Stirling County 40
DAVID BARNES @ Bridgehaugh
THEY made life hard for themselves but Stirling County got there in the end. With a strong wind at their backs they were perhaps too eager to force the issue in the first half and lacked composure at key moments, which meant they went in at the break with just a narrow two-point lead. Then, after dominating the third quarter they took their foot off the gas and nearly paid a heavy price when conceding two quick-fire tries which briefly cost them the lead. But, ultimately, they had enough gas in the tank and firepower in the barrel to pull clear for a comfortable (although not commanding) victory.
“We gave away ten penalties in the first half which is just not good enough,” said County player-coach Peter Jericevich. “That let them get into the right areas and have opportunities to score. In the second half we came back and only gave away three penalties, so that’s why we managed 28 points. We need to learn from that next week and be more disciplined against Heriot’s.”
“We had opportunities to do some damage but would then knock-on when someone tried to force a pass which isn’t on, so it is about having a bit more control in our game, and having a bit more composure and discipline in defence.”
“It is about playing more as a tea and getting the ball to our dangerous players. But we need to make sure we do the hard yards first – make sure we get speed to the breakdown and get quick ball which allows us to play into the right areas.”
Marr took an early lead when a mix-up between Jericevich and County captain Jonny Hope gifted them a line-out ten yards from the home team’s line, and a powerful drive which allowed hooker Ollie Rossi to dive over.
That provided the spark which belatedly got the home team going, and they levelled the game two minute later when Logan Trotter came off his wing to burst past a weak tackle in midfield and score under the posts. Hope slotted the conversion to edge his team ahead.
It was harum-scarum stuff. There was a lot of snatched passes, hesitant decision-making and generally poor ball protection. Trotter broke from his wing again and drifted in field, but there was nobody in his slipstream to carry the move on as he looked to pop off the deck.
Kerr Gossman extended Stirling’s lead in the 22nd minute when he rode a tackle on the left wing and scrambled over, but still the home team struggled to settle into any sort rhythm. Hope uncharacteristically missed touch with a penalty which would have set up a perfect attacking line-out in the corner, and Marr did well to make sure the next set-piece was back deep inside County territory.
Home second-row Callum Hunter-Hill was shown a yellow-card just before the break for shoving Marr scrum-half Kaleem Barreto, and it got even worse for the hosts in the last play of the half, when yet another penalty conceded allowed Marr to kick to the corner, and set up a driven line-out from Mackenzie Pearce burst over the line.
The second half started in far more positive fashion for the home team. Full-back Logan Bonar, replacement hooker Matthew Emmison, number eight Ruairidh Leishman and blindside flanker Hamilton Burr all had big carries, but sloppiness at the breakdown cost them at least three promising attacking opportunities.
Marr stand-off Craig Kolarik was yellow-carded for hands in a ruck on his own line, and as he made his way to the touch-line he passed Hunter-Hill returning to the fray. Eventually, Stirling’s pressure told, when their dominant scrum earned a penalty try.
But rather than kicking on from here, the hosts shot themselves in the foot by dropping the ball in midfield straight from the restart and then allowing the powerful Tom Steven to burst through some pretty pedestrian tackling to pull a try straight back.
With their tails up, Marr came again. Inside centre Conor Bickerstaff burst from midfield and the excellent Barreto carried the move on. The teenage scrum-half was eventually halted under the shadow of the posts, but Marr recycled well and right wing Scott Bickertaff powered home a few phases later. Dougie Steele converted both tries to give the visitors a 19-24 lead.
Now it was Striling’s turn to bounce back, and they managed to do so with a second Gossman try; and this time they did not take their foot off the gas, with Leishman’s offload out of contact allowing Emmison to show the dancing feet of an outside back when bamboozling the last man on his way to the line.
Marr rallied briefly, but Stirling swallowed it up this time, and after Trotter and Ruairidh Swan combined to send Leishman up the left touch-line, they grabbed try number six through Reyner Kennedy at the back of a line-out drive.
To their credit, Marr battled to the end and they got their reward when Pearce scrambled over in the last play of the match.
Stirling County: L Bonar; L Trotter, R Curle, G Gilliland, K Gossman; J Hope, P Jericevich; M Macdonald, R Kennedy, G Holborn, C Hunter-Hill, J Beech, H Burr, C Fusaro, R Leishman. Subs: M Emmison, R Cheis, J Pow, S Macdonald, R Swan.
Marr: D Steele; S Bickerstaff, R Dalgleish, C Bickerstaff, T Steven; C Kolarik, K Barreto; G Jackson, O Rossie, W Farquhar, E Bulger, C Nisbet, B Johnston, M Pearce, R Miller. Subs used: G Jackson, C Craig, R Jackson, M Refydell, T Buchanan.
Stirling County: Try: Trotter, Gossman 2, Penalty Try, Emmison, Kennedy; Con: Hope 4.
Marr: Try: Rossie, Pearce 2. Steven, S Bickerstaff; Con: Steele.
Scoring sequence (Stirling first): 0-5; 5-5; 7-5; 12-5; 12-10 (h-t) 19-10; 19-15; 19-17; 19-22; 19-24; 24-24; 26-24; 31-24; 33-24; 38-24; 40-24; 40-29.
Yellow cards –
Stirling County: Hunter-Hill (39mins), Holborn (82mins)
Marr: Kolarik (47mins)
Referee: B Blain
Man-of-the-Match: Stirling County number eight Ruairidh Leishman made a lot of yards and was a pillar of composure when it was all getting a bit ragged.
Talking point: This victory lifts County to third in the table, but if results go against them next week they could theoretically drop to seventh – which team is going to step forward to lead the race to catch Melrose at the top of the table?