Southern Knights 24
Ayrshire Bulls 38
ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards
AYRSHIRE BULLS started the match behind Southern Knights in the Super Series table, but by the end of this physical contest at The Greenyards the Millbrae men, after running in six tries, had successfully leapfrogged the Borders-based franchise to restate their title ambitions.
Throughout the match the Bulls always looked to be stampeding towards victory such was the power of their forward pack. However in the final quarter Bulls’ dominance diminished, and when the game broke up the Knights were able to score two vital tries. Bulls head coach Pat MacArthur, while relieved that any fall-off in concentration had not happened earlier in the game, was nevertheless concerned about the way his side strayed from game plan later in the game.
“We got the job done,” he done. “I talked to the boys afterwards about how I expect them to control games better. There’s not a requirement for us to be frantic. It’s a lot of learning, but we had a lot of young boys in the squad with guys coming in for their first start. But it’s building and we’re moving forward and that’s the important thing.”
For Knights, scoring two late tries was a confidence lift for head coach Alan Tait and his squad. “That was the target,” admitted Tait. “At the end we were shouting at the boys to go for the fourth try. Unfortunately we gave away a few softies early doors and we can’t afford to keep doing this. If we could start well and hold teams, then with us finishing stronger than most teams we could do something.”
“That’s two games in a row now that we’ve scored with the last play. We did that against Watsonians against a big strong team.”
If strong finishes are becoming Knights’ better suit then their weakness against Bulls was set scrummaging. In all, Knights gave away five scrum penalties, two of which led directly to Bulls tries.
“The referee was seeing it differently from the lads,” Tait suggested. “He mentioned something about the binding. That was disappointing. We were missing Dan Gamble, so it is what it is. And hopefully we can sort this for next week.”
The Knights head coach is hoping that his Newcastle Falcons recruit, Corbin Thunder, will make a difference. “Young Corbin’s come up from Newcastle. He’s a player in transition from back-row to hooker. I said to Newcastle I’d give him time at hooker and next week we’ll look to get him in the front row. It’s good to have good young players like that,” stated Tait.
The Bulls showed their intentions straight from the whistle, with Chris Hyde triggering and then scoring the first try by running back a long clearance kick before the inside backs did damage with slick handling that created room for the full-back to squeeze in at the corner. Then for good measure Hyde made it a team and personal seven pointer with the touchline conversion.
Knights responded positively to the early set-back with a similarly exciting score after two probes by scrum-half Ryan Godsmark, the accurate spreading of the ball to the far touchline and a gymnastic finish by wing Aidan Cross. The conversion from Callum Grieve levelled the points.
The see-saw tilted the other way after Knights conceded two scrum penalties that put the Bulls into a perfect scoring position in front of the posts – one the visitors were not going to waste. Opting to take the scrum instead of a sure-fire three points, Bulls launched several close-range surges at the Knights line, but it was not the muscularity of these attacks that were decisive so much as the athleticism and clever thinking of scrum-half Fergus Johnston, who dived over a ruck to claim his side’s second try, Hyde again adding the extras.
Knights were able to reply with pressure rugby but it was insufficient to add further points and in the event it was the Bulls who bagged the next score after a clever kick by Luca Bardelli that bought the visitors territory. Two plays later, they improvised perfectly with a neat kick by Johnston that produced a touchline tip-back of the ball from Tom Glendinning into the hands of try-scorer Andy Stirrat.
Then just before half-time Blair MacPherson, playing his 50th game for his club, broke clear from a ruck before finding Johnston in support, giving the busy scrum- half his second score of the game, Hyde’s third successful conversion sent the Bulls in at the break with a commanding 26-7 advantage.
Both sides made changes at the beginning of the second half and in the circumstances the game went somewhat flat. Until, that is, a dramatic midfield break by Knights centre Callum Barrett and the finish by replacementThunder helped remove the storm clouds from the home team’s scoreline.
Grieve added the conversion, but the Knights’ fightback was short-lived, after second row Rory Jackson ran a perfect line to saunter in under the posts for Ayrshire try number 5, successfully converted by Hyde.
Knights rallied once again with a try by replacement Paddy Anderson via a long pass from Gregor McNeish, only for Bulls to add a further dose of acid with a score from a driven line-out for replacement hooker Alex McGuire. But in a final flurry Knights gave themselves an 80th-minute lift with a final try by Barrett to reap a fully deserved bonus point.
Southern Knights: R Cottrell; A Cross, C Barrett, C Grieve, P Anderson; G McNeish, R Godsmark; J Dobie, R Anderson©, C Greer, A Ferrie, C Skeldon, W Ferrie, M Job, G Young. Substitutes: L Thompson, G Shiells, C Dodds, C Farmer, C Thunder, C Bell, H Rutherford, A Hall.
Ayrshire Bulls: C Hyde; T Glendinning, R Beattie, A Stirrat, L Bardelli; A Bogidrau, F Johnston; A Nimmo, G Stewart, W Farquhar, L McNamara, R Jackson, R Sweeney, T Brown, B Macpherson©. Substitutes: A McGuire, C Miller, R Tanner, E Hamilton-Bulger, O Baird, R Cullen, C Elliot, S Watson
Referee: David Sutherland.
Southern Knights: Tries: Cross, Thunder, Anderson, Barrett. Cons: Grieve 2.
Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Hyde, Johnston 2, Stirrat, Jackson, McGuire. Cons: Hyde 4.
Scoring sequence (Southern Knights first): 0-5; 0-7; 5-7; 7-7; 7-12; 7-14; 7-19; 7-24; 7-26 (h-t) 12-26; 14-26; 14-31; 14-33; 19-33; 19-38; 24-38.
Man-of-the-Match: Ayrshire Bulls dominated the first half with comparative ease and much of that was down to scrum-half Fergus Johnston. The former Gala player showed real understanding of the game in his variation of distribution and around the ruck his breaks posed constant threats. In addition his two first-half tries were vital for Bulls in building up a half-time lead.
Talking point: Ayrshire Bulls put themselves back on course to challenge for the Series title and with a good blend of power up front, agility behind the scrum and the introduction of some new players, the Millbrae men can look forward to the coming weeks with confidence. For Knights there is definite improvement under Alan Tait, but such is the small size of their viable squad that they will always be living life on the edge.