Ellon RFC’s Under 18s squad kept the pressure on leaders Highland in the Caledonia North League 1 with a hard fought victory in Elgin by 29 points to 12.
The pitch was very heavy and churned up in places so this was never going to be a festival of running rugby. This was a day for the forwards and the Ellon pack had their work cut out against a powerful and committed Moray eight.
Ellon had the early pressure and took the lead after six minutes when a Moray clearance was collected by full-back Josh Walker inside his own half. He set off at pace, and side-stepped at least four players to score under the posts.
Nathan Emery then converted to give Ellon a seven point lead over the home side.
Four minutes later Moray conceded a penalty on their 22, and the kick was duly slotted over by scrum half Ben Shirron.
Facing a ten point deficit, Moray started to fight their way back into the game with some powerful rucking.
Ellon conceded a series of penalties for offside, but their defence withstood a long period of pressure to get to half time with their 10-0 lead intact.
However, straight from the restart, Moray’s impressive No. 8 collected the kick-off and broke through a number of tackles to score against the visitors. The try was converted, and Ellon’s lead was reduced to just three points.
It was now time for the Ellon pack to exert some pressure of their own. Several phases of play brought Ellon to within touching distance of the try-line. When the forwards couldn’t batter their way over the line, the ball was passed out to centre Jamie Gillan, whose strong drive and offload to Ben Shirron saw the scrum-half score under the posts. The number 9 then got up to slot the penalty to give Ellon a 17-7 lead.
Ellon were missing a number of players through injury and work commitments, and their threadbare squad was put to the test with a series of injuries resulting in much shuffling of the pack and the back-line.
Moray felt they were very much still in the game, but when the ball was spilled in an attack, winger Ben Trowse picked up the ball, broke through a couple of tacklers and ran the length of the field to score.
The conversion was missed but Ellon had built up a 24-7 lead with 15 minutes to play.
Ellon’s pack was under intense pressure and the two props – Josh Brock and Man of the Match Neil Anderson – put in an incredible effort to keep the Moray forwards juggernaught in check. However, the Elgin side did cross the line midway through the second half following a series of tapped penalties inside the Ellon 22.
The conversion was missed and Ellon still held a 12 point lead.
The result was put beyond doubt with just ten minutes remaining, when an Ellon penalty inside the Moray 22 was taken quickly by Ben Shirron who offloaded to stand-off Stewart Cruikshank to score.
The last few minutes were scrappy, with many walking wounded on the pitch and it was a relief to Ellon when the final whistle blew.
This was an important victory which owed much to the dogged determination of the forwards and the pace of the backs. They will be hoping for drier conditions when they take on league leaders, Highland RFC at the Meadows on Saturday.
Coach Gareth Kemp said afterwards that he was extremely proud of the team, and the level of effort they had put into the game.
He said: “A dogged performance and big effort by the Ellon lads again.
“They ground out a good win, in poor conditions, with a weakened squad and short on subs with players calling off late.
“It is these efforts and wins that really make this squad fantastic in my eyes”. It’s not a big squad, but boy do they all work for each other!”