Mid Argyll RFC Alive And Not Kicking Enough At Rope Park

The one thing, perhaps the only thing I miss about living in Edinburgh is not being able to watch my rugby club, Stewart’s Melville, at Inverleith.  During the last five years, I’ve managed a few trips to Edinburgh on a Saturday, and anytime they’ve played in Glasgow.  But this season, they have no games that are within a reasonable driving distance of Powdermills.  Last weekend, Stewart’s Melville travelled to Gordonians, Aberdeen, as if to emphasize the point.  Of course, I follow them on social media, getting updates on the scores, but it’s not the same.

            I watched Mid-Argyll RFC playing at Rope Park, Lochgilphead, on Saturday.  We’ve been following their progress on the podcast Sue and Johnny – Everything and Anything, especially as they played their first competitive match in ten years two weeks ago.  The conditions were ideal for rugby; the skies were clear of clouds, and the autumnal sun threatened spectators and players with heat stroke, rather unusual for Argyll at any time of the year. 

I understand that Mid Argyll is struggling to find a permanent home, so I hope they can gain an agreement for Rope Park on a permanent basis.  Having travelled widely watching rugby, this was a natural amphitheatre that would make many senior clubs green with envy.  In fact, I couldn’t stop imagining a sevens tournament, beer tents and banter as a potential fundraiser for the club’s coffers.

Mid-Argyll were playing Hyndland RFC, based in Scotstoun, Glasgow.  Both teams were well matched, with the visitors having the pacier backs.  Their right winger scored a hat trick, which was the difference between the teams.  Mid-Argyll only looked vulnerable when the ball was passed wide to open spaces.  The home team lost 36-24; in some ways, the result was irrelevant, at least to me. The exciting fact is that local volunteers have resurrected a senior team after ten years. Judging by the many spectators cheering for the team, they’ve already created a following.  Again, such support would be the envy of many a more established team. 

For me, the game was a celebration of what makes rugby special.  Creating community and camaraderie with fellow players and supporters.  Mums, dads, girlfriends, women from the Mid-Argyll section supporting the team, and young kids chanting ‘Mid Argyll’ from behind the posts by the clubhouse.  In the foreground, boys and girls practised their skills with their rugby balls, imagining they’d be on that pitch one day.

I’m not close enough to club rugby now to know what support the Scottish Rugby Union are giving Mid-Argyll, but I didn’t see much evidence on Saturday.  And this is where they should focus funds to encourage and nurture rugby in an area not known for the game.  We need more men and women to play rugby.  When I was chairman of Stewart’s Melville mini and midi section, there wasn’t much support from the powers that be.  And there was even less when I was a director on the district board of Edinburgh Rugby.  Of course, this was around the turn of the century during the difficult transition from amateur to professional sport.  Regardless, the numbers playing have dropped despite what the SRU might want us to believe.  That’s why it’s exciting that Mid Argyll has re-started in the backdrop of covid 19.

 The support of the SRU is important in two aspects.  Firstly, the provision of referees.  These poor souls get ‘dogs abuse’ from the touchline.  They selflessly give up their Saturday, and they deserve respect.  And the referee on Saturday was excellent.  However, the tackle height didn’t seem to be enforced consistently.  World Rugby and the SRU are rightly targeting concussions, so it’s important that club rugby is as safe as it can be in a contact sport.   The second and related point was the provision of medical support.  There were two occasions where a Hyndland player was injured and took time to recover.  There didn’t seem to be a designated medic or physio pitch side.  However, there may have been, and I didn’t see them.    

I understand how difficult it is to organise proper medical support, especially at lower levels.  At Stew Mel, we’d have someone from St John’s ambulance service, a nurse, or a physio.  But that would involve payments.  That might be costly and impractical for small rugby clubs, but this is exactly where the SRU should step in with grants so that safety is given top priority.

 Finally, to the game.  Mid-Argyll could have won.  It’s a long time since I coached, and no doubt all my badges from the English Rugby Union and SRU are outdated, but some simple changes in tactics could have swung the match the home team’s way.  I’m not a fan of kicking in the modern game.  Nevertheless, had Mid-Argyll kicked behind the flat Hyndland defensive line in the first half, it would have put them under pressure, especially since Rope Park has a slope reminiscent of Easter Road.  Mid-Argyll has a strong pack, particularly the back row, and the No.8 is a powerful runner.  If he’d picked up from the base of the scrum and driven for the spaces on either side of the standoff, the team would have prospered.  Moreover, if he had been utilised in wider channels and two to three passes away from the breakdown, he would have been the difference between both teams.  However, this is all semantics and only shows the team’s potential, which is a good blend of youth, experience, and enthusiasm.

And it’s infectious, as it has made me want to watch their next match, home or away.  I fear the weather won’t be as accommodating in the coming months.  Of course, I’ll still be on social media checking out how Stewart’s Melville is doing but I’ll be on the touchline encouraging the black and yellow of Mid-Argyll on to a win.