Super Series Sprint: refereeing under the microscope as Bears beat Knights in basement battle

Both head coaches express frustration at inconsistency of officiating throughout campaign

Boroughmuir No 8 Trystan Andrews on his way to scoring his team's opening try versus Southern Knights. Image: Bryan Robertson
Boroughmuir No 8 Trystan Andrews on his way to scoring his team's opening try versus Southern Knights. Image: Bryan Robertson

Boroughmuir Bears 26

Southern Knights 21

DAVID BARNES @ Meggetland

THERE wasn’t an awful lot at stake in this Super Series Sprint 5th/6th place play-off match, but it was keenly enough contested by two sidesi who could do with some positive momentum to take into the Championship which will kick-off towards the end of the summer. However, the main talking point amongst the coaches afterwards was on the need to tighten up officiating standards to keep pace with the progress the teams believe they are making on the park.

“At the end of the day, this is about developing officials as well as players,” said Boroughmuir Bears head coach Graham Shiel. “At the moment, the game is moving on in the way that teams are playing it and I don’t think the officiating is moving along with that.

“The refereeing of the set-piece – scrum and maul – is inconsistent,” he continued. “It is a really difficult area to referee, I get that, but that is what the competition is now about, and it’s not being managed well enough. It is the same for both teams, but it feels like we are coming off on the wrong side of a lot of these moments. It is difficult, but we’re pleased to get the win today and sign-off on this Sprint series on a positive note.”

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Opposite number Alan Tait echoed those sentiments.  “It’s all the coaches, so not just me who feels there are decisions being made that we just don’t understand,” he said. “We’ve been on the end of dominant scrums and dominant line-outs all year and been penalised, then when we find ourselves in that position we don’t get the penalties. We did [get those decisions] now and again [in this game], but we thought there was a few others today which were definite penalties and would have given us good field position, so it’s those things that are really frustrating.

“I’m a defence coach, that’s what I love doing and I really study that area, but it is carnage out there,” he continued. “Everybody is getting away with everything, and if we don’t stamp it out then we are damaging what we are trying to do with this competition.

“It stops a lot of the attractive rugby – teams coming in from the side, hands on the ball, players off their feet – it is just relentless every week. It seems to be an area where they have decided not to ref it, to let it go and worry about the big things, rather than the little things that make the game attractive.

“I wouldn’t have anybody touching the ball once it as at the back of a ruck – let the game flow – there is just too much nonsense going on in that area.

“As head coaches we’ve talked to JP Doyle [Scottish Rugby’s High Performance Referee Coach] who has told us what to expect from referees. We know they are not full-time, and it is not their fault as individuals, but we’ve just got to clean up the game around the breakdown area, to let us play a bit more.”


The deadlock in this match wasn’t broken until the 17th minute, when a period of pressure deep inside the Bears’ 22 eventually yielded a try for Knights, through No 8 Rudi Brown, who peeled off the back of a line-out maul and powered over the line, with Callum Grieve drilling home the conversion.

The hosts struck back through Corey Tait, who managed to slip in a neat side-step as he rampaged home from 30-yards, to set up an easy Tom Quinlan conversion, but the contest was only briefly tied, with Knights straight back on the offensive from the restart and scoring again through skipper Russell Anderson, once again off the back of a line-out maul.

Bears flanker Scott McGinley was yellow-carded at this point for pulling down at the maul, but they survived that 10 minute period without the loss of any further scores, andthey grabbed their second try to square the contest once again immediately after returning to full complement, with No 8 Trystan Andrews showing impressive pace to finish off a Callum Ramm initiated attack from deep, making it all-square again [14-14] at the break.


Knights wasted little time in reclaiming the initiative at the start of the second half, when Dan Gamble found himself trundling into a giant gap in the middle of the park, and although he was never going to have the gas to finish off himself, he had the wherewithal to send a well-timed pass to Gary Young, who then fed Adam Hall to skip under the posts.

The next 15 minutes were a game of cat and mouse, with Knights having the better of territory and possession but failing to make it count on the scoreboard, and then Bears clicked into gear and pulled level when Liam McConnell galloped through three tackles on his way to the line.

George Paul‘s conversion tied the contest again, and Bears then snatched the lead for the first time in the match when Jerry Blyth-Lafferty added the finishing touches to a powerful line-out maul.

Knights had several opportunities to snatch their first win of the campaign during the final five minutes, but paid the price for losing three line-outs on their own throw during the final five minutes.

“When you’re in a situation like the one we are in, you get used to being kicked when you are down – so you need a little bit of luck and you need a few decisions going your way,” lamented the defeated Tait.

Donald Crawford is a guy who has come in through injuries, but he is a big player in terms of stature, and we were excited to see him go,” he added. “Unfortunately, he pulled up during the warm-up which left us with one back on the bench, so we were under pressure straight away.

“I had visions of it being a mess today, if I’m being honest, with losing Donald in the warm-up, so I’m just pleased with the way the guys stuck and we had chances to win it.”

Despite his team having won, Shiel was not quite as upbeat as Tait.  “We expected Southern Knights to throw the kitchen sink at us today, and we didn’t handle it well,” he said. “We didn’t control the game, we didn’t take care of what we needed to take care of, and if we do that against teams higher up the league then we will be punished. So, we have a lot of work to do – but we knew that anyway.”


