Ayrshire Bulls 21
DAVID BARNES @ Millbrae
THE top team from the inaugural Super6 season carried that 16-month old momentum into the start of campaign two with a hard-fought and ultimately well-deserved win on the road against an Ayrshire Bulls side, who will fancy themselves to be genuine contenders again this year once they smooth out some rough edges.
“After year of building, it is disappointing to lose, especially at home because that is a big thing for us,” reflected Bulls head coach Pat MacArthur afterwards. “To be fair to Watsonians, they took their chances, they didn’t get many but they managed to score a few tries off a few errors, and kicked their goals.”
“We’re really happy with parts of our game. We had lots of possession and dictated the territory battle quite well, so there was a lot of positives in there, but that last part – that cutting-edge – wasn’t there. It will come so it doesn’t worry me.”
Opposite number Fergus Pringle reckoned that it was far from a complete performance by his side but he was pleased with the attitude and the way they managed the scoreboard, if not the pattern of play.
“It’s always tough coming down here and the first thing is you always have to be up for the physical challenge that Ayr pose, and I felt that we dealt with that quite well in the first 20 minutes because they really came out firing but we managed to get ourselves into a 10-0 lead,” he said.
“I just felt we struggled to get a foothold in the game because our line-out didn’t function that well in the first half hour and then there was just these spin-offs when we would make mistakes and give the ball back cheaply. So, although we had scoreboard pressure, we just couldn’t build much, but the most important thing is that the boys stuck in and stayed in the fight.
“To be honest, that game could have gone either way,” he added. “It is such fine margins and we know we need to be better set-piece wise. We have to move on quickly for Stirling next Friday, which is a five-day turnaround.”
The scrum was a proper pushing contest, but the line-out was a bit of a lottery early on, and it was after Bulls were penalised for pulling down a Watsonians jumper that Lee Millar nudged the visitors into a 12th minute 0-3 lead.
The visitors stretched their advantage to 10 points when the Bulls tried to move it from a scrum on halfway but lost control between the centres, and Lewis Berg swooped in then sent Harvey Elms on an unchallenged canter to the line, setting up an easy conversion for Millar.
Bulls got back into the game when Tom Williams and Blair MacPherson were both stopped short before the Matt Minogue made it third time lucky on the left, with the Australian stand-off slotting the conversion to his own try for good measure.
An excellent 45-metre penalty from Millar after a ruck rammy on the half hour kept Watsonians ticking over, and when Michael Badenhorst scooped up another dropped ball by the Bulls about five yards inside his own half you could see that the second-row had visions of going the distance, but the sun-kissed Millbrae turf began to feel like quick-sand under his feet and he ended up being pulled down just short of the 22 with no support on hand to carry the move on.
Ayr finally clicked as a backline with about five minutes left in the half, with Tom Jordan, Matt Davidson and Jordan Lenac combining to release Robbie Nairn on the left, but Jamie Forbes did well to push the former Glasgow Warriors’ winger’s foot into touch, meaning it was still 7-13 at the break.
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The players were lined-up to kick-off the second half when word reached them that they would have to wait five more minutes because FreeSport were not ready to restart their coverage, and when the action resumed it initially looked like the hosts had made more of the break.
Minogue boldly opted for a 55-metre penalty from inside his own half. He should be so lucky. His effort floated to the left of the posts.
Unperturbed, the Bulls kept squeezing the throttle, and they snatched the lead when open-side flanker Yaree Fantini – a former England 7s player – burst through the middle and George Thornton finished off from close range, with Minogue clipping over the extras.
Watsonians bounced back in style with Elms collecting from deep and running it back with real intent, gathering his own chip ahead up the right touchline and then sending Forbes under the posts with the sort of well-timed pass he will have honed during his recent spell representing Scotland on the World Rugby Sevens circuit.
Bulls bounced right back to reclaim the lead, with their pack rumbling all the way to just a few yards short of the Watsonians try-line before two long passes put Nairn over on the left. Minogue added the conversion in his last act of the match before being replaced by Christian Townsend.
Watsonians appeared to be running out of gas as the game moved into its final quarter, but they dug deep managed to work their way through a number of phases just inside the Bulls’ half, and when they picked up a high tackle penalty it allowed Millar to edge his team back in front.
And the Watsonians captain was on target again a few minutes later after Gavin Wilson was pinged for trying to collapse a line-out maul.
With five minutes to go, Bulls went hunting the try they needed. Aaron Tait nearly got away, but was pulled down by a brilliant last-gasp tackle from Sam Daly; then MacPherson put Fantini clear, but it was a forward pass; and then a rocket pass fired into Jordan’s chest bounced forward for a knock-on – giving Watsonians the scrum and the chance to see out the game.
Ayrshire Bulls: M Davidson; R Beattie (A Tait 35), T Williams, T Jordan, R Nairn; M Minogue (C Townsend 62), J Lenac (H Warr 71); G Thornton (R Sayce, 74), R Tanner (A McGuire 62), M Scott (C Henderson 57), T Everard, E Bloodworth (E Bulger 74), R Sweeney (G Wilson 66), Y Fantini, B MacPherson.
Watsonians: J Forbes (S King 77); L Macpherson, L Berg, D Coetzer, H Elms; L Millar, R Cullen; H Courtney (N Argiro 71), C Davies (R Graham 52), A Williams, K Van Niekerk (K Watt 41), M Badenhorst, K Main (C Wilson 52), H Fisher (L Ball 52), S Daly.
Referee: Finlay Brown
Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Minogue, Thornton, Nairn; Cons: Minogue 3.
Watsonians: Tries: Elms, Forbes; Cons: Millar 2; Pens: Millar 4.
Scoring sequence (Ayrshire Bulls first): 0-3; 0-8; 0-10; 5-10; 7-10; 7-13 (h-t) 12-13; 14-13; 14-18; 14-20; 19-20; 21-20; 21-23; 21-26.
Man-of-the-Match: Watsonians skipper Lee Millar was an assured presence, and kicked brilliantly – including six from six off the tee.
Talking point: Three matches down in this Super6 campaign and three tight results suggests that it really could be anyone’s league – but we’ll get a real idea of which squads have the depth to go all the way over the next three or four weeks as the games start coming thick and fast.