Bute Rugby Club showed signs of significant progress in a 33-14 friendly defeat at home to Bishopton on Saturday.
After some heavy downpours in the days before the match, the pitch was in perfect condition, getting a well deserved watering after a dry summer.
The game kicked off with Bute starting with only 14 players due to injuries and work commitments. Poor Colin Fulcher only made five minutes of the warm up before pulling a muscle in his leg, ruling him out for the day and leaving him a doubt for next week.
Bute started strongly, taking the game to Bishopton and playing the first ten minutes in their opponents’ half; the forwards dominated the rucks and gave the backs unusually clean ball to allow them the chance to run with it.
A good build up of play was worked by Bute, well into the opposition 22 metre line, but a knock on gave the opposition the ball; from that Bishopton cleared the scrum with a kick and won the lineout, with their backs running in a try, cutting a hole in the Bute defence.
The try was converted, and in a further blow to Bute player-coach Aidan Canavan went off injured with a dislocated finger, denying the hosts his experience and influence in the lineout.
Bute, now down to 13 players, rallied themselves and immediately put the pressure on Bishopton; from a scrum on the far side, scrum-half Stewart Bicker picked up and danced his way through the Bishopton defence, diving under the posts for a try which Kiwi Craig Brown converted to tie the score at 7-7.
Bishopton showed the benefits of playing regularly as a team with some dominant plays, drawing Bute from one side of the pitch to the other and finally bagging another converted try before the end of the first third to lead 14-7.
For the second third Bute were aided by the arrival of Andy Fielding, who boosted the scrum at wing-forward - but despite a talking-to from the Bute ‘old boys’, a fired-up Bute team were hit by a third converted Bishopton try almost directly from the kick-off.
The next phases of play were very even, with Bute pulling their weight in every part of the game - apart, surprisingly, from the scrum.
With some strong individual runs by Peter Fleming supported by the back row of Ron Rye, Ben Sayers and Fielding, Bute found themselves deep in enemy territory, and their effort was rewarded with a penalty on the five-metre line which Sam Lawrie took quickly but was held up short of the line.
The referee played advantage for the Bishopton players not being back on their line, and the whistle again blew for a penalty in the same position; this time, Bicker showed the initiative by taking the tap quickly and burrowing his way through the Bishopton forwards to score on the line.
Another Brown conversion took the score to 21-14, and Bute were further energised by Canavan’s return after having his injury treated in hospital to boost the Bute play both physically and vocally.
Both teams continued to fight hard, with Bute sniffing close to the visitors’ try-line on more than two occasions, but it was Bishopton who scored next to open up a 28-14 lead going into the final third.
The Bute scrum continued to be a problem - so much so that forty-something-year-old Robin Reid pulled on a Bute jersey to show the young boys how it was done.
Immediately there was a notable difference, but Bishopton’s presence kept Bute deep within their own half where the majority of the final five minutes were played.
Some body-crunching tackles came in from the likes of Alistair Reynolds and Paul Toop at centre, who were desperate not to concede another try.
Hit after hit also came from the forwards, who defended admirably around the fringes, however it was a wide ball that enabled Bishopton to break the Bute line one last time, adding a fifth try with no time left on the clock to bring the final score to 33-14.
Despite the result this was much improved performance from Bute, who hope to join the same league as Bishopton next season. Rucking, lineouts and defence were the best yet, showing that there is more potential in this young Bute squad.
Bute team: T. Connor (capt), K. Smith, J. Lyon, S. Lawrie, R. Rye, B. Sayers, P. Fleming, A. Canavan, A. Fielding, S. Bicker, C. Brown, A. Reynolds, P. Toop, G. Smith, M. Smith, R. Reid.
The team are always looking to welcome new and old players to training, which takes place every Tuesday at 6pm at Meadows.
Bute host Cumbernauld’s 2nd XV this coming Saturday, with a 2pm kick off. Supporters are always welcome to watch the game and join the players for a pint afterwards in Mac’s Bar. Players to meet at 12.45pm.