A penalty with the last kick of the game saw Glasgow twice come from behind to snatch a 27-25 victory over St Andrews at University Park last Wednesday.
Finn Murphy looked to have stolen a first victory of the season for St Andrews with a penalty of his own 90 seconds earlier, but the Saints were caught out at the restart and the Glasgow fly-half held his nerve to give his side their third win of the season.
St Andrews came into the game on the back of four heavy BUCS defeats, conceding over 200 points and only scoring 34 themselves in 320 minutes of rugby, but easily matched their opponents in a tight opening 25 minutes.
Inconsistent refereeing, poor decision-making and sloppy handling meant the scoreboard was painfully bare with over a quarter of the game gone, both sides opting for touch when point-scoring opportunities presented themselves.
Glasgow unsuccessfully went for goal on 26 minutes; a miss they would go on to rue. St Andrews got the first score of the game five minutes later through TJ Akinjobi, who dotted down after a spell of consistent pressure from the home side.
Murphy made the conversion and from the restart St Andrews continued to turn the screw. Captain Roland Walker, making his first appearance since Varsity, spotted a dogleg in the defence and made good yards before offloading to Scott MacGregor who pushed the Saints lead out to 14.
Glasgow did manage to a converted score on the stroke of half-time to wrest momentum from the home side, and they soon pulled themselves to within two points after scoring directly at the beginning of the second period.
With parity almost restored, the game ebbed back-and-forth in the second half, punctuated by some of the worst refereeing I’ve witnessed at this level. A penalty for Murphy put the lead out to five before Glasgow scored. Or it appeared they did – St Andrews players and fans alike protested that the Glasgow man touched the ball down short of the line but the score was awarded, making it 17-17 with almost half an hour to play.
If that try gave Glasgow a push in the right direction, the referee’s call on 57 minutes gave them a firm shove towards victory. Saints fly-half Murphy was sinbinned for tackling without the arms, despite making clear use of his arms and the Glasgow player jumping into the tackle.
A one-man disadvantage would deter teams made of lesser stuff, but the blue wall of St Andrews stood resolute in defence, only to be foiled by more slipshod refereeing. Despite being clearly held in the tackle, the referee allowed the Glasgow forward to keep moving and from the prevailing disarray the away side notched up their fourth score of the game to move 24-17 ahead; their first lead of the game.
Injuries and player turnover have hindered St Andrews this season, and in previous games that kind of setback would have been the death knell for their hopes, but this game was different. There was a resolve, a togetherness not seen in previous games. These players were fighting for each other and fighting to prove that they were every bit as good as their rivals from Scotland’s most populous city.
A superb run from Scott MacGregor got Saints some territory, before the forwards embarked on a campaign of attrition. Five consecutive reset scrums, all won by St Andrews (the ref’s failure to award a penalty try was baffling) wore down a visibly tired Glasgow, allowing Alex Whyte to score in the corner.
The following conversion was tough and Murphy missed, meaning St Andrews still needed another score to win the game, something they thought they’d managed just minutes later through Murphy’s successful penalty.
Sport is full of highs and lows and the final 90 seconds encapsulated that. The sheer joy when Murphy’s penalty sailed squarely between the posts gave the players hope of a well-earned first victory of the season was replaced by a deathly silence when the referee’s whistle blew for what would be Glasgow’s match-winning kick. When the white flags went up, they all knew. They’d come within spitting distance of the finish line and they’d lost it. Some dropped to their knees, some hung their heads, some looked round in despair. The feeling was the same – another loss, another setback.
There were some of the mistakes that have so defined St Andrews Rugby this season, yet there were also glimpses of last season’s swashbuckling St Andrews team, carving their opponents apart at will. Make no mistake, should those 23 show the same heart, desire and passion they did last week in every game this season, wins are not far away.