STUART RUTHERFORD @ Malleny Park
A dramatic last-minute try from Charlie Shiel gave Currie their first league victory in a breathtaking contest at Malleny Park.
There is no doubt both coaches would have targeted this fixture as a potential victory after the two sides’ slow start to the Premiership season. Currie came into this encounter sitting in ninth with only a bonus point to their name, while Stirling have yet to win since the first day of the season where they took down strugglers Hawick.
It looked as though County were going to head back to Bridgehaugh with all available points when they went up by 16 points with only 15 minutes left, but a superb fightback from the home team gave them a deserved victory.
“I’m proud of the boys for the way they dug in towards the end to come back into this one,” Currie captain Ross Weston said. “We could have gone into our shells, but we kept playing our rugby and got the winning try at the death. The boys need to take belief from this and build from here.”
The first try of the afternoon arrived after 19 minutes and went the visitors’ way. After slowly working the ball into the Currie 22, the powerful County pack ran several pick-and-goes before recycling to fly-half Ross Jones. He threw an audacious dummy before ghosting through a tight gap in the home defence.
The hosts fought back immediately, however, proving that the cliche that you are at your most vulnerable after a score is sometimes correct. Stirling gave away a penalty straight from the kick-off, which Jamie Forbes nailed the kick to bring the home side closer.
In a strange passage of play, Currie then managed to lose both of their starting props, with Glasgow pro Jarrod Firth and AP McWilliam going off due to injury. However, this did not seem to deter them, and they took the lead after 33 minutes. Following a superb rolling maul from the back of a lineout, replacement prop Graeme Carson rumbled over from a metre out to leave the match evenly balanced at 8-7.
Currie’s joy was short-lived, however, and three minutes later they found themselves behind once again after a costly error from their mercurial fly-half. After receiving the ball on the halfway line Forbes threw a miss-one pass only to have it intercepted by Alex Taylor. The rangy No 8 did well to hold off several tackles before popping the ball to centre Fraser Lyle, who ran under the posts. Jonny Hope converted to put the visitors ahead.
On the stroke of half-time County extended their lead. After collecting an errant clearance, full-back Hope attempted to chip the ball into space but was chopped down by Currie’s pro Richie Vernon,who was lucky not to be sent to the bin. The home side were made to pay as the excellent Ross Jones hit the penalty from 50 metres to give David Adamson’s men a 17-8 half-time lead.
Currie coach Ben Cairns clearly gave his team a scolding at the break, as his boys came out fired up and had the majority of the possession to start the second half. It looked as though Forbes had got his team back into the contest when he intelligently took a quick tap penalty before diving in the corner. However, the linesman put his flag up, judging the fly-half had put a foot in touch, much to the annoyance of the home crowd.
Currie then brought on Dan Marek, a summer arrival from Bath academy, for Vernon, who appeared to have injured his shoulder. Marek only lasted five minutes before being sent to the bin for cheaply pulling back Nemia Kenatale (the Fijian scrum-half who was released by the Warriors for this match) who had attempted to take a quick tap penalty. This seemed to give County a boost, and they extended their lead against the run of play. After an excellent break from Jake Creswell, the centre skilfully offloaded to former Scotland Under-20 prop Adam Nicol, who dived over to extend the lead to what seemed like an unassailable 16-point margin at 24-8.
Currie had a never-say-die attitude all afternoon, however, and they got themselves straight back into the match. Following superb handling the ball was fed out wide to hooker Fergus Scott, who put in a chip that any stand-off would be proud of. The ball sat up nicely for back row Thomas Gordon to dive on to and give the home side a glimmer of hope heading into the last ten minutes.
Five minutes later, Currie really started to believe when they managed to work their way right back into the County 22. After a succession of short offloads the ball was fed back to Forbes, who threw a delightful inside ball to winger Cameron Gray, who crashed over to put the capital side in touching distance.
It looked as though County were going to sneak away with a victory after surviving a barrage of attacks from the home side, until the 80th minute when Currie pounced on an overthrown lineout and it was slung out wide, where scrum-half Charlie Shiel glided over to finally get Currie’s season up and running.
Currie: Tries: Carson, Gordon, Gray, Shiel. Cons: Forbes 2. Pen: Forbes.
Stirling County: Tries: Jones, Lyle, Nicol. Cons: Hope 3. Pen: Jones.
Currie: H Elms; C Davies, R Vernon, R Nelson, C Gray; J Forbes, C Shiel; AP McWilliam, F Scott, J Firth, H Bain, S Ainslie, R Davies, T Gordon, R Weston. Subs: G Carson, J Cox, D Marek, D Hall, R Snedden.
Stirling County: J Hope; C Pringle, J Cresswell, F Lyle, B Sorbie; R Jones, N Kenatale; C Hutton, R Kennedy, A Nicol, H Burr, A Sinclair, R Leishman, S McDonald, A Taylor. Subs: M Emmison, M Hunter, S Robertson, R Elliston, M Donaldson.
Referee: D McClement
Man of the Match: Thomas Gordon was exceptional at the breakdown and his try was a catalyst in Currie’s thrilling comeback.
Talking point: Both Glasgow pros Richie Vernon and Jarrod Firth went off injured.
Image courtesy: Ian Gidney