GREENOCK Wanderers ended 2014 with another heavy defeat in the BT National League Second Division at Fort Matilda on Saturday when title contenders Howe of Fife put them to the sword with a fine performance full of attractive, free flowing and incisive rugby.

For the locals though there was a crumb of comfort in that they restored a semblance of credibility by more than halving the deficit inflicted in the previous encounter at Duffus Park earlier in the season, when they were humiliated by 108-0.

Both sides were under strength for this occasion and Wanderers were minus skipper Murray MacDonald, second row Matt Gray, prop forward Ryan McGhee and full back Leigh Tyley.

The visitors rested several of their top players but still had enough quality to comfortably see off the Wanderers’ challenge as they posted five goals and three tries in a competent and efficient display that once more highlighted the locals tackling frailties.

In defeat Wanderers were well served by a battling back row performance and Martin Lavelle, Anton Ward and Andy Love all did their level best to stem the tide.

Captain for the day Ally Abernethy also worked tirelessly in Wanderers’ cause as did scrum-half Andy McDougall.

The unfortunate reality was that Wanderers were outgunned in the set piece and outmanoeuvred in open play by a well-drilled Howe side that frankly appeared to be playing well within their comfort zone.

The game was barely a minute old when the visitors opened the scoring.

They kicked off, secured the ball, set up two quick-fire rucks then spread the play wide to right winger Ben Mitchell who sped over for a try.

The signs were ominous for Wanderers but they knuckled down to the task in hand and enjoyed their best spell of the game over the next 20 minutes.

Stand-off Kenny Diffenthal reduced the deficit with a penalty in the fourth minute, but Howe reasserted themselves on 20 minutes when left winger Marcus Black took advantage of some broken play and collected the ball to sprin in for the touch down.

Diffenthal once again narrowed the margin with a fine strike from a penalty wide on the left, but Wanderers let themselves down badly with some ineffective tackling in central midfield when visiting stand-off Dom Martin powered his way over from short range – with four Greenock defenders trailing in his wake.

Martin converted his own try and gave Howe a nice 17-6 cushion at the interval.

The second half was dominated by the Fifers as they went through the phases and exposed Wanderers’ tactical weaknesses and lack of appetite for the fray with some exquisite rugby.

Five unanswered tries followed as the ‘men in blue’ showed just why they are favourites to get promoted and win the championship.

Full-back Graeme Thomson had a field day and the first of his personal haul of four tries came in the 45th minute.

Swift ball transferance across the back line gave the powerful full-back possession and he came back on the scissors and cut through the wafer thin Wanderers’ defence from 30 metres out to touch down under the posts. Martin converted to secure the try-scoring bonus point and stretch the lead to 24-6.

Thereafter it was a rearguard action by the ‘west-enders’ as they worked hard to keep the score at a respectable level.

On 50 minutes, Thomson showed admirable pace in outstripping the Greenock defence to dot down wide on the left and two minutes later centre Fraser Clark carved his way through the centre channel to score under the posts. Martin converted Clark’s effort to increase the advantage to 36-6.

Even when reduced to 14 men on the hour mark, after scrum-half Stewart Lathangie, was sin-binned for a professional foul, the visitors still remained on top and added to their tally.

On 69 minutes, Thomson entered the line at pace off first phase possession and sliced his way through the Wanderers’ defence to secure his hat-trick. Martin’s conversion was a formality.

The final counter came in the 75th minute when another crisp handling move across the back line found the ‘try-happy’ full-back in space, this time wide on the right, and he added his fourth try of the contest by simply breezing in at the corner. Martin’s conversion this time brought up the half century.

Although another harsh lesson will have been learned by this Wanderers side, the attending crowd applauded what had been a sterling effort by the locals, who were up against it from the start.

Vice-president Stevie Anderson said: “I’m obviously not happy with the margin of defeat but I felt we worked hard today and the effort and commitment of the players was commendable” Wanderers now have a two week break over the festive season and are back in action with a rearranged league fixture on the 3rd January when they travel to Beveridge Park to face Kirkcaldy.

Wanderers are sponsored by Texas Instruments.