Stirling County 26
DOUGIE ROSS @ Bridgehaugh
STIRLING COUNTY managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory here with a second half defensive performance which let them down in an all-round exciting game of rugby.
Watsonians got what they deserved out of this match in the end after overcoming an 11-point deficit at half-time to secure a bonus point win which sees them climb to fifth in the table.
Despite a strong start from Watsonians, it was the home team who opened the scoring with a try from hooker Reyner Kennedy, who bulldozed over after a coolly managed period of possession. That score was converted by Jonny Hope.
With just over 10 minutes played, the visitors pulled back a penalty from scrum-half Ali Harris. Stirling will have wished they had followed their opponents’ lead by taking their penalty opportunities in the first half as they dominated possession and field position throughout the first half, but wasted two easy penalty kicks to go for the corner with no reward.
County did eventually make all that time in Watsonians’ half count with a try scored five minutes before the half, with flanker Shaun MacDonald crawling through an attempted tackle to touch down, meaning the teams went in 14-3 at half time.
Watsonians coach Stevie Lawrie will not have been happy with his team’s performance, but encouraged by the fact that they were still very much in the hunt.
The second half kicked off with Euan Dods installed at number eight for the visitors and his impact was obvious from the get-go as the men from Edinburgh went back to the good old fashioned ‘up the guts’ rugby.
But it was County who were the first to cross the line, this time Ewan Macgarvie scoring what might be in contention for try of the season. A dinky kick in behind the Watsonian defence from an on the move Jonny Hope saw Macgarvie kick ahead on the volley and dive on the loose ball ahead of his opposite man.
The try was fully deserved for Macgarvie whose jinking runs had been attacking highlights of the first half. The conversion was missed by the usually reliable Hope.
With just over 20 minutes to play it was time for Watsonians to start getting points on the board with their first of their quick-fire tries coming from flanker Gregor Nelson just under the posts. It was an easy kick for Ali Harris who would go on to finish the match with a 100% kicking record.
County were now struggling to contain a revitalised Watsonians attack, spearheaded by Rory Hutton (who had moved to 10) and centre DJ Innes. A driven line-out saw hooker Ross Graham go over, and with the conversion it was suddenly a two-point game.
Watsonians took the lead with just over 10 minutes to play as another period of heavy pressure on the County line saw second row Jamie Hodgson get in on the try scoring action.
Stirling’s defence was crumbling before the home crowd’s very eyes and it was almost straight from the kick-off that Watsonians’ found themselves with a three-on-one attacking situation, which let winger Michael Allen coolly stride over and place the ball down. With less than ten minutes to go, the try bonus point was in the bag.
A late revival from County was heartening, and a fourth try and bonus point were secured when second row Callum Hunter-Hill smashed over – but it was not enough.
Lawrie was happy with the win and the performance but recognised that the performance had needed to improve in the second half after a disappointing first 40.
“Full credit to Stirling, I thought they had a great first half. I’m sure they’ll be disappointed with how they defended in the second half but the game opened up which was pleasing to see,” he said.
“Rory (Hutton) made a difference when he went to 10 and the game was a lot more broken. The guys showed good character because we were a bit slower starting and Stirling played well in the first half.”
Stirling County coach Graeme Young said Stirling only had themselves to blame for this home defeat which sees them slip behind Watsonians to sixth I the league.
“First half was excellent – really good – we had field position, we had possession and I thought we controlled the game. We looked really patient and our scores came well,” he said. “But in the second half we came off a yard and I think the difference is we started letting them play. Defensively we didn’t have the same amount of line speed, we were waiting for them defensively which meant they had the initiative.”
Stirling County: J Hope; D Gilmour, R Curle, G Gilliland, E Macgarvie; G Hughes, P Jericevich; M MacDonald, R Kennedy, A Nicol, C Hunter-Hill, J Beech, H Burr, S MacDonald, R Leishman. Subs used: M Emmison, G Holburn, J Pow, H Henderson, M Donaldson.
Watsonians: W Thomson; M Bertram, R Hutton, D Innes, M Allen; M Scott, A Harris; N Fraser, R Graham, K Whyte, J Hodgson, C Borthwick, G Nelson, J Miller, M Fedo. Subs: D Miller, F Hobbis, E Dods, J Harrison, A Davidson.
Stirling: Tries: Kennedy, MacDonald, Macgarvie, Hunter-Hill; Cons: Hope 3.
Watsonians: Tries: Nelson, Graham, Hodgson, Allen; Cons: Harris 4; Pen: Harris .
Scoring sequence (Stirling County first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-3; 12-3; 14-3 (h-t) 19-3, 19-8; 19-10; 19-15; 19-17; 19-22; 19-24; 19-29; 19-31; 24-31; 26-31
Referee: Ian Kenny
Man-of-the-Match: He may have only played the second half, but Euan Dods made the difference for Watsonians’ in their excellent revival: getting into County’s faces, sticking it up his jumper in difficult situations and generally driving the visitors on to the win.
Talking point: Three late hits within five minutes at the end of the second half had both sets of fans up in arms, with only Stirling County’s two being penalised and no cards being shown.