Strathmore poduced a comeback of ‘Lazarus’ proportions at Inchmacoble Park to take a huge step towards protecting their league status for next season.
On a dreich, miserable day the blacks put their supporters through an emotional wringer as they looked dead and buried on the hour mark.
Two players then provided the inspiration their team-mates fed off and secured a bonus point win that puts their opponents deep in the relegation mire.
Lion hearted captain Stuart Gray would not let his side go quietly into the gloom. His two tries full of grunt and desire lit the touchpaper for his charges and they did not disappoint.
Veteran scrum-half Mike Bruce has played senior rugby for 29 years, and is Strathmore’s most successful player, winning six league titles and countless other trophies, as well as appearing at Murrayfield for his hometown club.
Bruce would be the first to admit that he cannot break the line as he once did but his tactical kicking laid the platform for victory and set up Strathie’s opening try which turned the tide in the blacks favour. If this is Bruce’s swansong it was a fitting way to end a stellar career.
Little of the drama of the second half was shown in the first, it was a litany of mistake after mistake with the conditions contributing to a dire opening forty with two penalties being shared between the sides. Number eight Colin Bell was the stand out performer in the half as he proved impossible to stop on the gain line and his turnovers snuffed out several dangerous charges into the Strathie half.
Ellon showed they could be a threat with their big outside centre making massive yardage through some weak, ineffectual tackling.
Strathie found it hard to string any phases together as their set piece ball was of poor quality and difficult to attack from. The away side then shocked the partisan home support with two quickfire tries that stretched their lead to fourteen points.
This was the point that Gray and Bruce upped their games and a chip through from Bruce led to a try from Glenn Feighan who showed great pace before flopping on the ball. Stand off Ross added the conversion to his earlier penalty to halve the deficit.
Coach Dave Brown then brought on his replacements to energise the home fifteen and Tim Malkowski introduction into fray proved decisive. Strathie’s line out began to function and Malkowski’s energy jump started the black pack as they took an iron grip on proceedings.
Ellon’s line now looked like a scene from the Alamo as they were surrounded by wave after wave of home attacks. Even Davy Crockett could not have stopped Gray bursting through the defence to close the gap to two.
Another kickable penalty was turned down by the Strathie captain as his side went for the jugular. His confidence was rewarded with another battering run over the whitewash to wrest the lead from the visitors. Gray celebrated with a gun show before Ross slotted the extras to eke out a five-point lead.
There was no respite for the visitors who had looked comfortable until the final quarter. They still had a bonus point to play for, but their previously sound defence now had all the qualities of a Swiss cheese and it was no surprise that the Blacks breached their line once more. Strathie winger James Kiely made a timely intrusion into the back line before weaving over to complete a fantastic bonus point victory. Ross finished the scoring with his third conversion.
This result should ensure that Strathie are playing in a league that could include local sides like Morgan FP, Perthshire and Dunfermline and is a great incentive for the squad for next season. The big positive from Saturday’s win was when they had to perform they did, that should give them confidence for the challenges ahead.
Team: C. Blackmore, J. Kiely, F. McKay, R. Ferguson, S. Ross, M. Bruce, B. Fotheringham, G. Feighan, G. Dissel, S. Gray, J. Wilson, C. Nicol, B. Morrice, C. Bell. Replacements: T. Malkowski, J. Yarr, T. Cargill, F. Cameron (all used).