Twenty two Annan players stood justly proud on Saturday in the centre circle after as scintillating a game of club rugby seen on the Murrayfield pitch. A view not only expressed by this slightly biased correspondent but also the national press. Annan’s display was one of the best for some time, which along with Annan’s magnificent passionate vocal support coupled with the Irvine display on the pitch and equally terrific vocal support made this a day to remember for both clubs. A support, which as indicated in one of the national newspaper reports, ‘frankly put the support in the (Cup) final to shame’.
In the opening quarter of the game, with the Irvine forwards, displaying plenty of controlled aggression, and generally in control, only resolute Annan defence kept the Annan line intact but their efforts were rewarded when the Irvine standoff slotted a magnificent drop goal from well outside the Annan 22 to take a 3 point lead after 10 minutes. The Annan defence in this period and infact for the entire 80 minutes was immense as they soaked up drive after drive by the well organised Irvine pack.
Stand off Niall Smith got Annan back on level terms in the 25th minute when the Irvine backs conceded a penalty when they were caught offside. Irvine showed that they were more than a purely forward orientated team when from a lineout following a penalty the ball was spun out to the Irvine left wing who was just prevented from scoring by a terrific tackle from winger Michael Anderson. This let off seemed to inspire Annan as following a break out of defence by centre Mike Rennie they looked certain to score the opening try but were penalised two metres short of the line for handling in the ensuing ruck.
With Niall Smith missing a penalty on the half hour mark the remainder of the half provided a superb exhibition of defensive play by both teams. Half Time score 3-3.
Right from the restart the Annan forwards laid siege to the Irvine line and within the opening minute it looked as if they had scored the first try when centre Mike Rennie looked to have breached the whitewash but with the referee unsighted the score was chalked off. Annan were not to be denied however when minutes later they were awarded a penalty. Spurning the kick for goal Annan instead opted for a lineout 5 metres from the line. From the throw in the forwards rumbled for the line with first lock Billy Henderson in control and then in his now trademark fashion prop Colin Warrick burrowed over to score Annan’s first try which Niall Smith failed to convert.
Annan visibly upped their efforts and they put the Irvine defence under immense pressure and in a superb move from a ruck within the Irvine 22 Niall Smith found a gap in the Irvine defence and finding Bill Henderson on his elbow for the lock to offload the ball with an overhead pass to wing forward Andy Renwick to score a crucial try. Although Niall Smith failed in his conversion attempt he atoned for his miss with a successful penalty minutes later to give Annan a healthy 16-6 lead.
The best try of the day came along minutes later when Mike Rennie finished of a terrific move by the Annan backs in concert with the forwards with centre Andy Render putting in a gem of a pass to his co-centre to score. Niall Smith converted the try and Annan were home and dry. Irvine to their credit never gave up and threw everything into the final minutes of the game and were rewarded with a try in the 80th minute which was converted to take the final score to Annan 23 Irvine 13 and the rest is history as they say!
In the last ten minutes within the friendly spirit of the game Annan and Irvine gave all of their replacements a chance to savour the unique Murrayfield experience. One particular moment to savour was the sight of veteran lock Ian ‘Tam’ Thorburn taking the field as he had played his first game for Annan when this correspondent was playing his last.
The final whistle brought some great scenes of jubilation both on the pitch and in the West Stand as Annan Captain Stuart Williamson raised the BT Bowl aloft. The celebrations, however, were only just beginning as the massive Annan party began. The icing on the cake for a great performance was the Man of the Match Award made to the ebullient Michael Rennie. A lot of credit must go to the valiant effort put in to the overall spectacle of the BT Bowl final by Irvine who pushed Annan all the way.
The effort, which Irvine put into the first half perhaps was ultimately their undoing as the energy expended began to show in the second half as the fitter Annan team began to exercise control.
The journey home and the welcome in the Annan clubhouse for their heroes was one, which all involved will savour for the rest of their lives. It has to be said that several tears were shed by some of the older members of the club who perhaps realised that they may never see the likes again but are willing to hope they may.
Annan Squad: 1. P. O’Donnell (J. Tinning 55min, M. Forbes 76 min)) 2. P. Carruthers 3. C. Warrick (J. Carlyle 67 min) 4. G. Smith ( I. Thorburn 78 min) 5. W. Henderson 6. A. Renwick 7. P. Minto (N. Moffat 79 min) 8. S. Clanachan 9. B. Graham 10. N. Smith 11. S. Williamson (C) 12. M. Rennie (C. McCann 79 min) 13. A. Render 14. M. Anderson (B. Hay 75 min) 15. A. Eggleton
Replacements: 16. M. Forbes 17. J. Tinning 18. J. Carlyle 19. I. Thorburn 20. N. Moffat 21. C. McCann 22. B. Hay