Ayrshire Bulls 19
IAIN HAY @ Millbrae
BULLS managed to hold firm at the death to complete a second-half fightback, but Watsonians will end the year at the top of the Super 6 table by points difference only, as the top two sides fought out a tense battle.
“I’m proud of the effort from our players. They gave it everything today, and effort’s important,” said Watsonians coach Fergus Pringle, who had seen his side let a 10-point lead slip away in the second period. “We put ourselves under pressure with our exits, allowed Ayr to pressure us more than we needed and it gave them good field position. Two tries from scrums, one intercept try; it is fine margins.
“We’ve put in a lot of effort over these last six weeks, but we always knew we were going to have a tough start to this league with four away fixtures. We’re disappointed to lose, but I can’t fault the effort, and there’s things we know we can do better.
“The boys have worked really hard, and gelled as a group. Especially the guys who haven’t been in the squad every week. Even though we didn’t sneak it at the death there, to go from our own try-line to being a whisker away from scoring that try, shows the character of the squad.”
The first-half was a stuttering, staccato affair which never settled into any kind of rhythm, due to an early slew of injuries and a swathe of set-pieces.
Within the opening two minutes, Michael Badenhorst had to be patched up to prevent blood pouring from his nose. Soon afterwards, the Bulls lost captain Peter McCallum to injury, and then found themselves 3-0 down thanks to the boot of Lee Millar.
Both sides produced solid defensive sets to nullify each other’s threat, before Bulls had another injury scare when Ruairidh Sayce was removed from the field, but following a check-over he was cleared to continue a few minutes later.
His replacement, Nicolas Griffiths, was instantly penalised at the scrum, which Millar put towards the corner, but excellent defending from Ayr saw Ollie Smith strip the ball just a few metres from his own line. The ball was then cleared with elegance and aplomb by Gordon Reid to just outside the 22.
Watsonians did extend their lead with just under two minutes remaining of the half, when Mesu Kunavula managed to cross the whitewash following a sustained period of pressure, which had come about after replacement scrum-half Murray Scott had affected Ross Thompson’s pass.
Watsonians began the second half camped back in the Bulls’ 22, until a momentum-shifting incident which turned the game on its head. Lewis Berg’s pass out wide was intercepted by Ollie Smith, who found an extra bit of fuel in his tank to take it all the way home. Not only did this reduce the deficit, it seemed to signal a complete power-shift.
Super6 top try-scorer Sam Kitchen had begun this match on the bench, however, he nearly added to his tally when peeling off the back of a maul, but it wasn’t long until Ayr did take the lead through.
The scrums had been fairly evenly matched in the first half, barring the incident when Sayce had to go off, but with the wind now in their sails, Ayr got the shove on close to the Watsonians line, and referee Mike Adamson awarded a penalty try.
Watsonians retook the lead with a Millar penalty, but Bulls again showed they had the upper hand in the scrum when Blair MacPherson picked up from the base and went over.
As the clock moved towards the 80 minute mark, the Bulls won a huge turnover penalty in midfield, only for Kitchen’s throw to be misread. Watsonians cleared, so the hosts only had to run the clock down now, but just as the hooter from the official time-keeper sounded, Mike Adamson blew his whistle on Blair MacPherson for not releasing.
Watsonians kicked deep, and thought they were due a penalty try when their maul was brought down, but after an officials confab, Adamson decided there had been no infringement, and the Bulls players celebrated.
“We managed to swing the momentum and build some pressure, so I’m pleased with the second half response,: said victorious head coach Peter Murchie. “Our energy levels were alright in the first half, but the issue was we’d do something really good, then get the ball and drop it, and it sucks the life out of you.
“Obviously, the intercept was a massive momentum swing, one minute we’re defending on our line, then we go and score a try. That’s probably a large part in how we’ve won the game.”
Ayrshire Bulls: O Smith; C Gossman, D McCluskey, T Jordan, M Davidson; R Thompson, D Armstrong; G Ried, L Anderson, R Sayce, M Sykes, L Morrice, P McCallum, G Wilson, B Macpherson. Subs: S Kitchen, N Griffiths, F Hastie, A McGuire, H Warr, L Jones.
Watsonians: J Forbes; L Macpherson, L Berg, J Reynolds, A Guthrie; L Millar©, A Harris; H Courtney, C Wilson, N Borel, F Simpson, J Hodgson. M Badenhorst, C Boyle, M Kunavula. Subs: C Davies, F Hobbis, J Gibson, K Watt, G Nelson, M Scott.
Referee: Mike Adamson
Bulls: Tries: Smith, Penalty, MacPherson; Con: Thompson.
Watsonians: Tries: Kunavula; Cons: Millar; Pens: Millar.
Scoring sequence (Ayrshire Bulls first): 0-3; 0-10 (h-t) 5-10; 12-10; 12-13; 19-13.
Man-of-the-Match: Bulls full-back Ollie Smith’s intercept score was just reward for another strong display. He eats up metres, is usually a safe pair of hands (there was one blip today, caused by a slip) and gets in the right place at the right time to defend.
Talking Point: Just two points of a point difference separates the top two sides now, who seem certain to be in the play-offs. Heriot’s aren’t far behind either, but that last spot could go anywhere.