Ayrshire Bulls 24
DAVID BARNES @ The DAM Health Stadium
AFTER 100 minutes of pulsating rugby, Watsonians emerged as the 2022 Super6 Championship winners, but what a contribution Ayrshire Bulls – battered, bruised but unbowed at the end – made to this thoroughly compelling contest.
These two sides have set the standard for Super6 during the last three months and the challenge now is for the rest of the teams to catch-up. The players will now have a few well-earned weeks off before focus turns to the next Super6 campaign, with the schedule for the competition still to be confirmed.
The decisive factor in this match was arguably injuries, with Bulls losing a number of leading figures – including captain Blair Macpherson and centres Andy Stirratt and Bobby Beattie – inside the opening hour, meaning that they had men out of position and no fresh legs to bring on during the final 20 minutes of regular time and during the extra-time which followed.
Watsonians had looked dead and buried when Bulls winger Elias Caven scooted over for his second try of the night to put the Ayrshire men 24-17 ahead with 13 minutes left to play, but a sensational 70-yard punt down the tramlines from captain Lee Millar forced a 180-degree swing in momentum.
From the five-metre line-out, Watsonians worked their way patiently in-field before replacement prop Gregor Scougall burrowed over for his second try of the contest, setting up an easy Millar conversion which forced the game into extra-time. With adrenalin pumping, Watsonians then flew out of the blocks at the start of those additional 20 minutes and snatched the lead for the first time since the 16th minute through a try by powerful centre Lewis Berg, who hit a devastating line directly off a scrum and charged under the posts untouched.
Watsonians swept back down field straight from the restart through rampaging replacement flanker Neil Irvine-Hess and when the Bulls conceded an offside penalty Millar kicked into the corner. The line-out was cleanly taken and the maul marched over the line with man-of-the match Cal Davies getting the downward pressure.
To their enormous credit, the clearly shattered Bulls raised themselves for one last tilt at saving the match, and Caven’s break up the left touchline brought the vocal crowd of just 0ver 1,500 at the DAM Health Stadium to their feet, but Watsonians managed to absorb everything their opponents threw at them, and then added their coup de grâce through a Campbell Wilson try in the final play.
“That was some game,” said victorious head coach Fergus Pringle afterwards. “I think it was a great advert for the competition with two teams who have been really playing well going toe-to-toe in the final. We expected Bulls to bring a lot of fire to this match and they didn’t disappoint.
“They really capitalised on our mistakes but when we played with patience in the second half we came away with points, and I think us scoring last in the game to make it 24-all gave us momentum which was crucial heading into the extra time.
“We started pre-season on 31st January and the guys have had just a couple of weeks off in the summer, so it has been a long old run,” he added. “We’ll make sure that we get a good break, and for the coaches it is just about planning, trying to keep the squad together as much as possible, and then looking towards next season when the schedule comes out.”
At the start of the game, Watsonians drew first blood through a Jason Baggott penalty, but Bulls’ response was swift and emphatic, with Stirratt charging under the posts on a crash ball, and they doubled up on that try seven minutes later when Aaron Tait came off his wing and slalomed home. Both scores were converted by teenager Richie Simpson.
Watsonians brought it back to a four-point game just before the break when tight-head prop Bobby Bratton barged over and Baggot converted, only for Bulls to push further ahead again early in the second half when master-marksman Caven latched on to Will Hurd’s excellent diagonal grubber into the corner.
As sure as night follows day, the momentum then swung back the other way with Scougall announcing his arrival off the bench with the first of his two tries.
When slick hands sent Caven over on the left for his second to make it 24-17 for Bulls with 13 minutes to play, it felt decisive, especially when Hurd pinned Watsonians back a few yards from their own line with a brilliant 50-22, but Millar and his Watsonians team-mates had other ideas, and that late score from Scougall took the game into extra time.
“You are going to lose games in your season but if you come off the park proud of your performance to a man then you can deal with that,” reflected beaten head coach Pat MacArthur. “Everyone is proud of what we did out there.
“Injuries hurt us. Emptying your bench after 49 minutes and losing senior players isn’t ideal but what came on after that was outstanding. We could have and maybe should have won it in the last few minutes of the game, so there is a real pride with that.
“Going into extra time with the boys hanging together, it was always going to be a tough ask. The fact that in the second period of extra time we were putting pressure on them, that shows a huge amount of togetherness. So, I am really disappointed, but it gives us something to shoot for next year!
“The planning starts now. It looks like a lot of the boys will stay on with us, which is really good. We work so hard in this team – full-time work as well as semi-pro rugby is really tough going – and the fact that the boys are enjoying it in a really tough league is huge.”
Watsonians : D Coetzer; L MacPherson, L Berg, J Reynolds (C Eastgate 70), A Guthrie; J Baggott (L Millar 48), R Brand (M Scott 58); H Courtney, C Davies, B Bratton ( G Scougall 54, R Deans 97), L Ball (K Watt 64), J Berrisford, K van Niekerk (N Irvine-Hess 64), K Main (C Wilson 69), S Cecil.
Ayrshire Bulls: L McNamara; A Tait, R Beattie (W Hunt 41), A Stirrat (T Glendinning 27), E Caven; R Simpson ( C Jones, 51), J Lenac; A Nimmo (W Farquhar 51), J Malcolm (A McGuire 51), M Scott (C Henderson, 51), E Bloodworth, R Jackson, A Smeaton, T Brown (J Drummond 59), B MacPherson (G Wilson 51).
Watsonians: Tries: Bratton, Scougall 2, Berg, Davies, Wilson; Con: Baggott, Millar 4; Pen: Baggott.
Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Stirrat, Tait, Caven 2; Cons: Simpson 2.
Scoring sequence (Watsonians first): 3-0; 3-5; 3-7; 3-12; 3-14; 8-14; 10-14 (h-t) 10-19; 15-19; 17-19; 17-24; 22-24; 24-24 (f-t) 29-24; 31-24; 36-24; 41-24; 43-24.