Stirling Wolves 92
Future XV 14
DAVID BARNES @ Bridgehaugh
IT is hard to say what positives can be drawn from this desperate mismatch, between a powerful and experienced Stirling Wolves side determined to keep their foot on the accelerator throughout as they hunted a win which would kick-start their season following two narrow defeats, and a makeshift and callow Future XV side missing its Scotland Under-20s contingent who are still being rested following their involvement in last month’s Junior World Trophy in Kenya.
A number of these Future XV players are taking their first steps into adult rugby, and it really did look like a contest – which isn’t really the right word – between men and boys for long spells.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, we are told. But more questions must now be asked about whether this policy of heaping Scotland Under-20s hopefuls together so that some Super Series teams don’t have to select them ahead of more seasoned players is in the best interests of the individuals involved and/or a realistic way of raising standards generally.
“It is tough for the boys but you can’t fault their effort,” said Scott Forrest, who is now the Future XV co-coach alongside Fergus Pringle. “We knew it was going to be tough coming into the game and they showed lots of character.
“The first thing we said to them afterwards is that losses like that are tough to experience – and it was a similar situation in the Under-20s Six Nations with the loss to Ireland – but there is a lot they can take from it. The easy thing for them to do is shy away from it and try to bin it, but if I’m being honest, there are a lot of things we can fix pretty quickly going into next week.
“Of course we worry about that [denting to their confidence] but we are where we are this week in terms of the squad we’ve got. These players have done really well to come in and train together for two sessions on Thursday and Friday, but that was a bit of an eye-opener for them because it was a step-up to what they faced in our previous matches against the Knights and the Bears.”
The Future XV now face a daunting run of matches on consecutive weekends against the three pace-setters in this league, with Heriot’s first up next weekend, followed by Ayrshire Bulls and Watsonians.
“The Heriot’s game is probably going to be quite similar for us in terms of the boys who have been in Kenya [with Scotland Under-20s] being given another week to build their load back-up, because that’s what’s best for them, but in the Bulls week we’ll start to get a few of them back,” added Forrest.
“Ultimately, I think we are looking at the second half of the season when we start spending more time together as a squad, and are able to really start building together.”
Meanwhile, Wolves head coach Eddie Pollock was unapologetic about his team’s uncompromising approach in a match which as already dead as a contest after 2o minutes.
“I’ve got a championship to win,” he stated. “We’re here to develop players but we’re also here to win games. We need to get and keep our scrum and line-out functioning so that we’re ready to face Watsonians next week, who are very strong there.
“It’s a difficult one because we train hard every week to go out on a Saturday and score points, so we had to approach this game like we were playing Watsonian, Heriot’s or Ayrshire Bulls,” he added. “And we’re a really physical side so it was a massive challenge for these Future XV boys, but they have to learn how to defend powerful mauls and scrums, and they’ll get better for it. In the second half, we looked to play off the scrum more, and they played pretty well for a period.
“We got a lot of guys who haven’t had much game-time over the last two games some minutes on the park, and we feel that we’re now in a pretty good place in terms of guys being match-fit and not having too many injuries. We’ve also got nine points out of three games, so we’re in the hunt, and we’re looking forward to having Watsonians here next Friday which will be a big game.”
Wolves muscled their way into an early lead when Craig Jackson kicked a ruck penalty to the corner and Reyner Kennedy finished off the line-out maul, with Marcus Holden adding the first of his eight conversions.
The hosts struck again on 10 minutes when Ryan Southern scooped up a loose ball then beat the final defender with a well-timed pass to scorer Kyle McGhie.
Future XV had lost captain Callum Smyth to a head injury by the time Wolves claimed try number three on 19 minutes, when Southern went from finisher to creator with a neat flick after a long passage of continuity play, which gave Glenn Bryce the space he needed on the left.
And the bonus point was wrapped up just a minute later when Bryce collected an unpressurised kick and sent the ball left-ward towards the powerful Ross McKnight for a gallop up the left wing. Southern, McGhie and Sam Rockley all kept the move going before Holden finished off.
Then, two minutes later, Bryce went over again, for his second and his team’s fifth try, with Wolves scoring at ease and the Future XV looking completely lost.
