Stirling Wolves 36
Southern Knights 11
LEWIS STUART @ Bridgehaugh
IT is going to be all to play for in the final weekend of the round-robins stage of the Super Series Sprint after Stirling Wolves put themselves in with a shout of a spot in the championship final.
As Eddie Pollock, the head coach, acknowledged afterwards, it’s a position they would cheerfully have accepted at the start of the campaign but now the challenge is to reproduce the opening 20 minutes and closing 10 of this game when they head to Heriot’s next weekend.
This bonus point win over the league’s bottom team briefly lifted Stirling to second spot in the table, with the Ayr versus Heriot’s match kicking off as theirs ended, but everything hinges on their own next 80 minutes.
Pollock knows it was a far from perfect performance. “The first 20 odd minutes was fantastic,” he stated. “Some of the interplay from the forwards was excellent. Then we had a couple of opportunities to score and didn’t. Every game you know the other side will come back hard and they kept holding on to our coat-tails for a while.
“Almost every time we had the ball we gave it back within a phase or two. We didn’t really get much chance to play but our fitness showed as the game went on.”
In the end, with injuries reducing the Knights to 14 men for the final few minutes, Stirling added a gloss to the scoreline but when the game was close they struggled with discipline and will have to tighten up on that for the final matches.
What did make a difference was the bench. Pollock had spoken ahead of the match about the strength in depth of his squad, and that was apparent in the way the replacements came on and added a final surge to eliminate any Borders hopes of a comeback.
The frustration was obvious for Alan Tait, the Knight’s head coach, who saw hints of the team’s potential but knows that the young side are badly lacking in confidence and were also undone by injuries that cost them key players and also meant they had to finish a man short after both hookers went off.
“It summed up our season, little flashes here and there,” he said. “We performed for maybe 20 minutes, 40 minutes maximum, and then let ourselves down. Youngsters make mistakes and that’s what happened.
“Then, at the close of the game we were a man short and they capitalised on it well. They just loaded up in the backs and punished us. It’s the players I feel for because the training is good but they’re just not getting the results.”
Stirling had come into the game knowing they had to win to have a chance of finishing in the top two in the Sprint series and it was obvious from the start that they meant business. While their last home game had seen them self-destruct in the opening minutes, this one saw them take firm control.
They established a strong attacking position from kick-off, then Ben Salmon found space to crash up the middle, sucking in most of the defence before he was eventually floored a few feet short, and quick-ball out to the left gave Glenn Bryce space to go over.
That was good enough but soon, the scoreboard looked even better. A penalty to the 22 gave Wolves the chance to set up a rolling maul with No 8 Benedict Grant surging away from it and almost getting to the visitors’ line. More pressure from the forwards with a few pick-and-gos and quick ball again found a back spare on the outside to score – this time it was centre Marcus Holden.
With Holden converting both, the home side were firmly in control. Perhaps too firmly, because they started to get sloppy, butchering a couple of promising positions and then going down to 14 men when Gregor Hiddleston, the home hooker, was yellow-carded for a crocodile roll clearing out a midfield ruck.
That gave the Knights their first chance in attack with scrum-half Rory Brand making most of the ground. A ruck penalty gave the Knights the chance to kick to the corner and the inevitable rolling maul against seven forwards marched over the line with replacement hooker Ben McLean at the back.
Stirling struck back when Holden banged over a long-range penalty but the rest of the half was played out in a reasonably tame stalemate.
Stirling thought they had increased their lead when Murphy Walker, the prop called up to the Scotland World Cup training squad ths week, stripped the ball and powered over the line only to be called back and penalised for failing to release the tackled player.
Max Williamson, who had come on at lock, then came close after charging down an attempted clearance but the homes side were also giving away a string of penalties, which gave the Knights easy ways to relieve the pressure and cut the deficit with two penalties of their own.
Stirling’s response was impressive, though. They found a hint of space down the right and for once did the right thing with the players drawing their man and passing to the player in support. Craig Jardine, Bryce and Holden all did their bit before replacement scrum-half Kyle McGhie romped over.
It only took McGhie a couple of minutes to double his tally, taking advantage of the Knights dropping their attention when penalised under their posts and nipping over for the bonus point try, and after the visitors had to go to uncontested scrums and lost a man as a result, Wolves added a fifth through Holden.
Stirling Wolves: G Bryce; S Hamilton (C Jardine, 70) , B Salmon, M Holden (C), L Jarvie (M Heron, 67); C Jackson, F Burgess (K McGhie, 65); G Breese (L Quarm, 59), G Hiddleston (yellow card: 26-26, R Kennedy, 70), M Walker (M Tamosaitis, 67), H Ferguson, J Pow (M Williamson, 44), R Knott (S Macdonald, 67), C Gordon, B Grant.
Southern Knights: O Melville; F Douglas (A Cross 58), A Hall, C Grieve, M Wilson; H Rutherford (R Chalmers, 20), R Brand (C Davidson, 49); C Greer (J Dobie, 64), C Anderson (C) (B McLean, 8, Greer, 78), D Gamble (E Harrison, 59), C Skeldon (W Hopes, 49), J Campbell, G Young, A Ferrie, R Brown (S Derrick, 49).
Referee: J Pirriam
Stirling Wolves: Tries: Bryce, Holden 2, McGhie 2; Cons: Holden 4, Pen: Holden.
Southern Knights: Try: McLean; Pen: Grieve 2.
Scoring sequence (Stirling first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0; 14-5; 17-5 (h-t) 17-8; 17-11; 22-11; 24-11; 29-11; 31-11; 36-11.
Yellow cards –
Man-of-the-Match: It was a game where both sides were guilty of untidy play but one player who was consistently high quality was the Wolves full-back Glenn Bryce. He made ground most carries and steadied the back play when it mattered.
Talking point: Stirling must be a really frustrating team to coach. They produce so much good rugby but then undo all the good work with sloppy play. If they can keep thier concentration for the full 80 minutes, they could be a threat to anyone.