Ayrshire Bulls 17
Southern Knights 11
DAVID BARNES @ Millbrae
BLOOD and thunder in deepest, darkest Ayrshire. A powerful start and a never-say-die attitude in defence was enough to see the hosts home. The win lifts the Bulls to the top of the Super6 table, on points difference ahead of the beaten Knights, with one round of matches of the regular season to play next weekend.
Third-placed Watsonians can in theory still qualify for the 1st/2nd place play-off, but they will have to win their two remaining matches – against Boroughmuir Bears this Sunday and the Bulls seven days later – with a bonus point on both occasions, then hope that either the Bulls or Knights fail to pick up a single bonus point in their final game. Even then, the Myreside men will have to turnaround a 62-point differential in favour of Knights and a 110-point differential in favour of the Bulls in order to sneak into the top two.
“We base ourselves on a few things – effort and confrontation are lines in the sand for us and the lads put a huge amount into that game, as everyone could see,”said victorious head coach Pat MacArthur. “We made it hard for ourselves with the penalties which gave them attacking opportunities, so credit to the boys because a lot of our defence was outstanding, but, at the same time, lets use our brains and not put ourselves in the position where we have to defend for 50 or 60 minutes of a tight game.”
“It’s a building block. The boys are doing really well. The training is really physical and we’re seeing that crossover. I’ve got to be smart with how much I’m putting them through, but at the same time they are reacting well to it, so we’ll just keep strapping ourselves in.”
Opposite number Rob Chrystie was disappointed but not despondent. “If we had started a wee bit better that could easily have finished quite differently,” he reflected. “We made a lot of individual errors, which in weather like this and in a game like this puts your whole team under pressure.
“I’ve not seen the final stats but we were in their 22 an awful lot, and when you are not converting that pressure into points you start second-guessing yourselves. It’s fine, I think it is a good process to go through, and I think we’ll take a lot out of the game.
“We’ll chop it up and have a look at it before moving on to Stirling next week, and barring complete disaster I think we’re almost there.”
An early fumble of a high ball by Knights full-back Joe Jenkins, and a penalty for Ayrshire Bulls at the resulting scrum which was kicked to the corner, led to home captain Blair MacPherson rumbling over for his seventh try of the season with just three minutes played.
The heavens opened as Tom Jordan nailed the touchline conversion, and the rain was biblical for the next five minutes. That, along with the persistent drizzle which followed, meant that this had to be more of a battle of attrition as opposed to a festival of free-flowing rugby.
Another scrum penalty conceded by Knights, after Jason Baggott had dropped a high ball, was once again sent to the corner, leading to MacPherson doubling his own and his team’s account for the evening.
Baggott got the visitors on the scoreboard with a penalty straight from the restart, when a tackled Bulls player took an extra role to get away from the jackaler. However, the Knights stand-off then dropped his second high ball in quick succession, with the almost inevitable consequence of another scrum penalty kicked to the corner, although this time the Bulls couldn’t find a way to the try-line form close range.
That was a turning point in the first half. Good work by Baggott, collecting his own chip-and-chase, put Knights on the front foot, and although Dalton Redpath couldn’t quite escape down the right touch-linet, a series of six penalty concessions by Bulls meant the next 15 minutes were spent deep inside the home 22.
But Bulls held strong, even after home prop Michael Scott was sent to the sin-bin for an offside, meaning that it remained 14-3 as the two sides disappeared back to the changing rooms for a reinvigorating cuppa at half time.
Knights started the second half as they had finished the first. A scrum penalty, a clever line-out ploy which released Russell Anderson up the tramlines, then an offside penalty, a collapsed maul penalty and a not rolling away penalty meant another yellow-card was looking likely, but the hosts somehow survived that onslaught without any men or points lost.
Then, when Baggott was charged down and an offside penalty was conceded as Knights tried to recover the situation, Jordan stepped forward to slot three easy points to make it a 14 gap with 18 minutes left on the clock.
But the Knight kept plugging away, and with eight minutes to go, the visiting maul finally delivered, with replacement hooker Fraser Renwick getting the downward pressure. Baggott didn’t manage the touchline conversion but a tense finale was still on the cards, especially after home flanker Yaree Fantini was yellow-carded for a shoulder charge.
And when Knights powered their way to a scrum penalty and Baggott fired home the points, that meant there was less than a converted try in it with two and a half minutes to go, but the away team couldn’t get back out of their half from the restart, and when Ruaridh Knott was penalised for holding on it was game over.
Ayrshire Bulls: M Davidson; A Tait (C Henderson 40-48), R Beattie, T Williams, R Nairn ( F Callaghan, 70); T Jordan, J Lenac (H Warr 69); G Thornton (R Sayce 74), A McGuire (R Tanner 48-56, 70), M Scott (C Henderson 64), E Bloodworth, T Everard (Jackson 64), R Sweeney (G Wilson 70), Y Fantini, B MacPherson.
Southern Knights: J Jenkins (I Sim 59); P Anderson, N Godsmark, A Mitchell (B Wara 50), S Pecqueur; J Baggott (M McAndrew 41), C Jones; S Gunn (G Shiells 52), R Anderson (F Renwick 52), E McLaren, D Redpath (D Suddon 52), A Runciman, R Knott, A Ferrie (H Borthwick 70), I Moody.
Referee: Hollie Davidson
Ayrshire Bull: Tries: MacPherson 2; Con: Jordan 2; Pen: Jordan.
Southern Knights: Try: Renwick; Pen: Baggott 2.
Scoring sequence (Ayrshire Bulls first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0; 14-3 (h-t) 17-3; 17-8; 17-11.
Yellow cards –
Ayrshire Bulls: Scott (39mins), Fantini (74mins)
Man-of-the-Match: Two tries in the opening quarter from captain fantastic Blair MacPherson set the Bulls on course to victory.
Talking Point: A long period of relentless pressure and a deluge of penalties didn’t yield the points Southern Knights needed to claw back the early deficit. Would a few more kicks at goal have been the wider option?