LEWIS STUART @ Bridgehaugh
A GOOD start for Stirling County and warning bells for Hawick as pack power made the difference. Hawick may have had the brighter backs, but as Nikki Walker, their coach, bemoaned afterwards, that makes no difference if they can’t get the ball.
“We did some good stuff in the first half, looked dangerous with the ball in hand, but without the ball we were not at the races,” he said. “We didn’t have any ball in the second half. We did not get our set piece going, the line out was poor, the scrum was not much better.
“We know if we do get the ball, we are dangerous, but that is what we are going to be up against all season. We are not the biggest of teams so we are going to have to find ways of winning possession.”
Different story for Stirling. They had spent the summer rebuilding and were not sure what to expect from their side. First priority, therefore, had to be to get the units to gel – both in attack and defence – and early on it was obvious just how much that was a work in progress.
They got sucked in by a series of forward drives so that Kirk Ford, the Hawick full back, had acres of space to head down the left touchline and score. County hit back immediately. Despite making a mess of an attacking line-out, they grabbed the ball and did to Hawick almost exactly what the Borderers had done to them, hammering up the middle to create space on the fringe with Matt Lamb, the wing, finishing.
Ford had converted his try but Jonny Hope, the County fly-half, missed – although he made amends a few minutes later with a penalty to give his side a short-lived lead. Problems with mis-communication continued when they got themselves into a promising scoring position only to pass straight to Darcy Graham, the Scotland Under 20 wing, who had a 90 metre run to the line but made it look easy.
It got even better for the Borderers when a sloppy kick gave them the chance to counter-attack, and with Graham again making the key injection, it was an easy run-in for Gary Johnstone, the centre.
At 19-8 ahead, you would have thought Hawick were ready to rumble, but the County spirit never wavered, drawing fulsome praise from David Adamson, their coach.
“We have a lot of new players and we knew Hawick would be tenacious. Still we played into their hands in the first half,” he said. “We regrouped, spoke about the things we could control. We have a lot of confidence.”
“We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves but when we went in at half time, we knew what was wrong. I was doing very little talking, it was very much player led. I’m happy it came off.”
Another Hope penalty brought the home side back into the game and with both sides making too many mistakes for much continuity, it was a simple missed tackle in midfield that handed Bruce Sorbie, the Stirling full back, an easy run-in to bring it back to a one-point game.
The second half was a totally different story as the Stirling forwards took a grip of proceedings, swinging it decisively in their favour.
It was not always pretty stuff but it was effective as Hope nudged his side ahead before his side camped on the Hawick line for most of the next 20 minutes. It says something for the communication problems in attack and the guts of the Hawick defence that it all resulted in only one try.
That came thanks to come neat offloading in the Stirling midfield after the forwards had again been held up trying to muscle their way over the line, with Ruaridh Leishman, the flanker motoring over for the score after Sorbie’s offload gave him the opening.
That turned out to be pretty much it. Hawick started to see a little more of the ball but by now desperation had set in with the usual catalogue of mistakes that always seem to accompany it.
Stirling County: Try: Lamb, Sorbie, Leishman. Cons: Hope 2. Pens: Hope 3.
Hawick: Tries: Ford, Graham, Johnstone. Cons: Ford 2.
Stirling County: B Sorbie (R Jones, 65); M Lamb, J Cresswell, R Elliston, C Pringle; J Hope, A Black (C Turbull, 72); M McDonald (M Hunter, 41), R Kennedy (M Emmison, 37), A Nicol, A Sinclair (H Burr, 39-58), C Hunter-Hill (C), A Taylor, S McDonald, R Leishman.
Hawick: K Ford; D Graham, G Johnstone (W Hamilton, 41), G Huggan (K Burton, 65), N McColm; A Weir, B Campbell; S Muir, F Renwick, C Mcintosh (M Landels, 47), R Hogg (A Horne, 35), M Robertson, R Gibson, S Graham (D Redpath, 65), B McNeil (C).
Referee: T Baker (Hong Kong)
Star man: Adam Sinclair led the way in the Stirling power game.
Image Craig Watson