STUART RUTHERFORD @ Mayfield
Stirling County advanced to the quarter-finals of the BT Cup after a clinical second-half performance saw away Caledonia rivals Dundee High on a cold, wet and windy day at Mayfield.
In a bruising battle, where both sets of forwards gave it their all, the visitors were able to power their way to victory after gaining a stranglehold on the set-pice, which was the basis of their attack. The match was well balanced at the break at 12-21, however, a superb second-half defensive showing shut out the hosts completely, whilst an additional three tries iced the game.
Stirling County head coach David Adamson was clearly delighted with how his side performed.
“We had a few errors in the first-half, which was understandable considering the conditions – but we spoke about it at the break and we came out and played a bit smarter, kept it tight and kicked at the right times. Our defensive line was great as well and to nil them in the second-half, on a day like today, was really pleasing,” he said.
It is the first time Stirling have reached the quarter-finals since losing to eventual winners Boroughmuir in 2014 and after heading out in the third round last year to Ayr, Adamson stressed how important a cup run is to the club.
“We were looking at past results and it isn’t something we have done particularly well in. Obviously we still want to push on in the league, but the Cup is something we feel we can do well in and we’re all really looking forward to the next round,” he explained.
With only nine points separating the two sides at half time, the match offered itself as an excellent opportunity for Dundee to not only reach the quarter finals for the first time since 2013, but to hold the bragging rights over Caledonia neighbours Stirling. However, it wasn’t to be and in the end Colin Sangster’s side were simply overpowered by the visitors.
“The set-piece was always going to be pretty crucial and I thought they were pretty on top in that area,” he admitted.
“I can’t fault the boys application, though, especially in defence where I thought we were fantastic. I thought there was maybe an opportunity to go on and win the game, but really our inability at the lineout held us back. We really did make some great line breaks throughout the match and maybe with a bit more support we could have put up some more points, but full credit has to go to Stirling.”
The match began with a knock-on from the visitors after only a handful of phases from the kick-off. Sloppy handling was to be a running theme throughout this dogged contest, but understandable considering the wretched conditions that battered the pitch as a rainstorm moved in from the Tay.
The resulting scrum was perhaps a foreshadowing of how Stirling were going to approach the tie. As Dundee fed the ball in, the powerful visiting pack engaged with such ferocity that Dundee were forced back at least four metres before the referee eventually blew his whistle. Stirling had clearly identified an early weakness, and they were to take advantage of the opponents’ lack of size upfront as the match progressed.
With a penalty on the halfway line, Ross Jones spiralled a fine kick to the corner and from there it was all down to Stirling’s ability to convert from set-piece. With Ruairidh Leishman gathering at the tail of the lineout, the ball was slowly worked to within inches of the whitewash before scrum-half Matt Donaldson neatly popped it to the onrushing Colin Hutton. From there, the prop was virtually unstoppable and he was able to spin himself over the line for the first try of the afternoon.
Dundee were not going to let the early setback spoil there hopes of a Cup upset, however, and they soon levelled the tie courtesy of a glaring error from visiting stand-off Jones. With Stirling in seemingly complete control and on the verge of mounting another try scoring attack, the ball was fed out to the Welshman, who looked to play a miss-one pass to Johnny Hope, who was awaiting in the outside channel. However, the pass was telegraphed and full credit has to go Andy Dymock who read the situation perfectly then sprinted 50 metres to score in the corner, and with Ewan Fox nailing the tricky conversion – with help from the upright – the game was tied.
With the visitors enjoying the majority of the possession and playing a physical brand of rugby, Dundee’s defence was being stretched to the limit, especially at the fringes of the breakdown, which Stirling were targeting with short angled lines. On one occasion it did appear as though Stirling were going to yet again take the lead, however, a thumping hit from Jack Broadley halted the Bridgehaugh men’s attack in it’s tracks.