Tired of cutting their opponents to ribbons out wide, Wolves opted for a try through their dominant pack next, marching one line-out maul 30-yards before being awarded a collapsing penalty five yards from their opponents’ line, then kicking to the corner and walking the ball over for Kennedy to add the finishing touch.
Bryce claimed his hat-trick on 32 minutes after Ed Timpson broke from his own half and McGhie provided the link.
There was, at last, some light relief for the Future XV on 36 minutes when Callum Ferrie skipped into space inside his own half and carried all the way to the Wolves 22, before feeding Josh Beveridge, who handed on to Amena Caqusau to finish off.
But Wolves had the final say of the half with more two tries. First, another sweeping attack featuring McKnight, Southern and Bryce was finished off by McGhie, then another line-out maul which made 20 metres provided the platform for slick hands to send Sam Rockley in, which made it 61-7 at the break.Error, group does not exist! Check your syntax! (ID: 60)
To their enormous credit, the Future XV would not lie down, and they scored again at the start of the second half when Southern jumped out the defensive line and Caqusau darted through the gap to claim his second.
Wolves took a while to settle back into their stride but were soon back on the front foot when Kennedy collected an overthrown line-out and motored home for his hat-trick.
The ball was then shipped left to McKnight straight from the restart and McKnight slalomed home from 70 yards.
Future XV had another period of possession on Stirling’s 22, but kept on getting dumped backwards in the tackle, and then Wolves went the distance again from turnover ball with replacement scrum-half Eric Davey getting on the score-sheet this time. Jackson’s conversion took the home side up to the 80-point mark with 20 minutes still to play.
Next Wolves decided to return to some line-out maul training, kicking a penalty to the corner and rolling hime against by now token opposition, with replacement hooker Gregor Hiddleston getting his name on the scoresheet.
Wolves came within a whisker of passing the 90-point mark when McKnight, Rockley and Mike Heron attacked down the right, but the Future XV’s cover defence managed to squeeze them out in the corner, which is worth recognising because despite a harrowing 80 minute these youngsters battled right to the end.
Unfortunately, the visitors then failed to clear downfield, and from a scrum on their own line, Jackson sent Rockley over on the short-side of a scrum-five.
Stirling Wolves: G Bryce; S Rockley, R Southern ( M Heron 50), M Holden (C Scott 40), R McKnight; C Jackson, K McGhie (E Davey 50); L Quarm (G Ratcliff 65), R Kennedy (G Hiddleston, 65), L Skinner (M Tamosaitis 65), H Ferguson (J Pow 62), T Smith, E Timpson, C Gordon (R Knott 50), E Hasdell.
Future XV: S Wilson (F Watson 47); B Riley, N Calder, C Ferrie, A Caqusau (R Lile 70); I Coates, J Beveridge (R Cadzow 47); C Smyth (B White 14), F Duraj (E McGeoch 70), A Rogers (R Cromar 70), T Peach, R Burke, F Wilson (M McKay 70), C Nolan, T Currie (F Douglas 40).
Referee: David Sutherland
Stirling Wolves: Tries: Kennedy 3, McGhie 2, Bryce 3, Holden, Rockley 2, McKnight, Davey, Hiddleston; Con: Holden 8, Jackson 3.
Future XV: Try: Caqusau 2; Con: Watson 2.
Scoring sequence (Stirling first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0; 19-0; 24-0; 26-0; 31-0; 33-0; 38-0; 40-0; 45-0; 47-0; 47-5; 47-7; 52-7; 54-7; 59-7; 61-7 (h-t) 61-12; 61-14; 66-14; 68-14; 73-14; 78-14; 80-14; 85-14; 87-14; 92-14.
Player-of-the-Match: In what turned into an exhibition match for the home side, Glenn Bryce scored a hat-trick and was involved in several more flowing moves.
Talking point: The credibility of the league and of Scottish Rugby’s development strategy is damaged by mismatches like this. One of the big arguments for Super Series was that it would offer players tough matches every week to really push on their game. Realistically, did anyone gain anything really worthwhile from this?