Ayrshire Bulls 21
LEWIS STUART @ Myreside
WATSONIANS got their show back on the road after a couple of wobbles before the FOSROC Super Series’ mid-point break. They have now beaten Ayrshire Bulls home and away after a hugely physical performance gave them just enough to come through thanks to the goal kicking of their two fly-halves, Jason Baggott and Lee Millar.
For the Bulls, it was the ultimate in frustration. They won the try count three-two and dominated most of the match in terms of territory and possession, but couldn’t make enough inroads into the home defence and coughed up a string of penalties that proved decisive.
No doubt, then, that the more relieved coach was Nikki Walker, the man in charge of Watsonians, who had nothing but praise for his young charges. “From where we were that was night and day in terms of physicality and desire,” he said. “Ayr are a big, physical team and they put you under a lot of pressure.
“When we got into their half, we took our opportunities really well, we looked after the ball and payed in the right areas. We defended really well in our own 22 and they struggled to convert their pressure.
“Our kicking game was really good. Jason Baggott and Lee Millar both played well, as did Connor McAlpine, who made a big difference with the pressure he put on with his box kicks.”
It’s clear there could be a few uncomfortable moments for some players when the Bulls return to training next week, though. Pat MacArthur, their coach, was unhappy about the commitment from some of his players and will tell them all about it.
“We’re not going to panic, though. We’ll take the good bits, discuss the bits that are not acceptable and the boys will fix it,” he said. “We have to look at game management – credit to them we did not get one easy exit – and physicality. When I see us getting blasted off contact, that’s when it is disappointing. That’s the bit I don’t like to see.
“We need to be confident and not go into our shells. When we started playing rugby, you could see the space we created. We play rugby we create opportunities. We previewed it, we talked about it, but I think that wee break brought us back into our shell a bit and we paid for it.”
It had been a game that demonstrated the fierce rivalry that has built up between these teams. It took extra time to separate them in the tournament final last season, and just eight points split them in a low-scoring game when Watsonians won at Millbrae on the opening weekend of this season.
No surprise, then, that this was another tense encounter with neither side prepared to let rip in a deeply tactical clash. The result was a first half played almost entirely between the two 22s as both sides peppered the field with tactical kicks but neither could make any real breakthrough.
The Bulls had marginally the better of the territory game and certainly manufactured the first proper scoring chance when flanker Ryan Sweeney carved his way through with support from Jamie Drummond, the prop. It took a pair of tackles from scrum-half McAlpine and wing Lomond MacPherson to keep them out but the visitors were able to recycle the ball and win a penalty.
They rejected the easy three points, though, and paid the price when a knock-on allowed the home side to relieve the pressure. It was a similar story when Jamie Shedden, the centre, manufactured another break and this time the price was even steeper as Watsonians broke out and skipper Baggott showed them the value of keeping the scoreboard ticking over by putting over the first penalty which his side had won in kicking range.
The Bulls were still getting the better of most exchanges, though, and eventually made it pay when they were able to set up a rolling maul from 15 metres out and Drummond piled through the middle to score the opening try with Brad Roderick-Evans adding the conversion.
The lead was short-lived. Baggott manufactured a superb switch from left to right and put MacPherson into space. He couldn’t make the line himself, but after he was caught, the forwards came driving in behind him with hooker Cal Davies making the final inches. Baggott added the extras and the Edinburgh side had a narrow lead at the break.
It was soon slightly larger as Baggott’s cross kick gave full-back Dom Coetzer the chance to take play into Ayrshire territory, allowing Baggott to pop over his second penalty.
After its nervy start, the game was starting to open up a bit, but it still took a moment of brilliance for Coetzer to come racing onto a clever offload from hooker Davies, put in a little shimmy to hold the defence and then pin his ears back and race into the corner.
Baggott again added the tricky conversion and suddenly there was some daylight between the sides. Watsonians needed it. Ayr were still up for the fight and were soon back in contention when Shedden helped win a penalty they again kicked to the corner. This time the lineout drills went perfectly and the maul motored over the line with replacement hooker Alex McGuire grounding the ball.
The Edinburgh side pushed their advantage out to nine points again with a third penalty, this one from Millar, who had replaced Baggott a few minutes earlier. By now, Watsonians were on a charge, and a clever kick through from Millar gave them another attacking position with Millar himself adding the inevitable penalty.
It gave them a 12-point cushion going into the final minutes. They needed it as the Bulls rediscovered their mojo and pummelled the home line until they got the inevitable penalty try that rescued a losing bonus point and a bit of pride.
Watsonians: D Coetzer; L MacPherson, G Pringle, L Berg, S King; J Baggott (C), C McAlpine; B Bratton, C Davies, G Scougall, K Watt, A Scopes, L Ball, J Kerr, K van Niekerk. Subs: F Duraj, C Davidson, M Wilson, C Wilson, M Reid, M McAndrew, L Millar, F Owsley.
Ayrshire Bulls: O Horne; C Hyde, J Shedden, B Beattie, L Bardelli; B Roderick-Evans, R Cullen; J Drummond, G Stewart, C Miller, E Bloodworth, R Jackson, R Sweeney, L McNamara, B Macpherson (C). Subs: A McGuire, R Tanner, W Farquhar, O Baird, T Brown, F Johnston, C Townsend, C Elliot.
Referee: Ian Kenny.
Watsonians: Tries: Davies, Coetzer; Cons: Baggott 2; Pens: Baggott 2, Miller 2.
Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Drummond, McGuire, Penalty Try. Cons: Roderick-Evans 2.
Scoring sequence (Watsonians first): 3-0; 3-5; 3-7; 8-7; 10-7 (h-t) 13-7; 18-7; 20-7; 20-12; 20-14; 23-14; 26-14; 26-21.
Yellow card –
Watsonians: Wilson (80+2 mins)
Player-of-the-Match: Dom Coetzer scored a scorching try, set up by Cal Davies who also scored. The half-backs pulled the strings, however, with Connor McAlpine’s box kicks a constant threat – but he was just edged by Jason Baggott, the Watsonians fly-half, who gets the award.
Talking point: It’s trendy for sides to kick for the corner and go for tries, but Watsonians won this the by taking the points on offer. You wonder what might have happened if the Bulls had taken that early penalty and got their noses in front when they were in the ascendancy.