But the pressure kept mounting and the visitors did eventually score their second try of the afternoon and this time it was down to the individual talents of Ruairidh Leishman. Following a poor clearance kick from Fox, the ball was eventually gathered and brought forward to the hosts twenty-two. With the visitors now on the front foot, the ball was played swiftly up the blindside to Stirling’s number eight, who was able to gather and grubber the ball in one instantaneous motion. With the ball bouncing over the try line, Leishman displayed his fleet-footedness by rounding his opposite man before diving in for the score.
With 30 minutes now played, it was apparent that Dundee’s struggles at set piece, and especially the lineout, weren’t just down to early match jitters. With Stirling’s two towers in the second row, Adam Sinclair and Stephan Yarrow, disrupting nearly every one of the home side’s throws, Dundee were unable to capitalise on advantageous field positions and they were made to pay when they conceded a third try of the afternoon.
Adam Sinclair broke from a maul before powering over his opposite number to extend his side’s lead. With Hope hitting his third conversion of the day, the score was now 21-7.
Dundee were not going to roll over and simply gift a BT Cup quarter-final berth to their Caley’ neighbours, however, and they were rewarded for their attacking efforts on the stroke of half-time. Following an excellent show-and-go from Fox, the ball was eventually worked into Stirling’s twenty-two. With the ball being quickly recycled by Dundee’s captain, Dymock, it was worked through the back-line’s hands before landing in the arms of Johnny Gibson, who was lurking on the wing. The prop showed winger-like finishing ability by fending off his defender before touching down in the corner to cut the lead to two scores.
If the first-half was the equivalent to a boxing points decision: two evenly matched sides, giving it their all. Then the second half was the equivalent of first round knock out.
Stirling came out all guns blazing and never looked back after Mike MacDonald powered over from yet another driven line-out. The moral of the story is to simply play to the conditions and this is something that Stirling excelled at. Even with a playmaker such as Jonny Hope playing at outside-centre, they kept it tight throughout the contest and largely played an error-free game. With bulky forwards such as Sinclair and Yarrow in their ranks, the Bridgehaugh side were able to rely on the boot of their crafty stand-off Jones, whilst taking advantage of their size at the line-outs.
Further tries from back-row Andrew Grant-Suttie and Jones stretched Stirling’s already sizeable lead, whilst their excellent drift and fringe defence kept the hosts out for the entirety of the second half.
Dundee, to their credit, never gave up and at times they played the far more attractive rugby. However, the gap between the Premiership and National One, in sheer size and physicality alone, was evident throughout and it was entirely right that it was Stirling who advanced to the quarter-finals.
Dundee High: F McKay; R Fairweather, D Leese, J Broadley, C Bowie; E Fox, A Dymock (c); J Gibson, C Mathieson, L McLean, J Anderson, G Arnott, C Strachan, D Turner, A Fraser. Subs: N Dymock, N Turnbull, A Clarkson, K Baretto, C O’Donnell.
Stirling County: L Bonar; S MacDonald, J Hope (c), A Black, L Trotter; R Jones, M Donaldson; M MacDonald, R Kennedy, C Hutton, A Sinclair, S Yarrow, A Grant-Suttie, M Emmison, R Leishman. Subs: L Brymer, C Black, M Anderson, C Turnbull, C Mundell.
Referee: Harry Walbaum
Dundee High: Tries: Dymock, Gibson; Con: Fox.
Stirling County: Tries: Hutton, Leishman, Sinclair, M MacDonald, Grant-Suttie, Jones; Cons: Hope 4.
Scoring Sequence (Dundee High first): 0-5; 0-7; 5-7; 7-7; 7-12; 7-14; 7-19; 7-21; 12-21 (h-t) 12-26; 12-28; 12-33; 12-38.
Man-of-the-Match: Stirling’s Ruairidh Leishman put in a tremendous performance, despite the treacherous conditions. The number eight not only scored a brilliant solo try but was able to leave his mark on the game at both set-piece and in the loose.
Talking Point: Could this be Stirling’s year in the BT Cup? Head coach David Adamson admitted that his side had highlighted the competition as a potential source of silverware and with performances like this, you wouldn’t bet against them.
Image courtesy: Jon Mussen