Super Series: Stirling Wolves see off wasteful Watsonians

Visitors failure to turn promising opportunities into points costs them dearly

Stirling Wolves gt the better of Watsonians at Bridgehaugh. Image: Bryan Robertson
Stirling Wolves gt the better of Watsonians at Bridgehaugh. Image: Bryan Robertson

Stirling Wolves 40

Watsonians 26

LEWIS STUART @ Millbrae

IN a strange game, Stirling Wolves signed off their Super Series league games at home with a comprehensive win over a team that had been widely fancied for a place among the tournament leaders. Six tries to four makes it sound closer than it really was, with the result out of sight long before the end.

What made it strange was that despite the teams sharing 10 tries, both coaches were frustrated at the end. Eddie Pollock, in charge of Stirling, was bemused by the number of times players lost the ball with the line open, and Fraser Brown, his opposite number, wondered how his team created so many chances in the opening quarter and failed to score any of them.

“We still have big games to go, but it was not a bad way to sign off if this is the Wolves’ last home game,” commented Pollock, who moves upstairs to a performance director role at Bridgehaugh next season when the structure changes, with fly-half Craig Jackson taking over the reins as the man in charge of the club side.


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“We scored a really good try to start but were then under the cosh for the next 20 minutes and defended really well,” he added. “They could easily have been 20 points up, but they weren’t. It was good to see that hunger to stop them from scoring.

“It was always a risky game. We hadn’t played for three weeks with the Glasgow ‘A’ game being called off and the fallow weekend, and that showed. I don’t know how many times we played great rugby but then somebody dropped the ball when scoring. It must have been four or five times, which is not like us. It was great to create those opportunities; there was a lot of good rugby, but we will still need to get better.”

The frustration was clear for Brown, not just at the failures of his own players but at some controversial officiating calls that all went against his team. Safe to say, he was far from impressed.

Even allowing for that, however, he had to accept that his players could have buried Stirling in the opening quarter but messed up.

“We had all the ball and the pressure but were probably a little bit too impatient,” he said. “We just let them off the hook and then got sucker-punched. I thought it was a good game when it opened up. There were a lot of tired bodies, but some of the offloading and handling on both sides, particularly our boys in the last 10 to 15 minutes, was outstanding.

“We just played too much in the middle of the park, but if we had played the way we did in the final quarter in the first quarter, it would have been a different game. We had seven chances in the opening period and should have taken at least four; then it would have been a totally different game.”

Which is a fair assessment. It took only 87 seconds for Stirling to get their scoring underway, taking advantage of the visitors knocking on the kick-off to present them with an attacking scrum. Four phases in midfield and centre Ryan Southern hit a line inside his centre partner Marcus Holden to plough through the gap and touch down, with Holden adding the extras.

In contrast, when Stirling then made a hash of receiving their kick-off, Watsonians couldn’t do anything with the opening. They did get a scrum five and a line-out five metres out, but the home defence simply soaked up the pressure until the mistake came.

That said, there was enough of a downfield breeze that the Wolves struggled to clear their line, and the visitors had most of the early pressure without scoring. Even when they created a chance, with full-back Andrew Lamb making space down the touchline, flanker Seb Cecil spilled what would have been a scoring pass.

Conditions may have been just about perfect for running rugby, but both sides were making far too many basic mistakes to deliver the spectacle many might have expected. So, Stirling simply turned to the prosaic for their next score. A penalty gave them the attacking position, the maul drove fully 20 metres, and though it was stopped short, flanker Ruaridh Knott had the strength to make the remaining inches when the ball emerged.

It spurred Watsonians to show something of their ability, with Freddie Owsley coming off his wing to punch a hole on the right, with Lamb in support and Jason Baggott, an early injury replacement, there to take the scoring pass, with Dominic Coetzer adding the conversion.

