Ellon under 18’s are through to the semi-final of the National Youth Bowl, and gained full points in the league, after a gutsy 17-12 victory over Kirkcaldy at the Meadows on Saturday.
With Ellon also due to play the Kirkcaldy side in the Caledonia Champions League in two weeks, this match became a “double header” with League points and a Bowl Semi final to play for.
To the frustration of home fans, coaches and players, kick-off was delayed by nearly forty-five minutes after Kirkcaldy arrived late. By the time the visitors arrived, the Ellon u-18 players had been warming up for the better part of two hours, and were keen to get on with the game.
From the kick-off, Ellon were decisively camped in the Kirkcaldy half, winning a succession of penalties at the breakdown.
Both sides had hugely powerful packs, and some of the hardest early collisions drew gasps from the crowd.
Ellon took the lead after eight minutes when scrum-half Ben Shirron picked up the ball from a five metre scrum and slipped a blind-side pass to stand-off Jamie Gillan, who was tackled just short of the line. Quick thinking from Shirron saw him pick up the ball at the base of the ruck, and somehow dive underneath a pile of players to touch down on the whitewash to give Ellon an opening five point lead.
Straight from the restart, Kirkcaldy got themselves back on level terms almost immediately.
The visitors won a turnover at a ruck, and moved the ball out wide where a two man overlap enabled the winger to cross the line and touch the ball down under the posts. The easy conversion then gave Kirkcaldy a 7-5 lead.
Midway through the half, Ellon began to dominate at the breakdown, with the impressive forwards Ellis Swainston, Douglas Sharp, Nathan Brown, Tom Curtis and Man of the Match Mathew Emmison putting in a great shift.
The best move of the half saw a break off the scrum from Jamie Gillan, who was supported by left winger, Liam Cousins who looped round to offload to right winger Ben Trowse who was taken out short of the line by a nasty high tackle.
Ellon retook the lead with time running out in the half, when more great work from the forwards saw Prop Kieran Leith drive over the line. Nathan Emery kicked the conversion to give the home side a hugely welcome 12-7 half-time lead.
The second half was a drawn-out, attritional affair with several lengthy breaks in play to deal with injuries.
Kirkcaldy had the better of the opening exchanges, but strong defence kept them at bay. Ellon opened up a bit of breathing space midway through the half. Ellis Swainston thought he had scored in the corner but the referee claimed he was held up. From the 5 metre scrum the ball was passed from Shirron to Gillan to Cousins. Good offloading and quick recycling enabled Ben Trowse to score in the corner. The conversion was missed, but nonetheless, Ellon had managed to open up a 17-7 lead.
With ten minutes remaining to play, Kirkcaldy set up a tense finish when a quickly taken penalty saw the home defence outnumbered on the right and Kirkcaldy were able to cross the line to take the score to 17-12. The intensity at the breakdown continued right to the final whistle. The Ellon players were so tired afterwards that celebrations were muted.
This was the best performance from the boys for some weeks and the win now sets up a semi-final away at Hamilton in two weeks time.
Coach Gareth Kemp said: “A massive performance by the lads today! I can hardly express how happy I am for them.
“Every man put in an incredible shift, and that showed at the end of the game with them being so exhausted, it was quietest changing room all season, after one of the best performances of the season!
“It is very hard to pick a man of the match from that performance today as they all stood up and played well, however Matthew Emmison played out of his skin.
“What we need now is anther performance with those effort levels at Hamilton on March 2.”