Ayrshire Bulls 26
Future XV 19
DAVID MCADAM @ Millbrae
THERE was a palpable sense of disappointment among the Future XV playing group at the end of this match, and that spoke volumes for how well they had played. They could have won this game – they haven’t been able to say that often in a difficult first season – and their disappointment was testimony to the fact that they knew they had really stepped up.
For Scott Forrest, Future XV co-coach with Fergus Pringle, how close his charges had come was a source of both pride and frustration. |On the outside, that result may have surprised a few people, but within the group it is not a surprise,” he said. “Where we have struggled all season is consistency – in the availability of players, in regular training sessions, in a run of matches – now we have gone three weeks in a row with the same group of players and we see them improving game on game. Hopefully people will see now why we are doing this XV.”
When these teams met earlier in the season, Ayrshire Bulls won 40-0 and there was an ominous start to this game for the Future XV, when after just five minutes the Bulls won their own line-out and effortlessly mauled over for a try with prop Jamie Drummond claiming the score, and the reliable Brad Roderick-Evans knocking the conversion over for a 7-0 lead.
But the Future XV did not take long to hit back, and in doing so gave a clear indication that the narrative of this game was going to take a different course. When Johnny Morris won line-out ball at the tail, Fin Burgess spun the ball quickly to the muscular Kerr Yule at first receiver, who passed to the deeper sitting Isaac Coates, and he showed his passing skills with a long miss-pass to the prolific Amena Caqusau who finished clinically. With Coates adding the conversion it was 7-7 after 11 minutes and game on.
The Future XV were showing patience when they had ball, often going through four or five phases, before the Bulls seemed to inevitably win a turnover; when the Bulls had the ball the Future XV line speed in defence was impressive, but when Kerr Johnston sprung aggressively out of the line in the 26th minute, and missed his man, he left Luca Bardelli, intruding on his opposite wing, with the simple chance to put Thomas Glendinning over in the corner to restore Ayrshire Bulls lead at 12-7
Lewis McNamara was winning a lot of good line-out ball for the Bulls, and the home team’s scrum was proving dominant, but Morris was defending bravely at the base of a retreating set-piece, and his back-row colleagues Freddy Douglas and Tom Currie were competing bravely at the break down, as the Bulls struggled to put phases together to take control of the game.
Coates showed his full range of skills, with a 50-22 kick setting up a promising line-out for the Future XV, and a lovely grubber kick forcing Glendinning to carry over his own line under pressure from Caqusau, winning the Future XV a five-metre scrum. But despite these opportunities, the score remained 12-7 to the home side at half time.
Tom Banatvala came on at half-time for the Future XV and immediately showed his appetite for the game, with several strong aggressive carries, and a bit of a shift in momentum around the scrum. The Bulls brought on ‘the bomb squad’ five minutes into the half changing half their pack and their scrum-half, and while Fergus Johnston picked up the pace of clearances from their rucks and brought forwards and back on to the ball as willing runners, overall the replacements did not have the impact we might have expected for the home side.
After 16 minutes of the second half there was a bit of disquiet among the home crowd with more than one shouting “Come on Bulls! Raise your game!”, but it was the opposition who did that, with a line-out steal on halfway through Ryan Burke, followed by swift ball transfer through the backs’ hands to find Caqusau in the wide channel again, and from 30 metres out he again finished impressively with Coates converting his second try to give the Future XV the lead for the first time at 12-14.
Blair Macpherson looked a little embarrassed at this point and began to take the game to the Future XV single handedly. When substitute Rory Jackson rose highest in an attacking line-out for the Bulls, it was followed by a predictably powerful maul, from which substitute hooker Alex McGuire scored a text book try. Roderick-Evans again converted to give the Bulls a 19-14 lead with 15 minutes to go and the general feeling that the brave effort of the Future XV would end here.
But no one had told the players that, and instead they attacked at pace, first down the right side with Jerry Blyth Lafferty and Freddy Douglas both stretching the Bulls defence, and then down the left with another scintillating Caqusau break, which led to a fine try in the corner for Future XV substitute Callum Ferrie. That made it 19-19 with 12 minutes to go. Sadly in the course of setting up that try Caqusau was injured and had to leave the field prematurely.
Ayrshire Bulls had shown very little in their backs, but with 10 minutes left the sizeable Jamie Shedden at last found himself in space with the ball and headed purposefully for the line. Somehow the diminutive Jack Hocking with support from Johnston managed to keep him out and hopes of a first win for the Future XV remained a real possibility.
But it wasn’t to be: after fantastic scramble defence the Bulls won a scrum penalty in front of the posts and when Macpherson flicked the ball to Johnston, he needed no second invitation.
Both sides had used all their substitutes by this stage, which meant we had the joy of seeing the boy-man-mountain that is 17-year-old Ollie Blyth-Lafferty making an impact against the older but not any bigger Bulls forwards. He and his team-mates took the Bulls right to the wire, with Coates kicking through the defence for Fin Douglas to chase, but with the ball at his feet and the line beckoning, it just would not bounce up into arms and instead it bounced into the arms of the chasing Amino Bogidrau, who without a moment’s hesitation kicked it off the park to seal the win for a relieved home side.
Ayrshire Bulls coach Pat MacArthur was generous in his praise of the Future XV at full time. “Massive credit,” he said. “They fronted up physically with energy; there is a lot of talent in that team. They are getting better and better. The more time they spend together the better they get.”
But despite being run close by them he was not overly concerned about his own team. “We didn’t control the game properly today, which is disappointing, but we won’t be panicking,” he said. “We’ve got the home semi-final we were aiming for at the start of the season and we will be ready and firing and raring to go in two weeks’ time.”
Ayrshire Bulls: C Hyde; L Bardelli, J Shedden, O Horne, T Glendinning; B Roderick-Evans, R Cullen; J Drummond, R Tanner, C Miller, E Bloodworth, O Baird, R Sweeney, L McNamara, B McPherson. Subs used: A McGuire, W Farquhar, C Henderson, R Jackson, T Brown, F Johnston, C Townsend, A Bogidrau.
Future XV: J Hocking; F Watson, K Johnston, K Yule, A Caqusau; I Coates, F Burgess; R Deans, J Blyth-Lafferty, R Burke, R Hart, T Currie, Freddy Douglas, J Morris. Subs used: M Brogan, T Banatvala, O Blyth-Lafferty, C Nolan, C Ferrie, J Beveridge, M Urwin, Finn Douglas
Referee: Finlay Brown
Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Drummond, Glendinning, McGuire, Johnston; Cons: Roderick-Evans 3.
Futures XV: Tries: Caqusau 2, Ferrie; Cons: Coates 2.
Scoring sequence (Ayrshire Bulls first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 7-7; 12-7 (h-t) 12-12; 12-14; 17-14; 19-14; 19-19; 24-19; 26-19
Man-of-the-Match: The whole of the back-row had their moments for the Future XV, Fin Burgess had his best game of the season in shaping their game-plan from scrum half, and Tom Banatvala raised the energy levels in the seconnd half, but double try scorer Amena Caqusau had the Bulls defence anxious every time he got the ball, and he deservedly wins man of the match.
Talking point: If Scott Forrest and Fergus Pringle had access to this squad from the start of the season and enjoyed uninterrupted game time with them, the results might have looked different. Hopefully, with some consistency of selection now, facing the larger packs of Ayrshire Bulls, Watsonians and Heriots will stand them in good stead for the physical opposition they will encounter as Scotland Under-20s in the Six Nations.