Stirling Wolves 20
Ayrshire Bulls 64
IAIN HAY @ Bridgehaugh
LUCKLESS Stirling Wolves’ search for their first points of the Super6 campaign continued as an unforgiving Ayrshire Bulls ratcheted up the intensity in the second half to cruise to victory and do their points difference total a healthy turn.
Wolves were on the back foot straight away, losing possession on the edge of their 22, then conceding a penalty which Jordan Lenac took quickly, with captain Blair MacPherson showing trademark strength to barrel through two challenges and reach for the line.
The hosts came back into it and Euan Cunningham thought he’d got himself a 5-pointer as he raced onto Craig Robertson’s well-weighted kick, but covering defender Aaron Tait had just got to the ball first to make it a goal-line drop out for the visitors.
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Wolves continued to probe, and Marcus Holden got their first points from the tee after a high tackle by Bulls’ tight-head Michael Scott, and things took a further turn for the worse when midfield dynamo Bobby Beattie had to leave the field with a left-leg injury, meaning the introduction of young Chris Elliot.
However, when a team seems intent on inflicting self-harm, they’ll give up chances, and the clinical Bulls took advantage of them every time.
After managing to turn the ball over near their own line, a poor clearance handed possession back to the Bulls on the right, a yawning chasm appeared on the left-wing – where MacPherson was down receiving treatment, possibly creating a defensive switch-off – and three passes later, Richie Simpson was in at the corner.
Unfortunately for the promising No.10 he injured himself in the process, but his replacement, Will Hunt proved to be no reduction in quality.
A break by Ryan Southern saw his centre-partner Craig Jardine knock-on with the line in sight, Liam McNamara went to the sin-bin for Bulls for infringing at the prior breakdown, then Wolves lost a scrum 5m from the Bulls’ line. Connor Gordon’s offload was then a couple of inches too low for James Pow to take. All good chances to reduce the arrears, all passed up.
Holden eventually did the try the pressure merited, stepping Thomas Glendinning on the outside and ghosting home with no recognised full-back on the park, but when McNamara returned Bulls burst clear.
Two swift counter tries for Aaron Tait, one after Sione Vailanu had robbed from the breakdown, the second when Andrew Nimmo charged down and held onto a kick, put the Bulls two converted scores up at the interval and ensure they left with a try bonus point.
The Bulls’ back-row of MacPherson, Vailanu and Rory Jackson you would not want to run into in a dark alleyway, and even when Jackson went off he was replaced by another fairly big unit in Lewis McNamara, who took about 10 seconds to make his impact after replacing former Bishopton RFC man Jackson.
It was taking two men at a time to stop the marauding MacPherson, but he got his arms free to offload to McNamara who galloped home from halfway.
Another run in from halfway soon followed, replacement scrum-half Cam Jones going down an empty blindside after Vailanu had picked up from the base of a scrum and simply popped it back to Jones. McNamara got his second when MacPherson again had broken free and released Elias Caven.
The half-ton for the visitors came almost instantly. Holden’s restart went out on the full, Bulls won a penalty at the scrum which Jones tapped and ran with, all the way into the 22 where half-back partner Hunt took over.
Wolves pulled one back from a maul. It looked like Max Williamson was the man in possession when it crossed the line, but before this could be confirmed by the congratulations of his team-mates a bit of a rumble had broken out. Quite fitting, given the overlooking Wallace monument who also liked a bit of a rumble.
But, every silver lining Wolves were finding, soon spawned another cloud. Tim Brown scored a carbon copy try at the other end within a couple of minutes, with 77mins on the clock, Cunningham did well to leap above Caven and claim Liam Brims’ – back at last after a nasty knee injury – cross-kick, but with the clock in the red, there was another simple finish, MacPherson joining Tait and Lewis McNamara in scoring doubles.
“To come to Stirling and get 64 points – I don’t think we’ve beat them the last four league attempts – I’m happy. We know it’s a challenge and they’ve got a few boys back, so I think we’ve fronted up well and when we stuck to what we’ve been training and working on I thought we looked really good” said the usually hard-to-please Bulls coach Pat MacArthur.
“It says a lot that with a minute to go, where we could just see it out and kick the ball dead, we wanted to keep going. We wanted to scrum for a penalty, we wanted to make a couple of big contacts and then Blair got a decent try.
“We had an honest discussion at half-time, even though we had secured the bonus point, and we thought that we were not quite playing the way we wanted to and came out in the second half and really stepped up the intensity.”
A dismayed Ben Cairns accepted that his Wolves team had been the agents of their undoing at times. “I’m just really frustrated,” he said.
“I think all four of their [first-half] tries came from turnovers in our own half and within a couple of phases they’ve scored. So, one: we’ve got to be better at looking after the ball in our own half and play in the right areas. Two: we’ve got to transition better into defence.
“We’ve taken a bit of a hit as a group, mentally, so confidence is pretty fragile. You need to be able to try and build momentum and build into the game, but if you make the amount of errors we’ve made, in key positions, and leak tries pretty easily, it’s hard to keep your confidence high.”
Stirling Wolves: C Robertson; L Jarvie, R Southern, C Jardine, E Cunningham; M Holden©, F Burgess; N McBeth, G Hiddleston, G Breese, J Pow, M Williamson, G Arnott, C Gordon©, J Hill. Substitutes: A Fraser, A Wood, C Norrie, H Ferguson, C Cruikshank, L Brims, A Thom, C Beckett.
Ayrshire Bulls: Liam McNamara; A Tait, T Glendinning, B Beattie, E Caven; R Simpson, J Lenac; A Nimmo, J Malcolm, M Scott, E Bloodworth, A Samuel, B MacPherson©, R Jackson, S Vailanu. Substitutes: A McGuire, W Farquhar, S Berghan, T Brown, Lewis McNamara, C Elliot, W Hunt, C Jones.
Referee: Jonny Perriam
Wolves: Tries: Holden, Williamson, Cunningham. Con: Holden. Pen: Holden.
Bulls: Tries: Macpherson 2, Simpson, Tait 2, Jones, Lewis McNamara 2, Hunt, Brown. Cons: Simpson 2, Hunt 5.
Scoring sequence (Stirling County first): 0-5;0-7; 3-7; 3-12; 3-14; 8-14; 10-14; 10-19; 10-24 (half-time) 10-29; 10-31; 10-36; 10-41; 10-43; 10-48; 10-50; 15-50; 15-55; 15-57; 20-57; 20-62; 20-64.
Yellow card: Bulls: Liam McNamara.
Player of the Match: Even before his last-gasp second try, Blair Macpherson had his name etched on this. His ability to draw reinforcements in to try and stop him created space for his teammates which they took full advantage of.
Talking Point: The Bulls back row may have been enormous but it was also their workrate which impressed. “The challenge is that teams will see that and try to play a ground game and run you about, but we had the ability to front up and go through them, but they weren’t shy of running. There’s a balance to be played, but it’s a good opportunity to play such a big group of men together” said MacArthur of the trio.
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