Boroughmuir Bears 23
Stirling County 17
STUART BATHGATE @ Meggetland
THE last match before Super6 starts its mid-season break provided further evidence that, in its second year, the tournament is steadily improving and producing more keenly contested and unpredictable games.
No team is running away with it at the top, and no team is irretrievably adrift at the bottom. Boroughmuir Bears remain last, but they are now just a point behind Heriot’s after an inspired second-half fightback saw them get the better of Stirling County.
Individual coaches may bemoan what they see as their team’s inconsistency, and it is certainly the case that each of the six sides has had its sticky patches. But again, the quality of the competition has had something to do with that.
This was neither the best nor the most dramatic game in the competition so far – County’s win over the Ayrshire Bulls nine days earlier probably deserves that plaudit – but it did showcase some vital virtues. Above all, the Bears displayed the character and self-belief required to claim their first victory since the opening night of the season, against opponents who might well have had the win wrapped up but for some wayward kicks at goal.
“At half-time we were wondering how we were going to get into the game,” home coach Graham Shiel admitted. “County had the majority of first-half possession, but the penalty we had on the verge of half-time to make it 6-12 was important. In the second half we edged it in parts, and when we got into their 22 we took our points.”
An injury to winger Jordan Edmunds was a blow to the Bears at the end of a stodgy first quarter in which the closest we came to a score was a Craig Robertson penalty which wandered wide of the posts. Having missed that early chance to take the lead, however, County eventually went ahead after 25 minutes. A solid driving maul followed a penalty to touch, and with the Bears defence stretched out on their line, Stirling No 8 Dean Taylor-Menzies came in on a crash ball to cross. Robertson’s conversion attempt bounced back off an upright.
A Tom Pittman penalty narrowed the deficit after half an hour, but County dominated the remaining play before the break, and stretched their lead when Archie Russell finished off after a smart break by Tom Roche. Robertson’s converse was on target this time, and that looked like being that for the first half. Instead, a needless high tackle on Trystan Andrews saw County flanker Connor Gordon sent to the sin-bin, and a second successful Pittman penalty ended the half.
Stirling’s seven-man pack was under a bit of pressure in the early stages of the second half, but the introduction off the bench of George Breese helped them weather the storm until Gordon returned. Having apparently done the difficult work, however, County began to look altogether less convincing.
A penalty attempt that would have put them more than a full score clear came back off a post, and then right on the hour mark they fell behind for the first time in the match. The Bears got a lineout maul working well, and substitute Euan Ferrie finished off in the right corner, with Pittman adding the two points.
The score gave Boroughmuir a fresh lease of life, and they were soon back on the offensive. Stern defensive work denied them at first, but then a clever kick through by centre Duncan Munn was gathered by Tom Brown, who dotted down. Pittman converted again, and County needed to respond quickly.
They did, with Tom Roche scoring from a Robertson kick through five minutes from time. Unconverted, the try left County three points behind, but before they could get back on the attack, a Pittman drop goal had extended the home team’s lead.
A fluffed restart did not help the visitors’ chances of a late winner, and although they fought on right to the end, they did not really threaten to pull off a great escape. A win would have taken them into third place, just behind the Southern Knights; instead, they are just ahead of the bottom two and are now the only side in the competition to have just one win to their name.
“We need to be honest with ourselves and ask why we didn’t win,” Stirling County coach Ben Cairns said. “There’s no point saying we should have won. We’ve only won one game in the first five and we need to be better than that.”
Boroughmuir Bears: M Cimprich; T Brown, R Kerr, D Munn, J Edmunds (K McGhie 20); T Pittman, K Barreto; R Dunbar (G Cave 51), C McKenzie (F Scott 61), D Winning (co-captain) (M McGinley 71), J Fisher (E Ferrie 51), W Inglis, C Keddie (co-captain) (R Drummond 63), S McGinley (M Mncube 51), T Andrews.
Stirling County: C Robertson; S Hamilton, A Russell, C Jardine, T Roche; A Goudie (E Cunningham 63), G Hughes (C Korteweg 51); J Phelan (G Breese 46), R Kennedy (captain) (A Fraser 57), L Skinner, J Pow, B Bowes (B Luney 57), G Arnott, C Gordon, D Taylor-Menzies (A Mackie 57).
Referee: Graeme Ormiston.
Boroughmuir Bears: Tries: Ferrie, Brown. Cons: Pittman 2; Pens: Pittman 2; Drop goal: Pittman.
Stirling County: Tries: Taylor-Menzies, Russell, Roche; Con: Robertson.
Scoring sequence (Boroughmuir first): 0-5, 3-5, 3-10, 3-12, 6-12 half-time, 11-12, 13-12, 18-12, 20-12, 20-17, 23-17.
Stirling County: Gordon (40mins).
Man of the match: Bears No 8 Trystan Andrews played a vital role in his team’s second-half fightback.
Talking point: Stirling missed two penalties and two conversion attempts, and for all that Boroughmuir deserve credit for their fightback, that profligacy with the boot was decisive.