Ayrshire Bulls 24
IAIN Hay @ Millbrae
SUPER 6’s top two sides put on a colossal battle under the Friday night lights, in a showdown which victorious coach Pat McArthur called a “real advertisement for Super6 rugby”.
“Anyone who watches that sees the physicality, sees the work the boys are putting in, and to play an 80-minute match like that, with two quality teams going at it, and to come out the right side; I’m chuffed to bits.
“You can see the amount of work that’s required to get a try and you just have to keep putting pressure on and keep playing in the right areas.”
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Watsonians dominated the opening quarter, their electric line-speed and powerful tackling – Bulls’ captain Blair Macpherson in particular seeming to be targeted with some two-man smashes – and deservedly took the lead in the 12th minute.
After laying siege to the Ayr line, it was lock Jamie Berrisford who crossed for his third try in little over half an hour of game time, having come off the bench last week against Heriot’s to bag himself a double.
Bulls, having been unable to make any dents in the ‘Sonians defence from deep, were given a first decent look at the danger zone shortly afterwards but were again met with thunder. In-form centre Robert Beattie – I’m sorry Bobby, it’s my fault you didn’t make Team of the Week for not replying to a WhatsApp message earlier and pleading your case– tried to cut against the grain of the drift but didn’t go far, then he tried a bouncing kick for Elias Caven and James Malcolm to chase, but it was well fielded by full-back Dom Coetzer.
Confidence was so high in the Watsonians camp that when awarded a penalty in the shadow of the Ayr goalposts, head coach Fergus Pringle bellowed for his team to take it into the corner. Unfortunately for Pringle and his team, the otherwise impressive Karl Main knocked on. Some may argue that they should have kept the scoreboard ticking over, but with momentum firmly on their side, going for the exposed jugular seemed a reasonable call.
It’s often said you make your own luck in sport, in which case, the Bulls must have a small factory secreted in the bowels of Millbrae. “Luck” may not be entirely appropriate, as it took a sensational piece of skill to bring them back into it against the run of play.
A decent kick from centre Joe Reynolds was taken on the edge of his own 22 by Aussie full-back Liam McNamara with seemingly little danger until he danced past the challenge of opposite number Coetzer, and then through the tackle of Angus Guthrie, who may be a little annoyed at himself for not getting more on him.
McNamara raced into the opposition half and, at full tilt, played a perfectly flighted pass inside to Jamie Shedden. The former Marr man did what he does best and galloped away from those in pursuit.
Earlier praise of Watsonians’ ferocity in defence also had to be paid in kind to Bulls. Young fly-half Richie Simpson clung onto Guthrie’s jersey when the winger looked to be getting away, and then Alex Samuel produced two slamming tackles within seconds of each other, and soon they were able to work their way up the pitch.
If the Ayrshire Bulls’ luck factory was now open, Shedden was the foreman, as he claimed his second with a bit of help from the unpredictable bounce of the rugby ball. Beattie tried the grubber, the ball ricocheted off shins into Shedden’s path, and he calmly kicked the ball on, waited for it to sit up, and fell over the line for an unlikely 14-7 home lead at half-time.
The defensive hammerings continued into the second half, and it was a particularly good piece of defensive work by Bulls’ hooker James Malcolm which led to Watsonians getting themselves back to within a try on the scoreboards. That might not make sense now, but it will.
Malcolm won the turnover pen, but replacement flanker Tim Brown was penalised for unsportsmanlike conduct as he celebrated the penalty win. Jason Baggott knocked over for 14-10.
The introduction of William Farquhar and Calvin Henderson tipped the balance of the scrum in Ayr’s favour, and if there’s one thing that Pat MacArthur might know a thing or two about, it’s lineouts. These two advantages ended up seizing the day, as Malcolm crossed from the back of a maul when a penalty was kicked to touch.
Although this seemed to have taken the Bulls to complete safety, the Myreside men battled until the end, and it was again inventive skill which set the platform for the score.
Baggott chipped over the top for Lewis Berg to run onto in midfield. He was stopped in the Bulls 22, but the recycling of the ball was deviously delayed by captain Macpherson, who went off to the sin bin. Watsonians went to touch, and with another penalty advantage in their favour just a couple of metres from the try-line, Patrick Harrison snuck over like a ninja, and Baggott kicked a semi-tricky conversion to claim a deserved losing bonus point for the league leaders.
“In the first 20 minutes I thought we were really good,” said Pringle post-match. “We had some excellent defensive sets in our own third and we got up here and scored. I just felt we maybe lost that kicking battle, and that in game management, Ayr were a little bit better than us and they capitalised on our mistakes.
“I believe we’d won our last three games down here, but they’re a good team. Credit to them tonight, they were hungry, desperate to win, and played a smart game.”
Ayrshire Bulls: Liam McNamara; A Tait, J Shedden, B Beattie, E Caven; R Simpson, C Jones; A Nimmo, J Malcolm, M Scott, E Bloodworth, A Samuel, R Jackson, G Wilson, B Macpherson©. Substitutes: A McGuire, W Farquhar, C Henderson, E Hamilton-Bulger, T Brown, W Hunt, J Lenac, T Glendinning.
Watsonians: D Coetzer; L MacPherson, L Berg, J Reynolds, A Guthrie; J Baggott, R Brand; H Courtney, C Davies©, B Bratton, L Ball, J Berrisford, K van Niekerk, K Main, N Irvine-Hess. Substitutes: P Harrison, C Lamberton, G Scougall, K Watt, C Wilson, M Scott, C Eastgate, R Daley.
Referee: David Sutherland.
Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Shedden 2, Malcolm. Cons: Simpson 3. Pen: Hunt.
Watsonians: Tries: Berrisford, Harrison. Cons: Baggott 2. Pen: Baggott.
Scoring sequence (Ayrshire Bulls first): 0-5; 0-7; 5-7; 7-7; 12-7 14-7 (h-t) 14-10; 19-10; 21-10; 24-10; 24-15; 24-17.
Yellow card –
Bulls: Macpherson 80.
Player-of-the-Match: Alex Samuel was in the running after a big first 40, and Rory Jackson filled his boots in the second half well, but the game-breaker was Liam McNamara, who also covered the backfield well.
Talking Point: we have to talk about Jamie. The Premiership-winning outside-centre/winger won the official POTM award, and gaffer McArthur referred to him as a “real point of difference. He’s developing into a really good player, he’s someone we want to keep working with and we’ll hopefully see he’s got the ability to kick on to the next level.”
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