Ayrshire Bulls 26
Stirling Wolves 0
IAIN HAY @ Millbrae
A ROUTINE victory for Ayrshire Bulls, and another collection of maximum points on offer, saw them leapfrog league-leaders Watsonians – for the time being at least – and finish the regular season unbeaten at home, conceding a miserly 46 aggregate points over the course of those five Millbrae games.
The turning of the seasons was fully felt, downpours over the last few days leaving the pitch heavy and prone to churning. With a number of stoppages in the first half meaning it took over 50 minutes to complete, it felt like a bit of grind, but as they tend to show, the Bulls were capable of producing when it mattered.
“When we got into their finish zone, we were clinical,” said Pat McArthur, the Bulls coach who this week signed a new two-year deal to keep him at the club. “It was tough conditions on a tough pitch, which took an awful lot of legs. We’ve been used to playing fast, summer rugby and tonight was a totally different change in conditions, which the boys adapted to well”
“It may have looked a bit more of a stuffy game of rugby, but the massive thing for us to look at is, it’s a bonus-point win, and zero on the board for Stirling. That’s something we work so hard on.
“The patience of the boys is so impressive. There’s no stress, they’re sticking to they system, choosing the right points to make dominant hits. We don’t need to over-do things and risk giving away a penalty, eventually they’ll get their reward.”
A number of Glasgow Warriors players took to the field and mixed report cards will be delivered back to Franco Smith. For example, Bulls welcomed back Ollie Smith and Ross Thompson, the latter being in direct opposition to Duncan Weir at 10. Alongside Weir in the Wolves starting fifteen was the lesser-spotted Walter Fifita, and although the giant Tongan looked a threat going forward, Wolves didn’t see enough possession to utilise him in dangerous areas of the park, and there was a couple of clangers which might go some way to answering why he’s rarely been seen in black.
Thompson’s educated left-boot helped put Bulls in the lead early. A sketchy pass from Jordan Lenac was turned into gold by Andrew Stirrat, claiming the ball over his head and flat, he carried two defenders with him before being hauled down. Space was available on the right, and Thompson’s grubber in behind was touched down by Aaron Tait.
Stirling’s wretched luck with injuries continued as both tight-head George Breese and lock Max Williamson had to be replaced during the opening quarter, but it did look like they were going to pull level on the scoreboard when Ryan Southern spun out a tackle in midfield, side-stepped and scarpered towards the line. The centre was practically over the try-line when Tait caught up with him, and as he pulled Southern down, Smith got across to dislodge the ball from Southern’s grasp and secure the goal-line drop for Bulls
The Thompson-Tait combo worked again to extend the lead, but with a large helping hand from Fifita, who Bulls were obviously keen to keep turning. Thompson’s outside of the boot cross-kick should have been an easy claim but, having done well to get himself in position, the ball slipped through the big Tongan’s grasp, and into the path of the predatory Tait.
Not much was going Fifita’s way, he was man-handled and dumped to the deck by Alex Samuel, much to the delight of the Millbrae crowd just after the restart, and although he did get one run to show how much damage he can do going forward, and although Wolves ended the half with a line-out five-metres from the Bulls’ line, they weren’t able to break down the black and pink barrier.
The second half ran much the same as the first, although if anything Bulls had even more territory. Blair Macpherson grabbed himself a try from all of about one metre, after Thompson was stopped just short as he tried to side-step his way to the line past three covering defenders.
Having watched Thompson unlock the Wolves defence for the first hour, his replacement Richie Simpson tried to get in on the act, stepping just like Thompson did in the Wolves 22, but was denied by a brilliant tackle by Connor Gordon. The teenage stand-off was also perhaps a touch unlucky to see a floated miss-pass towards the end of the game be called forward, one for the TV replays to prove.
Whether it was chopping, choking, or hauling into touch, Bulls had their defensive game locked down tight, so Wolves just couldn’t get any momentum. Ben Salmon thought he could outstrip Jamie Shedden, but the big man was plenty fast enough for that challenge and hauled him into touch.
Bulls kept coming, but, to their credit, Wolves kept on defending. Sione Vailanu – a late replacement on the bench for Tim Brown – takes some stopping, and after sitting down Euan Cunningham, Craig Robertson had to come over and throw himself into Vailanu’s path.
Stirratt and Tait, going for his hat-trick, were then stopped, but Macpherson claimed his second from very close range shortly after Fifita had failed to gather a chip and chase by Liam McNamara, which let the Bulls rampage on.
“We had an inability to put any pressure on them and didn’t keep the ball beyond a couple of phases in attack, and then also we’ve not really made them work hard before losing discipline and giving them a penalty, which invites them into the 22,” bemoaned Ben Cairns in his penultimate match in charge of the Wolves.
“I felt we would get stronger as the game went on, if Ryan Southern scores and it’s 12-7 at half-time, we’re creating a bit of scoreboard pressure, but we just couldn’t convert when we got one or two chances in the first half, and then in second half we’ve had one passage of over 10 phases but the rest of the time we’ve given the ball away too easily.
“Our heart’s there for all to see, but we’re just not accurate enough at the moment and not creating any pressure.”
Ayrshire Bulls: O Smith; J Shedden, T Glendinning, A Stirrat, A Tait; R Thompson, J Lenac; W Farquhar, J Malcolm, M Scott, E Bloodworth, A Samuel, R Jackson, G Wilson, B MacPherson©. Substitutes: A McGuire, A Nimmo, C Henderson, E Hamilton-Bulger, S Vailanu, R Simpson, C Jones, Liam McNamara.
Stirling Wolves: C Robertson; E Cunningham, B Salmon, R Southern, W Fifita; D Weir, F Burgess; C MacMillan, G Hiddleston, G Breese, J Pow, M Williamson, H Ferguson, G Arnott©, B Grant. Substitutes: A Fraser, J McKenna, M Walker, L Bean, C Gordon, G Christie, L Brims, C Jardine.
Referee: David Sutherland
Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Tait 2, Macpherson 2; Cons: Thompson 2, Simpson 1.
Stirling Wolves: No scorers
Scoring sequence (Ayrshire Bulls first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0 (h-t) 17-0; 19-0; 24-0; 26-0.
Player-of-the-Match: For another brace of tries and sticking manfully to his task on halting giant Walter Fifita in defence, Arron Tait is tonight’s winner.
Talking Point: Close to the above award, and claiming it from the broadcasters, was Alex Samuel. Another with Glasgow Warriors affiliation, McArthur said of the lock: “He’s the best young forward talent I’ve coached in the past five years.”