Southern Knights 27
Stirling Wolves 19
GARY HEATLY @ The Greenyards
A STRONG first-half performance from Southern Knights set them up for a bonus point Super Series Championship win over a flat Stirling Wolves. At a sun-drenched Greenyards the hosts posted a second victory of the campaign and are now fifth in the table after three tries in the first 40 minutes gave them a lead which could not be reeled back in.
Fourth-placed Wolves, out of sorts in that opening period, did step things up after the break, but they will be frustrated that they were far from their best and could not build on the victory over Watsonians last time out.
“I have been hoping for a performance and a day like this since I started with the Knights,” said Knights head coach Alan Tait. “We got a win against the Future XV a few weeks ago, but this was a win on a beautiful day against a really good side in the shape of Stirling Wolves and I am really pleased for the guys.
“The boys put in a massive performance and I have said to the young ones especially, enjoy this win and let’s really try and build on it going forward and keep ourselves in the play-off mix.
“When I was a player, I know the buzz that I got after a win like this, so I hope that the squad feel the same and grow in confidence as a result.”
From the kick-off Johnny Rutherford, the home back-rower, broke through into the Wolves 22. The visiting defence were able to get back and halt the move, but it was an early warning sign.
Another came just a minute later when returning full-back Donald Crawford burst through some poor tackling and, soon after, the Knights looked like they were going to score from a line-out drive, but the Wolves managed to win a crucial penalty on their own line.
Those defensive efforts seemed to give the visitors a lift and good breaks by full-back Glenn Bryce and winger Ross McKnight provided glimpses of how dangerous their back three can be.
It continued to be an open game and, in the 13th minute, after a poor clearance kick by Wolves captain Marcus Holden, Crawford burst down the left, but his kick ahead went too far on a hard pitch with a short dead ball area.
As the first quarter was coming to an end it was still scoreless and it stayed that way despite winger Calum Barrett going close for the hosts.
A big tackle from Wolves back-row Connor Gordon on Knights hooker Corbin Thunder and then a penalty conceded by home centre Patrick Anderson for a bit of niggle with opposing hooker Gregor Hiddleston livened things up before the first water break.
Soon after, the Knights took the lead when good interplay from Rutherford, loose-head Craig Greer and Barrett on the left stretched the away defence and, a couple of phases later, second-row Allan Ferrie went over, for a score converted by centre Callum Grieve.
The Knights pack was starting to get the upper hand, keeping the Wolves pinned back in their own half, and playing with a penalty advantage earned by those forwards, the hosts doubled their advantage with s a beauty five minutes to go before the break,
Stand-off Gregor McNeish floated an inch perfect kick out to the right and it evaded McKnight with winger Aidan Cross catching it and dotting down. Grieve’s conversion brushed the upright, but went over for 14-0.
And things got even better for the Knights on the stroke of half-time when a powerful line-out drive got them in for a third try. Poland cap Greer was the man getting the unconverted effort which made it 19-0.
What the Wolves coaches had thought about their lacklustre first half showing was made obvious when they made five changes at the break, including four in the pack.
The fresh legs – and no doubt some choice words from head coach Eddie Pollock during the interval – gave them a renewed energy and, in the 48th minute, Hiddleston scored their opening try. Holden converted and it was 19-7.
Wolves had their tails up now and, in the 55th minute, a linepout drive saw Gordon go over with Holden converting to make it a five point game.
The Knights needed to get back to the way they were playing in the first half and they did just before the hour mark when Thompson went over on the left. Grieve could not convert, but they were 24-14 up and had the bonus point in the bag.
Having just come back from injury, it was then a sad sight to see Crawford going off with an issue soon after and No 8 Harry Borthwick also went off gingerly, as had Rutherford in the first half.
The Thompson try had knocked the wind out of the Wolves sails though, and in the last five minutes Grieve’s penalty from in front of the posts made it 27-14, before Bryce claimed a five pointer late on. Holden could not convert with a drop goal, so there was not even the crumb of comfort of a losing bonus for the Wolves.
“We were very poor, I am very disappointed, we were as poor as we were good last week against Watsonians,” said Pollock “All credit to the Knights, they played well, their set piece was good and they defended very well, but we didn’t play anywhere near to the standards we set ourselves.
“They had real energy and, on the flip side, we were flat. We were flat in the warm up, we were flat in the first half and then we were flat after we’d got back into things at 19-14.
“There was no energy there and there isn’t much more to say really.”
Southern Knights: D Crawford (A Hall 61); A Cross, P Anderson (R Cottrell 55), C Grieve, C Barrett; G McNeish, C Bell; C Greer (J Dobie 41), C Thunder (R Anderson© 55), D Gamble (C Dodds 75), S Derrick, A Ferrie, M Job, J Rutherford (L Thompson 25), H Borthwick (H Bentley 70).
Stirling Wolves: G Bryce; M Heron, R Southern, C Jardine (C Scott 61), R McKnight (S Rockley 41); M Holden©, B Afshar (E Davey 70); L Quarm (G Breese 41), G Hiddleston, L Skinner (M Ogunlaja 41), H Ferguson, J Pow (T Smith 41), R Knott (R Kennedy 52), C Gordon, E Hasdell (S MacDonald 41).
Referee: Rob McDowell.
Southern Knights: Tries: Ferrie, Cross, Greer, Thompson; Cons: Grieve 2. Pen: Grieve.
Stirling Wolves: Hiddleston, Gordon, Bryce; Cons: Holden 2.
Scoring sequence (Southern Knights first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0; 19-0 (h-t); 19-5; 19-7; 19-12; 19-14; 24-14; 27-14, 27-19.
Man-of-the-Match: The big men up front set up this victory for the Knights and hooker Corbin Thunder and second-row Allan Ferrie deserve mentions, but stand-off Gregor McNeish controlled proceedings, used ball wisely and set up a the try of the game by winger Aidan Cross, so he takes the award.
Talking point: Can the Knights build on this win when they travel to in-form Heriot’s for their next game? This triumph will have given them confidence, but they will need to take things up another notch on the road to cause a shock at Goldenacre on September 9th. This result could be a turning point for them though.