Ayrshire Bulls 24
Stirling Wolves 13
GAVIN HARPER @ Millbrae
AYRSHIRE BULLS dominated the first half and held off a spirited comeback after the break to maintain their perfect start to the Super Series Sprint campaign. Victorious head coach Pat MacArthur was pleased to see his team hold on amid a raft of injuries that disrupted his side, particularly behind the scrum.
“We ended up with a scrum-half on the wing, a 12 at 13 and a few changes, so credit to the lads,” he said. “Stirling are a much-improved team. They are direct, physical. It was always going to be a kick back into gear after a big win last week, but we went for them physically.
“Teams know how we play, and I’m happy with that, but we just try and do it at an intensity that provides us go-forward. Now we’ve got backs that can now turn it on.”
Stirling Wolves head coach Eddie Pollock was frustrated to leave Ayrshire with nothing. He said: “I thought it was a great game. We were unlucky with a few things in the first half but we played with a real purpose and pace.
“We were very close to winning that game. With 10 or 12 minutes to go, it was all us. We knocked on three metres out and if we’d scored there, I think we’d have won. It was a fantastic effort from the boys.”
A miss-hit drop-out from Marcus Holden gave the home side early territory, and after a good carry from Lewis McNamara in midfield, they worked the ball to Luca Bardelli who went over for the game’s first try. Richie Simpson landed the extras.
The visitors struck back almost immediately when, following a wayward line-out from former Scotland hooker Grant Stewart, Ryan Southern slalomed through the Bulls defence. A couple of phases later, the hosts strayed offside, allowing Holden to cut the deficit.
The opening quarter was a scrappy affair with neither side able to dominate either territory or possession. The visitors will perhaps rue ref Michael Todd‘s decision to whistle try-scorer Bardelli when they had won the ball and had numbers over.
Moments later, the Wolves forwards were penalised for not retreating following Glenn Bryce‘s kick. From the resulting line-out, Bryce was yellow-carded after being judged to have deliberately knocked on in denying Bardelli a second try. The hosts capitalised on the man advantage immediately as Stewart drove over.
The visitors then enjoyed their best spell of the half, but the move ultimately came to nothing after a handling error.
With Stirling still a man down, the home side attacked from deep, with Eli Caven making the initial burst before finding Tom Glendinning. He was hauled down by Craig Jardine, but the home side won a penalty with the visitors holding on.
As was the established pattern, that allowed the Bulls territory and again they were patient, with McNamara and captain Blair Macpherson prominent in the tight, before Simpson and Caven helped put Bardelli over for his second. Simpson converted again.
It felt like the visitors needed to score next to avoid this one getting away from them. They delivered five minutes before the break, shortly after the Bulls lost McNamara to the sin-bin for collapsing a maul. Led by the impressive Benedict Grant, the visitors built some momentum and Holden powered over in the corner. Macpherson was also sent to the sin-bin as the first half drew to a close.
After a stop-start spell to begin the second half, the home side struck first to take control. Their maul was again the avenue from which hooker Stewart went over for his second try. The visitors earned a chance to respond straight away, but replacement Craig Jackson overhit his penalty to touch.
Wolves, buoyed by the introduction of a raft of replacements, did hit back when a well-timed pass from Jake Spurway sent Grant into space, before quick ball put Kory Winters over out wide.
Momentum was with the Wolves, but mistakes at key moments –like a spill from Grant and a stolen line-out just shy of the Bulls line – proved costly in their search for at least a losing bonus point.
Ayrshire Bulls: E Caven (R Cullen 31); T Glendinning, B Beattie (Yule 48), C Elliot, L Bardelli; R Simpson (A Fitch 40), G Baird; A Nimmo (W Farquhar 40), G Stewart, C Henderson (C Miller 49), E Bloodworth, L McNamara (Jackson 49) , R Sweeney, B Jardine (T Brown 49) B Macpherson©.
Stirling Wolves: G Bryce; S Hamilton, R Southern, C Jardine, K Winters; M Holden © (C Jackson 53), K McGhie (J Imrie 79); G Breese (A Woods 59), G Hiddleston (R Kennedy 64), M Tomasaitis (L Quarm 79), H Ferguson, J Pow (R Hart 57), R Knott (J Spurway 53), C Gordon co-©, B Grant.
Referee: M Todd.
Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Bardelli (2), Stewart (2); Cons: Simpson (2)
Stirling Wolves: Tries: Holden, Winters. Pen: Holden.
Scoring sequence (Bulls first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-3, 12-3, 17-3, 19-3, 19-8 (h-t) 24-8, 24-13.
Yellow cards –
Ayrshire Bulls: Macpherson (35 mins), McNamara (38 mins).
Stirling Wolves: Bryce (16 mins)
Man of the Match: Bulls winger Luca Bardelli edges Grant Stewart as the pick of the bunch. Excellent off the ball and in defence, the former GHA man was a danger whenever he found space, and he finished his tries superbly.
Talking point: After a scrappy start to the second half, Grant Stewart’s second try came at a crucial time and just took the game away from the visitors.