Southern Knights 16
Ayrshire Bulls 26
DAVID BARNES @ The DAM Health Stadium
A TENSE, sometimes tetchy and ultimately entertaining encounter concluded with Ayrshire Bulls becoming the first side to lift the FOSROC Super6 trophy after surviving a ferocious late onslaught from Southern Knights whilst reduced to 13 men during the final five minutes.
It wasn’t a match for the faint-hearted but a compelling advert for the tournament if the standard of play is the only metric that matters. Super6 now goes into cold storage for an as yet unspecified period of time and there will inevitably be plenty of analysis and discussion on how the tournament can improve and become more effective for all of Scottish rugby, both on and off the park.
“We started well and put ourselves in a good position, but there is always swings in momentum and one of the things we are trying to teach this team is how to control what you can control,” said victorious head coach Pat MacArthur afterwards. “So, that’s about about the ability to keep to your systems and keep your shape, especially in defence, and we saw at the end there that the effort the boys put in to keep the Knights out was second to none. We were down to 13 men and under pressure but not one man took a knee.”
Bulls took an early lead when an excellent cut-out pass from Tom Jordan from a scrum on the Knights’ 22 gave Elias Caven the sliver of space he needed on the left touchline, and the winger managed to ride Jacob Henry‘s last-ditch tackle to finish brilliantly in the corner.
Jordan added the touchline conversion then sent home a rather more straightforward offside penalty to make it 10-0 with just 11 minutes played.
Knights rallied briefly with Fraser Renwick, Murdo MacAndrew and Nyle Godsmark all carrying as the Borderers battled their way into the Bulls’ 22 for the first time in the match, only for Billy Wara to give away a penalty for clearing out the defender beyond the ruck, allowing Jordan to activate the pressure release valve.
Iain Moody thought he had hauled his team right back into the match when he caught Bulls off-guard to break from a maul and gallop home from about 20 yards out – but he was rolled onto his back and prevented from grounding the ball by a sensational try-saving tackle from Matt Davidson.
Another sweeping attack orchestrated by Jordan off first-phase scrum ball almost culminated in another Bulls try when their stand-off toe-poked a grubber into the in-goal area, but Henry got the benefit of the doubt ahead of Bobby Beattie after a furious race to get to the ball as it bounced towards the dead-ball line.
Bulls had to make do instead with three points courtesy of Jordan’s right boot for an earlier penalty infringement.
As the clock ticked past the half hour, Knights finally managed to pressurise Bulls’ well-drilled and aggressive defence with Godsmark and Harry Borthwick carrying hard, and they got off the mark with an offside penalty kicked by Jason Baggott from right in front of the posts, and the stand-off doubled his own and his team’s account just a few minutes later when Yaree Fantini was penalised at a ruck.
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Knights pulled it level with five minutes of the second half played, when that bulldozing line-out drive which has been so effective for them this season pinned Bulls back on their own line, before the ball was shipped to the left with a nice, flat pass from Baggott sending Henry under the posts.
Ayr bounced back and Jordan kicked a high-tackle penalty, but it was nip and tuck, with Baggott cancelling out that narrow lead when Blair MacPherson was penalised for a side entry, then Jordan riposting when Dan Suddon was penalised to lying on the wrong side.
As the game got increasingly tetchy and penalty-strewn, it really needed someone to grab it by the scruff of the neck, and George Thornton decided he was going to be that man After another well-oiled attack by the Bulls off scrum ball pulled the Knights out of shape, the loose-head prop picked up from a tackle and danced past Murdo MacAndrew then motored home with Angus Runciman futilely hanging onto his shirt-tail.
Knights came back hard, and Bulls scrum-half Jordan Lenac was sent to the sinbin for taking out an opponent off the ball.
Then, after a pulsating period of pressure on the Bulls line, a loose pass bobbled along the deck to eventually reach Henry, who pinned his ears back and went for the line, but he was taken out by a wild and dangerous swinging-arm tackle from Bulls second-row Tom Everard, which caught the full-back high.
Henry was treated on the pitch for a several minutes before being stretchered off. A statement issued by Scottish Rugby afterwards said: “After the required medical assessments, Southern Knights full-back Jacob Henry has not required hospitalisation after sustaining an injury in the 76th minute of this afternoons FOSROC Super6 Final He is alert, sitting up and speaking with his mother who is with medical staff.”
Everard was rightly red-carded, meaning Knights had a two-man advantage as they tried to hunt down that 10-point deficit during the final four minutes.
The Borderers threw the kitchen sink at it, but couldn’t find a way through.
“We could have, maybe, just about got there,” reflected beaten head coach Rob Chrystie afterwards. “There was a big moment when we got level, they kicked-off and we spun the dice a little bit when we perhaps didn’t need to because we were getting them deep in there and they were struggling to exit.
“There was another big moment when they were smart at a line-out stood off to win the penalty. It was a three-point game at that point, and small margins can make a huge difference in games like that.
“We gave ourselves a lot to climb after the first 20 minutes, when we were just really ill-disciplined, which is not really like us. The penalty count was definitely in their favour and rightly so.
“But we regained a bit of control and we had an opportunity when Moody was held up, then a massive opportunity just before half-time down in the corner which we didn’t convert, so we had our chances but I think Ayrshire Bulls were a little bit more clinical and defended a little bit better than us as well.”
Chrystie added that the Knights’ season is not quite over yet, with the first leg of a double-header against Newcastle Falcons playing for the ‘Doddie Weir’s Clubs Trophy’ scheduled for the 29th October.
Southern Knights: J Henry (S Pecqueur 76); P Anderson, N Godsmark, B Wara (C Scott 55), S Pecqueur (A Mitchell. 70); J Baggott, M McAndrew (C Jones 70); G Shiells (S Gunn 49), F Renwick (R Anderson 49), E McLaren, D Suddon, A Runciman, H Borthwick, R Knott (A Ferrie 70), I Moody (D Redpath 25).
Ayrshire Bulls: M Davidson; A Tait (H Warr 71), R Beattie, T Williams, E Cavan (G Lowe. 63); T Jordan, J Lenac; G Thornton, A McGuire (R Tanner 59), M Scott (C Henderson 76), E Bloodworth, T Everard, R Sweeney Y Fantini, B MacPherson.
Referee: Keith Allen
Southern Knights: Try: Henry; Con: Baggott; Pen: Baggott 3.
Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Cavan, Thornton; Cons: Jordan 2; Pen: Jordan 4.
Scoring sequence (Southern Knights first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-10; 0-13; 3-13 ; 6-15 (h-t) 11-13; 13-13; 13-16; 16-16; 16-19; 16-24; 16-26;
Yellow cards –
Ayrshire Bulls: Fantini (44mins), Lenac (72mins)
Red cards –
Ayrshire Bulls: Everard (76mins)
Man-of-the-Match; There was heroic contributions from players on both sides across the park, but Tom Jordan‘s vision and control at stand-off for the Bulls was crucial. Not only was his kicking from hand and distribution on point, he tackled like a man possessed – and he also scored 16 of his team’s points.