Teams –

Boroughmuir Bears: C Ramm; M Cullen, A Thom, S Robeson©, J Jenkins; T Quinlan (G Paul 49), B Young (R Swan 49); I Carmichael, C Tait (J Blyth Lafferty 56), M McGinley (M Goodwin 43), J King, J Fisher (S Whittaker 62), L McConnell, S McGinley (K Westlake 54), T Andrews.

Southern Knights: K Clark; O Melville (C Davidson 42), P Anderson, A Hall, F Douglas; C Grieve, R Brand; C Greer ( J Dobie 42), R Anderson © (J Bett 74), D Gamble, C Skeldon, J Campbell (A Ferrie 54), G Young, S Derrick, R Brown (W Hopes 42).

Referee: Finlay Brown


Scorers –

Boroughmuir Bears: Tries: Tait, Andrews, McConnell, Blyth-Lafferty; Cons: Quinlan 2, Paul.

Southern Knights: Tries: Brown, Anderson, Hall; Con: Grieve 3.

Scoring sequence (Boroughmuir Bears first): 0-5; 0-7; 5-7; 7-7; 7-12; 7-14; 12-14; 14-14 (h-t) 14-19; 14-21; 19-21; 21-21; 26-21.


Yellow cards –

Boroughmuir Bears: McGinley (30mins)

Super Series Sprint Final: Ayrshire Bulls edge past Heriot’s in game of two halves

About David Barnes 4028 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. Match statistics make interesting viewing at the best of times. From the Bulls vs Heriots final (produced by Scottish Rugby) they provide pretty grim reading for what is commented on as a standard greater than amateur and closer to professional teams.
    There were measures for the number of passes completed by each player and it showed that Heriot’s forwards managed 13 passes in the WHOLE game whilst Ayr’s pack managed only a fraction more. Ruck speed for the most part was greater than 3 seconds and so therefore it would suggest that there is a fairly one dimensional approach to the game (one pass – truck it up) with a lack of bravery and ambition.
    Fair comment that S6 players are bigger and stronger than Prem players.. but are they more skillful? Are we bridging the gap with physical specimens at the expense of highly skilled athletes?
    Both Edinburgh and Glasgow (only fair to compare the teams S6 are trying to get closer to) throw the ball about and look to keep ball alive… they have a clearly defined way of playing, built around attacking the best space and playing with speed; when you watch these teams there is an obvious emphasis on passing the ball.
    at the top end of the game Ireland, New Zealand, France (and Scotland!) etc all string numerous phases together with higher risk, multiple threats and brave passing/offloading skills.
    Is S6 set up to develop players with an ambitious and fearless approach to the game or are we still developing a ‘win at all costs’ mindset with the strongest and most physically powerful team dominating things?

  2. The standard of rugby in the Super Series games is way ahead of the premiership. I know as I was involved in the premiership.
    I bet there are at least three current premiership teams looking for a license in 2024. By then the eight teams, who knows possibly ten will form the basis of semi-pro rugby in Scotland.
    We need change, we need it fast as we strive to improve our position at the U20 level and to raise the standards to compete at international level.

    • You would expect it to be John considering the investment being made. The key question is not how much higher the standard is now but how much better S6 is than the premiership before S6 was launched. I would wager that Ayr pre S6 would run the Ayrshire Bulls of today mightily close. Melrose pre S6 would wipe the floor with the Southern Knights. The only obvious improvement is in the media coverage being provided and funded by Scottish Rugby.

      • Currently, it’s measurably a lot higher and you also have to look at the difference over a period of time. In five years’ time, the standards required in Super Series need to be even higher, with at least eight to ten teams in two conferences involved.

      • All very well John, but it’s a pipedream unless there is a strategy for how exactly that can be delivered in a manner that doesn’t destroy the club game. The struggles that some S6 teams are having in filling their squads with appropriate level players at the moment tells a story. Ayrshire Bulls are in the fortunate position of having no real competition for players south of Stirling. If you add a Glasgow based team who will need 30+ players, where are they going to materialise from? Local clubs? They’ll be fishing in the same pond as the Bulls. And what then happens to those local clubs? No objective observer of the Super Series just completed would say that the standard of rugby is measurably better than the premiership pre S6. I saw the Southern knights get mangled by a Newcastle Falcons academy team. Even if it is marginally better than the old premiership, what is actually being achieved that justifies the 7 figure sum being invested on an annual basis? Where’s the accountability? I’d heard there was to be a review at the end of this season but then on another article I see that the Bears are doing sponsorship deals until 2025. Clearly the review has already been carried out? If you truly care about how the game is being run in Scotland, start asking some questions about the motives and wisdom of those in charge of running it. Is it being run in the best interests of the owners of the Union or in the best interests of those taking a small fortune out of it for themselves?

  3. Cringing at those comments.

    Its not the Refs job to make the game easier for coaches.

    The standard of rugby on display through this Series has been poor, bar Ayr and Heriots.

    The coaches make themselves look stupid and deflective.

    They need to man up and deal with your own problems before looking to blame others.


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