The Linden gained their first league win of the season against Portobello in more convincing fashion than the 22-5 scoreline suggests.
The Royal Blues came flying out the blocks, winning their own kick-off and playing through phases with runners coming on at pace. The high tempo caught Portobello offside and the home team elected to kick for the corner. From the lineout they were held up over the line resulting in an attacking scrum. A long pass was well picked up by Ross Armstrong who found Samisoni Rakabu and, with a lovely step, the full-back beat his man to sprint over.
Fellow Fijian Josataki Wakolo burst out of a maul in his own half to make a searing break and round the full-back. He found Greg Cunningham in support but the Linden were penalised at the breakdown.
Portobello’s first foray into the home 22 saw them drive a lineout but were turned over on the try line by Shaun Fairbairn who sprinted away and linked with Craig Mitchell who made further inroads into Portobello territory but, once again, a thrilling passage of play came to nothing.
The returning Terry Skeet had helped bolster the Royal Blues’ scrum which was in command, pressure forcing a number of heels against the head. When the home team was awarded a penalty close to the Portobello line, they opted for the scrum, but were then penalised and after 25 minutes of dominance they only held a 5-0 lead.
With the visitors never having been in the game at this point, as is often the way, they went up the other end and scored. Penalties against the Linden allowed field position to be gained, Porty pressurised the home line and eventually the defence was sucked in to create an overlap for their right winger to go over in the corner. There was much head-shaking amongst the home support at half-time at how their team could play such excellent rugby, hold the upper hand for the majority of the half and end up level at five-all.
The second half started badly with Cunningham taking a blow to the head and he was replaced by James Hogg. A second try eventually came for the home team when, from a steal at a Portobello scrum, Ryan Hamilton linked with Hogg, and quick ruck ball, then good hands, allowed Rakabu to go over for his second touchdown.
Gary Wardle collected the kick-off and, when the ball was set up, Wakolo came on a short ball for another great run. However, the big man saw yellow shortly after when interfering at the breakdown.
Despite being a man down, the Linden scored a third try. Rakabu intercepted deep in his own half, kicked and chased. When the home team reclaimed the ball, superb work between Stuart Williams and Conor Gracie allowed the former to loop his man and power up the stand side touchline and go over to great roars from the crowd.
The home team were now intent on gaining the bonus-point try and after sustained pressure on the Porty line looked like scoring until, not for the first time, they were penalised. The visitors ran the ball from their own line and some great play took them deep into the Linden 22, but the home team managed to hold out.
With five minutes remaining, the Royal Blues were awarded a free-kick and opted for a scrum. Armstrong ran a good line sucking defenders onto him and his offload to the supporting Fairbairn saw the skipper storm under the posts from 20 metres, for Nathan Mather to convert and complete the scoring.
Overall an excellent performance from the Linden who played some lovely rugby at times, particularly when they were able to lift the pace of the game. They were let down by too many mistakes and giving away too many penalties which meant the match wasn’t put to bed as early as it might have been. Credit to Portobello who also played some entertaining rugby and were a danger when they opened up.
The front row of Gilchrist, Mercer and Skeet deserve praise for setting a sound platform in the scrum, with Wakolo and Wardle prominent in the loose. Nathan Mather had his best game so far with some searching touch kicks and great passing to his three-quarters and Ross Armstrong showed up well on his return to a royal blue jersey.