1st XV’s.
The result helps lift the gloom over Oban Lorne’s recent showings with the team now in touching distance of eighth-placed Kilmarnock with two games in hand. A promising result away to promotion chasing Carrick this Saturday could lift the Green Machine up the table. The teams met in November with Oban recording a nail-biting 17-15 win, playing 60 minutes with 14 men. Kick-off is 2pm this Saturday in Maybole.