Stirling County 24
Southern Knights 24
COLIN RENTON @ Bridgehaugh
FIXTURE two in the 2021 Super6 competition was a match for a Friday night’s tense opener. This was a great advert for summer rugby, with two well-drilled sides keen to run the ball. In the end, the visitors were possibly slightly the happier with the added satisfaction of a four try bonus.
Knights coach Rob Chrystie was certainly in good fettle as he reflected on the outcome – a repeat of the score line when the sides met last season.
“There was loads of desire – we tried to play a bit and we created quite a lot of opportunities and we definitely put them under a lot of pressure so there’s a lot of positives to take from it,” he said. “We know there were mistakes and we just need to start ironing them out quickly if we can.”
He is conscious of the need to address those issues, given the short, intense nature of this tournament.
“We hope to get battle hardened pretty quick because we’re done in nine weeks,” he added. “It’s definitely going to take a collective group. I think we’re fortunate that we have good strength throughout the squad. We saw that – there wasn’t a drop off and the boys who came on added something, which is great.”
Overall, he was happy with the way his men scrapped to the final whistle, and he believes there will be other tight encounters over the coming weeks.
“The good thing about the Super6 competition is that you’ve got to play right up to the last minute. You’re not getting games where teams romp away. It’s good for the players and it’s good for the coaches as well.”
Chrystie’s counterpart Ben Cairns was equally satisfied, particularly as his squad’s build up was made trickier by the need for several players to self-isolate.
“We couldn’t fault our effort – defence, scrum and our work rate off the ball was great at times. We were a bit undercooked. We had a Covid case that shut us down for a few weeks and that didn’t help. We will get stronger in terms of fitness,” he said.
Of the result, he added: “You might say it was one that got away because we were up and they came back at the end. However, if you look at the way the last 20 minutes went, there was only one team with momentum. In the end we’re probably happy with the draw.”
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Knights raced into action and their early dominance should have brought rewards. However, despite being hemmed in, the solid home defence dealt with the onslaught and it took until the ninth minute before the pressure paid off. Jason Baggott booted a penalty into touch inside the County 22. A series of assaults on the home line failed to yield points before Baggott floated a pass out wide to Paddy Anderson, who dotted down in the corner for an unconverted score.
County had not yet visited opposition territory and when they did eventually venture forth, they showed a sharp eye for the whitewash. A close-range scrum was the foundation for their opening score. It was virtually a mirror image of the Knights’ score, with Marcus Holden’s long pass picking out Logan Totter and the winger racing over. That tied the scores, and Holden’s conversion nudged the hosts in front.
The gap grew in 18 minutes when Holden banged a penalty into touch, and Reyner Kennedy picked out James Pow then took the return pass before powering over, with Holden again adding the extras.
Knights managed to stem the tide and had another spell in the ascendancy but failed to add to their tally, and it was home side that was next to score. Again, a line-out was the platform and this time the ball was popped out to Grant Hughes, who stepped one way then cut back to slice through the Knights defence for a touchdown that Holden again converted.
The Borderers ensured they remained in the game by bagging a crucial seven points just before the break. A catch-and-drive from a close-range line-out looked set to create a score for Fraser Renwick. He was halted illegally just short of the target and the referee awarded a penalty try then despatched JP Phelan for 10 minutes in the sin-bin.
Knights restarted well but failed to capitalise and time was running out for them to profit from their numerical advantage when they finally found a way through. Once again, line-out was the foundation. Renwick threw in then joined the back of the mail and was driven over – Baggott fired over the conversion to leave a two point deficit.
County hit back with a penalty from Holden in 55 minutes but the playmaker’s contribution came to a painful halt shortly afterwards when he was helped off the pitch.
Knights raised the pace once more, but again failed to make the most of their greater share of the possession – a combination of a solid County defence and a mounting error count ensuring the score remained unchanged entering the final 10 minutes.
A strong finale saw the visitors to batter away at the home try-line, and their efforts paid off in the final minute when Craig Jackson raced through. His pass was knocked on by Tom Roche – who was yellow carded – and the resultant penalty was fired into touch. A powerful drive shunted back the County defence, allowing Russell Anderson to score. Baggott’s conversion attempt from wide on the left was off target, leaving the scores tied.
Stirling County: T Roche; S Hamilton, L Hayes, G Hughes, L Trotter; M Holden (A Goudie 61), C Korteweg; G Breese, R Kennedy (A Fraser 48), J Phelan, J Pow, B Bowes, G Arnott, C Gordon, A Mackie (C Cruikshank 69).
Southern Knights: J Jenkins; A Mitchell, N Godsmark, C Jackson, P Anderson; J Baggott, C Jones (M McAndrew 40); G Shiells (S Gunn 60), F Renwick (R Anderson 0), E McLaren (C Crookshanks 78) , J Head, D Suddon (A Runciman 48), D Redpath (H Borthwick 64), A Ferrie, I Moody.
Referee: I Kenny
Stirling County: Tries: Trotter, Kennedy, Hughes; Cons: Holden 3; Pen: Holden.
Southern Knights: Tries: P Anderson, Penalty Try, Renwick, Anderson; Con: Baggott.
Scoring sequence (Stirling first): 0-5; 5-5; 7-5, 12-5; 14-5; 19-5; 21-5; 21-10; 21-12 (h-t) 21-17; 21-19; 24-19; 24-24.
Yellow cards –
Stirling County: Phelan, Roche.
Man-of-the-Match: Impressive in the loose and tidy in his hooker’s duties, as well as finding his way on to the score-sheet, Fraser Renwick was the stand-out performer.
Talking point: Rob Chrystie believes that the quality of the squads in the tournament mean that easy wins will be rare. On the evidence of the opening two fixtures, few would argue with the Knights coach.