GARY HEATLY @ Bridgehaugh
PROP Mike MacDonald went over for a converted try in the 78th minute to give Stirling County a dramatic late win over Watsonians.
When Watsonians went 19-6 up on the hour mark it looked as if the points would be heading back to Myreside, but in a thrilling last quarter the home side showed their fighting spirit. They got back to 19-14 down and then kept their cool to go through the phases and allow MacDonald to go over under the posts. Full-back Jonny Hope converted and they held on.
What made the try more remarkable was that MacDonald had left the pitch at half-time to get stitches in a cut above his eye, but returned to be the hero.
This was a crucial match for County given that they started the match in eighth place in the table – and the manner of the comeback will give the players a big boost. It was also ‘Ladies Day’ at the club so the County players were given a rousing reception at full-time and no doubt the party continued into the night.
Their head coach David Adamson said: “I wasn’t sure what I was going to say to the boys at the end when we slipped to 19-6 down and looked like losing, but credit to them they fought back and in spells at the end we showed what a good team we can be. We need to use this win to build on and it could be huge for our season.”
His opposite number Marcus Di Rollo said: “That was very disappointing because for large parts of the game we controlled things, but we made some bad decisions and they proved costly. You cannot play for 75 minutes and switch off for five and expect to win rugby games.”
After torrential overnight and morning rain the pitch at Bridgehaugh was in remarkably good condition for this one, but things got off to a slow start. Both sides were trying to get used to the conditions in the early stages and it took until the 13th minute for anyone to get on the scoreboard.
It came through a try for Watsonians, back-row Diarmaid Dee making a good break into the County ‘22’ and when the ball was recycled quickly scrum-half Reiss Cullen fed stand-off Ewan Scott who went over. He could not convert his own try.
Five minutes later County got themselves into things when full-back Jonny Hope kicked a penalty and at the same time Scott went off injured for the visitors. That meant Mark Bertram coming onto the wing with Max McFarland moving to full-back and Andrew Chalmers to stand-off. The re-jig in the backline did not seem to upset the visitors too much and in the 21st minute they added their second try.The ball was spun wide on the right with McFarland coming into the line and he beat two poor tackles to go over for the score. Chalmers converted.
The end-to-end nature of things continued when Hope kicked his second penalty of the day on the 25 minute mark. Both sides were then guilty of being a bit sloppy in opposition territory. Yes, the ball was slippy, but in the next 10 minutes both sides built up good positions only to waste them with handling errors that could have been avoided.
With a number of scrums in the lead up to half-time and the majority of play taking place in 20 or so metres in the middle of the park, things began to drift. In the 39th minute County did get good field position and had an attacking scrum five metres out, but once again the chance came and went when the ball was lost in midfield. As a result it was 12-6 to Watsonians at the interval.
The visitors got off to a quick start in the second half, centre Tom Hart with a good break. Soon after Dee had to go off injured to be replaced by the former Stewart’s Melville man Fraser Morrison.
In the 50th minute the dangerous McFarland sparked an attack from his own half for Watsonians and good interplay between him and back-row Angus Duckett got them within 30 metres from the County line. Once again the move ended without points on the board and in the 57th minute County bolstered their ranks by bringing on replacements Shaun MacDonald and Matt Lamb.
It was Watsonians who scored next through Duckett as the match sprung into life. That forward-orientated close range try was converted by Chalmers, but two minutes later County gave themselves a lifeline.
It came after a great break by second-row Hamilton Burr, the ball being recycled and winger Craig Pringle going over in the 62nd minute. The try was unconverted and Burr was injured in the process, having to go off as a result.
Three minutes later, and with County having their tails up, Watsonians centre Hart was yellow carded for playing the ball on the ground from the wrong side. Hope kicked the resultant penalty and County were now just 19-14 down heading into the closing stages.
With six minutes remaining a number of forward bursts from close range saw Watsonians get very close to try number three. County’s scrambling defence held firm, but when the visitors were then awarded a penalty 25 metres out they should have kicked for goal or at least run the clock down and taken stock. They were a man down and if the kick had gone over they would have been eight points clear.
But replacement scrum-half Euan McKirdy took the quick tap and the charge eventually fizzled out – something they would soon regret. County got on the front foot and went up the other end, forward power eventually telling as MacDonald scored to spark celebrations. Hope converted and the home support were happy.
Stirling County: Try: Pringle, Mike MacDonald. Pens: Hope 3. Con: Hope.
Watsonians: Tries: Scott, Chalmers, Duckett. Cons: Chalmers 2.
Scoring sequence (Stirling County first): 0-5, 3-5, 3-10, 3-12, 6-12, 6-17, 6-19, 11-19, 14-19, 19-19, 21-19.
Yellow Cards –
Stirling County: J Hope; C Pringle, J Cresswell, F Lyle, RElliston; R Jones, N Kenatale; M MacDonald, R Kennedy, A Nicol, H Burr, C Hunter-Hill, R Leishman, S Robertson, H Henderson. Subs: M Emmison, C Hutton, S MacDonald, C Turnbull, M Lamb.
Watsonians: A Chalmers; K Young, D Innes, T Hart, M McFarland; E Scott, R Cullen; M Christie, S Crombie, N Borel, M Poole, C Borthwick, D Dee, A Duckett, E Dods. Subs: D Miller, C Eastwood, F Morrison, E McKirdy, M Bertram.
Referee: David Sutherland.
Man-of-the-match: County captain Callum Hunter-Hill showed why he is so important to his side. A calm head for a 19-year-old.
Talking point: County’s fighting spirit – their heads could have gone down at 19-6, but they kept going and took advantage of ‘Sonians errors.
Image courtesy: Alastair Cunningham