STUART RUTHERFORD @ Bridgehaugh
STIRLING are through to the semi-finals of the BT Cup for the first time in their history after a controversial last-minute penalty try saw them come from behind to defeat a Boroughmuir side, who will in-turn be devastated after fighting their way back from 22-5 down at the break to get themselves into a winning position.
From that commanding position at the break, the hosts inexplicably let Boroughmuir back into the match with a lackadaisical second-half performance which the visitors capitalised on to take a 25-31 lead going into the final minute.
However, with the last play of the game, Boroughmuir’s replacement winger, Aaron Purewal, illegally knocked a contested cross-field kick into touch, and referee Graeme Wells felt he had no other option but to award the cup-tie winning penalty try.
Stirling will now face Melrose in the semi-finals of this year’s BT Cup, a match head coach Dave Adamson is relieved to be in after side’s second half implosion.
“Everything seemed to work in the first-half, then I think we just got complacent. We lost sight of our goals and Borougmuir came out in the second-half and played the type of rugby they have shown all season,” he admitted.
“I think its pretty unlucky,” he added, referring to that controversial late penalty try. “Purewal came on and played really well, but I think its just a lack of understanding of the laws. You just can’t knock the ball off the pitch. Whether Logan Trotter was going to catch it is irrelevant as it is against the laws of the game, so I think it was the right decision in the end.”
For Boroughmuir, it was a hugely disappointing end to what was a magical comeback and head coach, Peter Wright, was proud of the way his players fought back, even if that last minute try was hard to take.
“I think the manner in which we conceded marred what was a fantastic comeback,” he said. “We were awful in the first-half – our forwards were awful and we couldn’t get any clean ball to our backs. But we had some stern words at half-time, made some changes, and we played a level of rugby that Stirling couldn’t cope with.”
“We got our noses in-front, a six point lead. But we knew that with a guy like Johnny Hope around we were never safe. In the end, they put up a hail-mary kick, our young lad on the wing panicked and illegally hit it out. It’s no fault of his – he played really well when he came on. In the end we did enough to win the game, but we just couldn’t get over that finish line.”
It was the hosts who started the brightest and they very nearly went ahead following an excellent show-and-go from Ross Jones. With possession in the visitor’s 22, the welsh stand-off threw a sumptuous dummy, leaving the Boroughmuir defence frozen it’s tracks, but he couldn’t finish it off – with only one man to beat, Jones was chopped down in his prime.
Nevertheless, Stirling did take the lead only moments later courtesy of a powerful rolling maul after the ball was secured at the tail of a line-out deep inside the visitors’ 22, before being popped to Mike MacDonald who arrived on a late loop.
Boroughmuir thought they had levelled proceedings when Ronan Kerr wriggled his way over from ten metres out, but Wells correctly judged that the outside-centre had in fact been tackled and held in the build up to the score. Then to make matters worse for the capital outfit, Dale Robertson was sent to the bin after the referee spotted the prop handling illegally whilst at the bottom of a ruck.
The visitors were made to pay for Robertson’s poor discipline as Stirling set about scoring two tries in the space of ten minutes. The first of these quick-fire scores came from Andrew Grant-Suttie, who did well to finish in the corner following an excellent run from winger Shaun MacDonald; whilst the second was down to the instinctive talents of Jones, who showcased a neat step inside, before diving over the whitewash.
Boroughmuir were clearly shellshocked by this flurry of tries, and it got worse for the capital outfit when Matt Donaldson ran in his side’s fourth try of the afternoon to set up what appeared to be an unassailable 22 point lead. However, with the last play of the first-half, Boroughmuir’s number eight, Craig Keddie, powered over from short yardage to give his side a shimmer of hope, in what had so far been an extremely one-sided Cup tie up until that stage.
Wright clearly despatched some strong words to his side at the break as the Meggetland outfit started the second-half like an entirely different beast altogether. They were more physical and played with a direct style of running that Stirling couldn’t cope with. Almost immediately, the visitors were able to eat into the first-half deficit with a quick thinking try from Robert Cairns. At a penalty awarded only yards out from the host’s try line, the winger caught the Stirling defence half-asleep with a quick tap-and-go, and from such a short distance, Cairns was nigh-on impossible to stop.
It was to get even better for the visitors only moments later. With their tails up and an attacking scrum in the host’s 22, they executed a fine set-piece move to catch the, now increasingly nervous, Stirling defence cold. Keddie threw a delightful delayed pass to Sam Johnson – a half-time replacement – and from there the scrum-half had the presence of mind to draw his man, before putting Purewal over in the corner.
The visitors were now in control. Dougie Steele – filling in for the absent Chris Laidlaw at stand-off – was beginning to stamp his authority on the match and when he made a half-break into the hosts’ 22, Cairns was on hand to take the offload. With one man to beat, the winger displayed his finishing abilities with an acrobatic score in the corner, which in turn sparked wild celebrations from the Boroughmuir bench. With Steele missing the resulting conversion, Stirling held a slender 25-24 lead.
Then, with five minutes to play, the visitors took an implausible lead, when Robertson squirmed over after several minutes of pressure on the Stirling line.
However, rugby as we know, can be a cruel sport and so it proved for Boroughmuir here. Stirling managed to work the ball deep into enemy territory with a series of dynamic pick-and goes and with the visiting team’s defence now stretched to it’s limits, the ball was recycled to Jones who lobbed a kick to the corner. With the ball in the air, both sides’ wingers – Logan Bonar and Purewal – attempted to grab possession, however, inexplicably Purewal illegally slapped the ball into touch, in what was the last play of the game.
With the home support baying for blood Wells awarded the penalty try and with Hope chipping over the simple conversion, Stirling escaped with an incredible win which sees them through to the BT Cup semi-finals.
Stirling: L Bonar; S MacDonald, J Hope (c), A Black, L Trotter; R Jones, M Donaldson; M MacDonald, R Kennedy, M Hunter, H Burr, A Sinclair, A Grant-Suttie, A Taylor, R Leishman. Subs: M Emmison, C Black, H Henderson, C Turnbull, C Mundell.
Boroughmuir: G Cannie; R Cairns, R Kerr, A Cox, J Edmunds; D Steele (c), B Mills; D Robertson, T King, T Gracie, C Atkinson, M Tweddle, A Mncube, D Coulter, C Keddie. Subs: S Clark, D Winning, R Woodland, S Johnson, A Purewal.
Referee: Graeme Wells
Stirling: Tries: MacDonald, Grant-Suttie, Jones, Donaldson; Pens: Hope; Cons: Hope 2
Boroughmuir: Tries: Keddie, Cairns 2, Purewal, Robertson Pens: Cons: Steele 3
Scoring Sequence (Stirling First): 5-0; 10-0; 15-0; 17-0; 22-0; 22-5 (h-t) 22-10; 22-12; 25-12; 25-17; 25-22; 25-24; 25-29; 25-31; 30-31; 32-31
Yellow cards –
Boroughmuir: Robertson, Purewal
Man-of-the-Match: Stirling’s Ross Jones did enough in a wonderful first-half performance to win the game. The Welsh fly-half made a number of breaks to set up his team-mates and scored a fine solo try.
Talking Point: Aaron Purewal’s last minute mistake will undoubtably be the talking point of the BT Cup quarter-finals, however, the young winger’s howler should not take the shine of what was a terrific match. Both sides gave it their all and Peter Wright should be proud of the way his side battled back.
Image Courtesy: Alastair Cunningham