The first League game of a new season, but there was something familiar about it, with a Titans XV short of two players and some irregular players among those listed. As it happened, Stew-Mel provided two players from their ranks so that the game started at 15-all.
The Inverleith pitches were looking immaculate, and refurbished changing rooms made for a good start to the afternoon. The day became even better, with the Titans moving ahead after only 5 minutes when a long Duncan Leese pass put Scott Lothian in for a try. The conversion was unsuccessful, but Dundee were ahead, 0-5.
Stew-Mel attacks were foundering on a resolute Dundee defence and insecure handling and it was the visitors who went further ahead in 15 minutes, when Dundee kicked a penalty to touch and drove the resulting line-out maul, ending in a try for Duncan Leese, which he converted to make the score 0-12.
Dundee were proving dominant in open play and, particularly in the set scrum, pushing Stew-Mel back at each opportunity. When Stew-Mel were penalised on their 5 -metre line, Dundee opted for the scrum and drove Stew-Mel back, causing them to break up and concede a penalty try.
32 minutes gone and Dundee further ahead, 0-19.
Stew-Mel lost possession after the kick-off, Dundee collected and Duncan Leese put Scott Lothian clear, with a 60 metre run ahead, which he duly completed, for an unconverted try and the lead was increased: 0-24 after 34 minutes.
Dundee lost the ball after the re-start, allowing Stew-Mel a rare opportunity to attack in the Dundee 22 and, when Dundee were penalised 10 metres out, the penalty was taken quickly and their replacement flanker crossed for an unconverted try. 5 -24 with 27 minutes played.
Half time: Stewart’s Melville 2nd XV 5 Dundee Titans 24
An encouraging half by Dundee, with good, “up-quickly”, defence limiting Stew-Mel opportunities and forcing handling errors. Up front, the Dundee scrum was super-dominant at the set piece and Iain Lockhart was proving a useful resource in the line-out. Would Dundee be able to maintain their fitness in the second half, and remain on top, was the question.
Not sure if the term’s been used before, but this turned out to be a game of two halves, and for two reasons. Firstly, Stew-Mel took back one of their loan players, Freddie, who, it is believed, had not played for them before, but had shown himself to be among the best players on the park. Secondly, before the second half had much progressed, a Stew-Mel prop went off injured, and uncontested scrums were ordained, denying Dundee that area of absolute dominance.
In the event, it was the visitors who went further ahead, 6 minutes into the half, after a penalty against Stew-Mel gave Dundee the chance to reach touch some 12 metres out. Good Dundee handling and drives led to another penalty against the home side, and this time it was quickly taken and Andrew Clarkson crashed over from short range, with Duncan Leese adding the extras to extend Dundee’s lead: 5-31 after 46 minutes.
Shortly after this, uncontested scrums were introduced, signalling an opportunity for Stew-Mel to come back into the game.
In 51 minutes, their stand-off burst over for a try, converted by the full-back, for 12-31, then, with Stew-Mel gaining more of the possession, another try followed, with their full-back crossing in 56 minutes for an unconverted try, making the score 17 – 31 after 56 minutes.
Stew-Mel now had their tails up and continued to press and scored again through their No 6, with a try converted by their stand-off and Stew-Mel were within striking distance, at 24-32, with 60 minutes played.
The game was becoming peppered with penalties, most of which were going in the home side’s
favour, then a great break by Duncan Leese took play to 10 metres from the Stew-Mel line and, when tackled, he passed to Andrew Clarkson who completed the move, only for the referee to adjudge a forward pass.
This heralded a spell of good Dundee possession and pressure, but a kick through by Stew-Mel led to the ball being given away to the Stew-Mel scrum-half who touched down. The stand-off converted and the scores were level, 31-all with 10 minutes remaining.
The loss of the lead seemed to inspire Dundee and they were soon on the attack and pressing in the Stew-Mel red zone. After a number of phases with Dundee in possession, Ruaridh Hood crossed for Dundee, and Duncan Leese converted, restoring the lead to Dundee, 31-38 with two minutes remaining. Two minutes which were played out without further score, much to the relief of the visitors.
Full-time: Stewarts-Melville 2nd XV 31 Dundee Titans 38
In spite of the eventual closeness of the result, to this observer, this performance was among the best seen from the Titans in recent seasons. The dominance of the pack in the first half, the individual performances, the organisation and effectiveness of the defence, and the control exercised by Duncan Leese, were all very pleasing at this stage of the season and with such an unfamiliar line-up.
Although the Titans turned up with less than a full complement, Stew-Mel Chairman, Finlay Calder, graciously confirmed, post-match, that the result would stand as a bona fide league result, so, a five-point win and well done, the Titans!
Tries: Scott Lothian (2), Duncan Leese, Andrew Clarkson, Ruairdh Hood, penalty try.
Conversions: Duncan Leese (4)
Dundee Player of the Match: Duncan Leese