Peterhead RFC fell at the first hurdle in the RBS North Regional Bowl despite a strong performance away to Inverness Craig Dunain on Saturday.
The Blue Toon, who recorded their strongest league finish in several seasons last term, lost out by one point to their Highland rivals.
From kick-off Peterhead dominated territory spending very little time in their own half in the first period with the bulk of the play taking place between the ten metre lines and in Inverness’s 22. The visitors came the closest to scoring a try in the first half as some clever work at the line-out, from around 18 metres out, saw the Peterhead pack rumble forward with Nathan Smith unlucky to be held up over the try line.
Peterhead did manage to get on the scoreboard during the first 40 minutes however through the boot of captain Daniel Smith. Under pressure from the Peterhead pack, at the breakdown the home side gave away several penalties with Smith kicking two of them over the posts to give his side a 0-6 advantage.
Inverness had a man sin-binned after his team were pulled up for several infringements but rather than make the one man advantage pay, Peterhead allowed Inverness to get their first points on the board, giving away a kickable penalty to take the score to 3-6 before half-time.
In a second half marked by controversial refereeing decisions the neutral spectators were treated to four tries. Peterhead were the first to cross the try line with fly-half Daniel Smith the scorer.
Taking a quick tap at a penalty from around 30 metres out, he ran through the Inverness defence to score under the posts before missing the conversion to take the score to 3-11. Inverness started to claw their way back into the game however and their pack pulled the team back into the game.
The front eight rumbled over the line before grounding the ball - a decision challenged by the Peterhead forwards who felt the ball had been held up. The try was converted to take the score to 10-11.
Soon after however Peterhead increased their lead. Fraserburgh-based player Adam Stephen ran a terrific line through the Inverness defence from 25 metres out to take the score to 10-16 with the normally reliable Daniel Smith missing his second conversion attempt of the day. With Peterhead looking to close the game out the series of bizarre refereeing decisions, which had affected the second-half. continued and played a key part in the second Inverness try.
Five metres out Inverness were awarded a scrum which was initially won against the head by Peterhead. In a perplexing refereeing decision Inverness were pulled up for feeding the scrum and the referee ordered the resetting of the scrum with an Inverness put in, rather than turning the ball over to Peterhead.
On their second attempt Inverness secured the ball and again rumbled forward strongly in the front eight.
After a few phases of play, Inverness managed to get across the Peterhead try line but, in strikingly similar circumstances to their first try, the ball looked to have been held up.
The referee however awarded the try, a decision again met by protests from the Peterhead pack. The conversion was scored to take the score to 17-16.
With minutes to go Peterhead tried to get forward and straight from kick-off James Scarisbrick looked odds-on to recover his own team’s kick. From the sidelines it appeared that Scarisbrick was deliberately taken out in the air by an opponent - a sending off offence - but the referee who was just metres away judged the situation differently and the big Number Eight was left lying motionless on the pitch as frustrations boiled over between the two teams just metres away.
In the seconds that remained Peterhead were unable to breach the Inverness defence and the home team came out on top.
Following the game Peterhead assistant coach Michael Reeves said: “It was an encouraging performance for the first game of the season and we will be expecting improvements to come in the coming weeks as we return to league action.”
Peterhead’s next game comes against away to the Aberdeen University on September 7.
Starting XV: Gary Cruden, Liam Bain, Michael Crowe, Ryan Rydderich, Nathan Smith, Freddie Thacker, Kris Chalmers, James Scarsbrick, Stevie Mckee, Dan Smith, Toby Johnson, Adam Stephen,Stuart Hollis, Nat Johnston, Ollie Christie. Subs: Ronnie Manning, Ewan Massie, Stuart Whyte, Ronald Needes