In turn, that brought out the best in Stirling as they recycled the ball through the phases on the right, with Ross McKnight, Glenn Bryce and Olijare Oguntibeju prominent before moving to the left where the Holden-Southern axis found its mojo again for the latter to cruise over for his second touchdown, with the former adding the extras.

 

 

That sent the teams into the break with the Wolves holding a 12-point advantage, but not for long because the scoring in the second half started just as quickly as it had in the first, with Baggott stealing the ball for Watsonians to exploit the scattered defence, and Coetzer dancing through for a solo try that he converted himself.

It turned into another tit-for-tat moment, with Stirling restoring their margin as scrum-half Eric Davey looped around the backs to scythe through the defence. Flanker Shaun MacDonald was there in support and, though caught, he popped the ball up to Jackson for the bonus point try.

As the replacements flooded on, the Wolves took what looked like an iron grip on the result, with substitute fly-half Euan Cunningham prodding the ball to the visitors’ line and Southern pressuring the defence into giving away a scrum five. With the pack driving forward, it was simplicity itself for No. 8 Ed Hadsell to pick up and plough over.

By now, the players were starting to deliver the kind of handling the conditions deserved, and Watsonians proved their running threat as Lewis Berg found space and Coetzer looped around the outside to keep his side in the hunt.

Stirling’s response was devastating, with the ball being worked to the outside as McKnight powered down the wing and found replacement scrum-half Kyle McGhie ready to take the scoring pass.

There was still time for Watsonians to claim a try bonus, with flanker Tom Currie grounding after their maul was held, and for both sides to create even more scoring chances, only for a combination of over-ambitious offloading and some superb scramble defence meaning the actual scoring had finished.

Stirling roll on with increased confidence while Watsonians know they could, arguably should, have done better, but aren’t far from clicking. When they do, they can beat anyone.

 

Teams – 

Stirling Wolves: G Bryce; M Heron, R Southern, M Holden (C Ferrie 62), R McKnight; C Jackson (E Cunningham 47), E Davey (K McGhie 47); L Quarm (B Cullen 47), J Roberts (B Robertson 70), M Tamosaitis (C Norrie 47), J Pow (R Hart 55), O Oguntibeju, R Knott (F Read 60), S Knott, E Hasdell.

Watsonians: A Lamb; J Mitchell, L Berg, F Thomson (J Baggott 18), F Owsley; D Coetzer, C McApline (F Burgess 45); C Davidson (R Deans 45), J Blyth-Lafferty (F Duraj 70), C Lamberton (B Bratton 37), K Van Niekerk, J Parkinson, T Currie S Cecil (K Watt 70), N Irvine-Hess (O Gordon 56).

Referee: Ruairidh Campbell

 

Scorers – 

Stirling Wolves: Tries: Southern 2, Knott, Jackson, Hasdell, McGhie; Cons: Holden 4, Cunningham.

Watsonians: Try: Baggot, Coetzer 2, Currie; Cons: Coetzer 3.

Scoring sequence (Stirling Wolves first): 5-0; 7-0;12-0; 12-5; 12-7; 17-7; 19-7 (h-t) 19-12; 19-14; 24-14; 26-14; 31-14; 33-14; 33-19; 33-21; 38-21; 40-21; 40-26.

 

Player-of-the-Match: Close competition here between Ruaridh Knott and Ryan Southern for Stirling, with both players at the heart of the team’s effort in both attack and defence, and both scoring. In the end, Knott’s work rate and breakdown work just edges it.

Talking Point: A scrappy first half, but once the game opened out it became a showcase for both teams with plenty of running rugby and clever offloads. All this in front of a decent crowd, with the Bridgehaugh stand almost full and supporters around the touchline. Can someone remind us why the tournament is being scrapped?


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About Lewis Stuart 77 Articles
Lewis has been writing about rugby for almost 40 years, the last 18 as a freelance based in Scotland bringing his wealth fo experience to just about every publication in the country. These days you can hear him as well by tuning in to his Wednesday night show on Rocksport Radio.

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