Ayrshire Bulls 48
Stirling County 17
IAIN HAY @ Millbrae
LADIES’ Day at Ayr saw plenty of fizz being consumed, and the home side marked the occasion by bringing plenty of their own sparkle to proceedings, as for the second game in a row they crossed the 40-point mark and gained a semblance of revenge for their narrow loss last time these sides faced off.
Taking a healthy but not insurmountable lead into the half-time break, Ayr produced a blistering second-half performance before two late County scores, that didn’t irk coach Pat MacArthur who had been able to empty his bench fairly early on.
“If you know me, that was a little bit annoying, but you have to look at the big picture, don’t you?,” the Bulls coach said. “First few games we didn’t quite get the wins, but there were a lot of positives. We will review and learn from it because games will get tighter, and we’ll need to learn how to close them off.
“Backing up from the other week, we focused on continuing from where we left off, and the boys started with a lot of intensity and set the tone for the game. Backing up performances is a thing we have to learn to do.”
Matt Davidson opened the scoring after only two minutes. A near-interception for County had bounced into his hands close to halfway, and after approximately a dozen phases he was on hand to collect inside centre Tom Williams’ pass for a simple score.
An Andrew Goudie penalty five minutes later reduced the deficit, and Stirling then laid siege to the Ayr try-line, but MacArthur’s army fronted up superbly to repel the would-be invaders, and then took control of the match.
“In Super6 you’ll see a lot of games where it could be won by either team, and there’s spells where you’re going to have to defend really well. A big focus for us in pre-season was on defence and setting our stall out: our double hits, our competitiveness”, added McArthur.
“Credit to Stirling: they had a 12-13 minute spell where they held onto the ball really well and put us under a lot of pressure, but the boys stuck to our systems, we turned the ball over and managed to get a couple of good tries.”
Both of those came through Yaree Fantini, the first a superb effort following more fine work from Williams, and terrific offloads from him and Alex McGuire which sent Fantini in the clear. Just before half-time, Tom Roche was perhaps harshly judged to have deliberately knocked on and sent to the sin-bin, and Fantini scored again when the Bulls tapped and went from close range.
After nearly scoring again within 30 seconds of the restart, all the action remained in the County half. Bulls captain Blair MacPherson followed up his hat-trick last time out with another try to secure the bonus point, then Robert Beattie gathered a loose ball just inside the County half and showed a good turn of pace to score in the left corner and extend the score to 36-3.
County did pull one back through Callum Cruickshank after the previously sin-binned Roche showed good awareness to race down the touchline and take a quick lineout following a goal-line drop-out which had gone out on the full, only for Gavin Wilson to instantly hit back.
A simple run in in for Elias Caven and a last-ditch consolation for Roche completed the scoring on what would be a raucous day down at Millbrae.
Understandably, Stirling head coach Ben Cairns wasn’t too delighted with his team’s performance. “Things went wrong from the first kick-off. I’m laughing, but they’ve gone near full length and scored on the first possession of the game. It doesn’t matter how well you feel you’ve prepped and how much energy you’ve got going into the game if the first event’s that. Just sucks all the momentum you’ve taken into the game”, he observed.
“We showed what we could do when we execute, but it took us until the last 20 minutes to start executing anything off our set-piece. If you don’t have set-piece you’re not going to get anything out of the game.
“We’re not going to review that performance too hard, we feel a lot of it’s an attitude thing, guys taking individual responsibility. We’ve asked them to go away, reflect and be honest with themselves.”
Ayrshire Bulls: M Davidson; E Caven, R Beattie, T Williams, R Nairn (T Lanni 60); T Jordan (C Townsend 53), J Lenac (H Warr 53); G Thornton (R Sayce 62), A McGuire (J Drummond 59), C Henderson (M Scott 51), E Bloodworth (E Hamilton-Bulfer 62), T Everard, R Sweeney (G Wilson 59), Y Fantini, N MacPherson
Stirling County: C Robertson; S Hamilton, A Russell (L Hayes 75), C Jardine, T Roche; A Goudie (E Cunningham 51), G Hughes (C Korteweg 48); B Dineen (C Lamberton 31), R Kennedy (A Fraser 46), J Phelan (G Breese 35), J Pow (B Bowes 48), B Luney, C Cruickshank, C Gordon (J van Vuuren 54), G Arnott.
Referee: David Sutherland.
Bulls: Tries: Davidson, Fantini 2, MacPherson, Beattie, Wilson, Caven; Cons: Jordan 3, Townsend 2; Pens: Jordan.
County: Tries: Cruickshank, Roche; Cons: Cunningham 2; Pens: Goudie.
Scoring Sequence – (Bulls first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-3; 13-3; 14-3; 19-3 (h-t) 22-3; 27-43; 29-3; 34-3; 36-3; 36-8; 36-10; 41-10; 46-10; 48-10; 48-5; 48-17.
Yellow Card –
Stirling County: Roche (39mins).
Man of the Match: As the scoreline suggests, a number of Bulls performed extremely well but Yaree Fantini, who could also stake a claim to being the best player in the competition, once again shone brightest.
Talking Point: The Bulls pack is looking ferociously strong. The lineout didn’t work too well, but they won half a dozen scrum penalties. The locks look strong, and the preferred choice of back-row: the tough-as-teak top performer Ryan Sweeney, Fantini, and captain Blair MacPherson is a match made in heaven for coach McArthur, but Hell for the opposition.