HELENSBURGH RFC toppled league leaders Oban Lorne 21-12 in a scintillating match at Ardencaple on Saturday, a game where just about everyone had written off their chances before a ball was kicked.

Down to a bare-bones 17 players, with the usual pre-match shuffles and shenanigans, and against the league’s early pace-setters, this looked a hard proposition for skipper Cammy Kerr’s men.

But as has been written before, this Helensburgh team has a steely determination under duress. A superb defensive display, built on better game management at eight, nine, 10 and 15, turned the form book upside down.

Yes, Oban Lorne were shorn of many players too, but this was a result that might just kick-start the Burgh’s season after losing a couple of eminently winnable games in September.

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Burgh were to the fore immediately which really set the tone; Cammy Kerr made several breenges to pin Oban in their own half, forcing them to transgress and Paul Howell kicked Burgh 3-0 ahead.

Oban replied with thrust: their pacy backs ran several slick moves and though Burgh might have dealt better with a speculative Garryowen, the Oban flanker wanted it more and ploughed over for an unconverted try.

After 15 minutes, Phil Ard worked the hard yards on halfway before Craig Bowman zinged the ball wide, where Sam King went on one of his trademark flailing runs, bursting tackles galore before feeding David Sterry, who drew the last man and popped it to Mark Kinsman to score in the corner. Howell missed the extras but it was 8-5 to Burgh.

The breathless opening quarter showed no sense of relenting; Oban looked like exploiting an overlap out-wide but spilled the pass to touch; showing a keen eye for the opportunity, Ali Rogers took a quick throw to Bowman who hefted the ball downfield. The chasing Craig Calderwood absolutely spannered the Oban full-back in a fair 50-50 collision, allowing Ben Farrar to scoop up the loose ball and scamper 40 metres under the posts, Howell converting for 15-5.

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Oban scored a second try after 21 minutes, simple pace and nice hands putting the same flanker over, which was converted for 15-12. At this stage, it looked like another high-scoring Ardencaple encounter was on the cards, but the match morphed into a war of attrition from here until the end of a fascinating, roiling, full-blooded rugby contest.

It was a heroic effort from all 17 Burgh players. Cammy Kerr – whose defensive exploits epitomised the Burgh grit all day – put in some devastatingly dominant dunts, while Ali Rogers surely prevented a try by being brave and sturdy over the ball in one ruck. Man-of-the-match Brian Jamieson was chopping guys twice his size around the fringes, and an exceptional effort by Sean Alton prevented a try in first-half injury time.

At the interval, there were some doom-mongers pitch-side wondering whether Oban were finally going to cut loose on the resumption. But instead, it was the home team that managed the game well, aided by the nous of Sterry and Howell.

Burgh stretched their lead after 47 minutes, Kerr’s Bison-like romp setting up a superb slicing break from Rogers which earned his side a penalty, Howell slotting it cleanly for 18-12. Oban were shell-shocked: this wasn’t in the script and as a result, they possibly tried too hard, spurning several clear-cut chances.

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Burgh had to defend like demons as wave after wave of Oban attack put pressure on tiring legs. On the hour, the Oban No.10 put a delicious grubber through which Sterry did well to defend before a hirpling Kerr and King repelled further forays by the visitors. Despite being shoved off every scrum, Burgh were still adventurous and Howell and Farrar were combining nicely on the blind-side, once taking play from within the Burgh 22 to within 10 metres of Oban’s line.

When the ball was recycled to the midfield, Calum O’Brien broke through and forced the infringement, and how the crowd howled as Howell calmly slotted another penalty after 65 minutes for 21-12.

Still Oban pressed and still Burgh held firm, one astonishing late effort from Sam King summing up their spirit when he made the tackle, leapt to his feet and out-rucked the Oban support to turn over possession.

Burgh are still light in playing numbers, have a horrific injury roster and remain callow in the wiles of senior rugby… but you can’t coach attitude like this, and that spirit was bottled in green and gold for this win.

This Saturday, Helensburgh are back on the road with a visit to Waysiders/Drumpellier, kick-off 3pm.

Captain Cammy Kerr said: “What a result. If only one guy hadn’t turned up and done his bit, we would have lost that match. For each passage of play, our guys put their hands up, chased, harried and won gold in the end. We were far better in our defensive sets, we just kept at them constantly which let nothing through.

“The boys played with fire and not giving up and every single small battle we won was because of desire. Rugby’s quite a simple game: you work hard and you get rewards and though we’ll have more battles this season like that, it’s all about just wanting to get better.”

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