Super Series play-off: Ayrshire Bulls recover from first half wobble to defeat Watsonians

Pat MacArthur's side will face Stirling Wolves in next weekend's Championship final

Chris Elliot on the ball for Ayrshire Bulls versus Watsonians. Image: George McMillan
Chris Elliot on the ball for Ayrshire Bulls versus Watsonians. Image: George McMillan

Ayrshire Bulls 38

Watsonians 22

IAIN HAY@ Millbrae

AYRSHIRE BULLS earned the right to defend their Super Series title against Stirling Wolves next week by dominating the second half to see off Watsonians, but only after an almighty scare from Watsonians who led three tries-to-one midway through the first half.

“Over the 80 minutes, I thought that was a very fast, physical, structured game of rugby from both teams,” said a smiling Pat McArthur afterwards. “Finals games are always on a knife-edge for some of the time. Thankfully, we managed to come in at half-time [with the scores tied at 19-19], regroup, see what we’ve been training on, and where the spaces are.

Bulls had taken the lead after a smart kicking option by Reiss Cullen led to an overthrown Watsonians’ line-out, the scrum-half also delivering the killer mis-pass for Jamie Shedden to score in the left-hand corner, but Watonians hit back with a barrage of counter-blows to stun the hosts and defending champions.


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Watsonians only threat before Shedden’s opener had come from charging down a Brad Roderick-Evans kick, but they soon levelled proceedings when Dom Coetzer, playing with penalty advantage, stepped inside Roderick-Evans and then sent the pass back to Connor McAlpine to race away and score.

Coetzer then put Watsonians ahead when he intercepted Bobby Beattie’s pass and sprinted down the left-wing all the way to the try-line, although Lee Millar was unable to add the conversion extras this time thanks to Luca Bardelli charging down the attempt.

Shortly afterwards, a huge hit on Beattie by Neil Irvine-Hess turned possession over to Watsonians, who duly showed impressive composure to recycle and wait for the gap to emerge. Millar to Lewis Berg; Berg to Freddie Owsley; Owsley to George Pringle: try in the right corner, and Millbrae was stunned.

However, the reigning champions make a habit of winning at home, and the Millbrae faithful were soon cheering as almost straight from the restart Ollie Horne took a quick line-out which opened enough room for Bardelli to motor home. And then, with the break approaching, a Bulls’ penalty –  awarded after Seb Cecil had turned his back on a leaping Shedden, causing him to fall awkwardly – went to the left-corner, Bulls sent it right, through their backs, and Chris Elliot’s smart offload let Shedden stroll over, with Roderick-Evans conversion levelling the scores at 19-apiece before hitting the sheds for half-time.

Strong carries by Irvine-Hess and Berg at the beginning of the second half won Watsonians a penalty which Millar slotted right between the sticks, however, the start did not foretell the remainder of the half, as it was the last time Watsonians were in the lead, and also turned out to be their last points.

Bulls’ scrum had had Watsonians under pressure throughout, and now they were on skates. The penalty went to the corner, another penalty was awarded for side entry to the maul, and then Watsonians needlessly saw themselves down to 14 men for ten minutes.

While playing with the penalty advantage, Roderick-Evans had tried to squeeze himself in at the right-corner but was marshalled into touch, only for McAlpine to come in late and drop onto him. A scuffle ensued and after a discussion with his assistant, referee David Sutherland reached for the yellow card, and the Bulls took full advantage.

 

First, captain Blair Macpherson scored a pushover scrum try, and then replacement loose-head Jamie Drummond burrowed over from close range.

Another Cecil indiscretion, this time for tackling Lewis McNamara without the ball, offered Roderick-Evans a long-range pop at goal which, if successful, would see the Bulls open up a 14 point lead.

The kick faded just right of the posts but an excellent chase and tackle from Tim Brown saw Bulls win possession back just a few metres from the Watsonians line, and Drummond again managed to get over the whitewash to finish off any lingering hopes of a comeback.

“First 20 minutes we were in the contest and there was some good stuff and then, essentially, they’ve just ‘out-Ayred’ us,” offered Watsonians head coach Nikki Walker afterwards.

“That’s what you get when you play Ayr at home. They had dominance up front, scrum and maul, and they were winning penalties at scrums, kicking to corners and putting on more pressure, and we just didn’t withstand that well enough.

“You have to manage the game almost perfectly to keep them at arms-length and we just didn’t do that well enough to stay in the contest.”

Reviewing his first full season in charge, Walker said: “I’ve enjoyed it. We’ve got better, we’ve been a little bit disjointed, had a lot of injuries. We’ve played most of the season with three props and having to find one to fill in most weeks. I believe that when we’re at our best we’re as good as anyone in the league but if we’re slightly off, our lowest level of performance probably isn’t as good as Ayr or Heriot’s lowest level, so consistently over the year we’ve probably deserved to finish third.”

Bulls will go into next week as favourites over the mercurial Wolves but, as we’ve come to expect from MacArthur, he won’t be taking the challenge lightly.

“I’ve said it every time we’ve played Stirling: they are a quality team that expects to turn over big teams,” he said. “On paper: outstanding. They’re physical, a lot of good attributes – some similar attributes to us, I would say – and every time we’ve come away with wins it’s been a helluva relief, so I expect a really physical encounter again.”

 

Teams –

Ayrshire Bulls: O Horne; J Shedden, C Elliot, R Beattie, L Bardelli; B Roderick-Evans, R Cullen; A Nimmo, A McGuire, C Henderson, E Bloodworth, R Jackson, R Sweeney, L McNamara, B Macpherson©. Substitutes: R Tanner, J Drummond, C Miller, O Baird, T Brown, F Johnston, C Townsend, T Glendinning.

Watsonians: D Coetzer; G Pringle, L Berg, S King, F Owsley; L Millar, C McAlpine; C Davidson, J Kerr, G Scougall, L Ball, K van Niekerk, S Cecil, K Main, N Irvine-Hess©. Substitues: P Harrison, D Voas, B Bratton, K Watt, A Scopes, F Duraj, M McAndrew, J Baggott.

Referee: David Sutherland

 

Scorers –

Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Shedden 2, Bardelli, Macpherson, Drummond 2; Cons: Roderick-Evans 4.

Watsonians: Tries: McAlpine, Coetzer, Pringle; Cons: Millar 2; Pens: Millar.

Scoring sequence (Ayrshire Bulls): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 7-7; 7-12; 7-17; 7-19; 12-19; 17-19; 19-19 (h-t) 19-22; 24-22; 26-22; 31-22; 33-22; 38-22

 

Yellow Cards –

Watsonians: McAlpine

 

Player-of-the-Match: He sparked his team into life and when it looked like it could get away from Ayr,  played with tempo and accuracy to get his team up the pitch, so Bulls scrum-half Reiss Cullen takes it.

Talking Point: An early, ugly clash of heads between Ryan Sweeney and Craig Davidson saw both men receive treatment and Davidson had to be withdrawn, so full props (pun intended) to Donald Voss for a 75 minutes loose-head session.


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About Iain Hay 73 Articles
New to the freelancing journalistic world as of August 2019, Iain has previously written for The Scottish Rugby Blog since 2017, covering matches for Glasgow Warriors, Scotland and opinion pieces. Can also often be heard on their podcast flapping his gums about the oval-ball (technically, it’s ellipsoidal) game and being pedantic. Is rumoured to believe that Finn Russell is The Messiah. Does the Twitter thing, but doesn’t like it.

3 Comments

  1. Not sure how Ryan Sweeney was allowed to go on… wwtching on Alba, he clearly looked to be knocked out at the same time as Craig Davidson. Hope both are alright as it was a nasty clash.

  2. Watsonians are actually the defending champions of the Super Series, having beaten the Bulls in a wonderful game last November.

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