Southern Knights 36
Stirling County 7
ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards
NINE days before they will face Ayrshire Bulls in the final of the FOSROC Super6 at the DAM Health Stadium in Murrayfield, Southern Knights sent a strong signal to their opponents that they have title intentions.
With a place in the final already assured, the Knights could have approached this match against Stirling County with a relaxed attitude, but instead the Greenyards men gave a display of full-blown physicality both going forward and in defence that gave Stirling little opportunity to play the kind of champagne rugby that had been a feature of their last few games and which forced County into making uncharacteristic mistakes.
“At the start of the game we didn’t give ourselves a chance with too many inaccuracies. We missed three penalty kicks to touch. This doesn’t allow you to get a foothold in the game. Our set piece was not good today, either,” admitted Stirling’s head coach, Ben Cairns.
“But the positive was that we finished well. There were some guys who came on and put their hands up for next week.” he added.
As for the Knights, this was the preparation they needed ahead of the final. “We were disappointed last week in how we played [v Ayrshire Bulls] and I think we short-changed ourselves a bit,” head coach Rob Chrystie said. “I think there’s still loads more to come from this group of players. I think we can really grow and build something here.”
Knights revealed their winning formula in the opening few minutes of the game, by stapling Stirling in their own half with a combination of forceful forward play and slick movement of the ball behind the scrum.
It was this blend that brought the Knights their first score, the home side setting up a driving maul from a penalty-created line-out before releasing the ball to the wider channels for full-back Jacob Henry to celebrate his return from injury by scorching past the County defence for an unconverted try.
The visitors soon showed their own brand of open rugby but despite some clever passing they were unable to breach an unforgiving Knights’ defence. Having withstood several waves of attacking rugby by the Knights, Stirling again moved the ball delightfully and should have got a reward when they were awarded a penalty in front of the posts, only for stand-off Euan Cunningham to miss with the relatively simple kick.
Then, when Knights drove another penalty-engineered line-out, hooker Fraser Renwick was presented with a trademark score for the Hawick man. Jason Baggott missed the conversion but less than a couple of minutes later the stand-off was on target, adding the extras to a second try for Henry after clever handling by scrum-half Murdo McAndrew and Iain Sim to give the home side a 17-0 interval advantage.
The start of the second half replicated the opening minutes of the first, with Knights dominating territory and possession. Their reward was the bonus-point try from close range by the burly Ruaridh Knott and the conversion by Baggott after the giant prop Calum Crookshanks had broken clear at a line-out.
County were again under pressure near their own line and when replacement prop George Breese was carded for a technical offence the consequence was inevitable: Baggott kicked to the corner, the forwards drove the maul, and replacement hooker Russell Anderson grabbed the try, Baggott adding the extras.
Then another line-out and another try, this time from replacement prop Shaun Gunn, gave Knights a 36-0 lead.
Fortunately for the game, Stirling were able to create a morale-lifting score after wing Tom Roche shredded the Knights defence with a mazy run. The Irishman was stopped but when the ball was moved to the left, centre Archie Russell crashed over for a try converted by replacement full-back Craig Robertson, to give the visitors some comfort for their efforts although not of the Southern blend.
Southern Knights: J Henry; I Sim, N Godsmark, B Wara, S Pecqueur; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiells©, F Renwick, C Crookshanks, D Suddon, A Runciman, R Knott, A Ferrie, H Borthwick. Substitutes: R Anderson, S Gunn, E McLaren, D Redpath, A Mitchell, C Jones, P Anderson, K Clark.
Stirling County: M Holden; S Hamilton, A Russell, C Jardine, T Roche; E Cunningham, G Hughes; A Wood, R Kennedy©, L Skinner, J Pow, M Williamson, G Arnott, C Gordon, D Taylor-Menzies. Substitutes: A Fraser, G Breese, J Phelen, B Bowes, C Crookshank, C Korteweg, A Goudie, C Robertson.
Referee: H Davidson.
Southern Knights: Tries Henry 2, Renwick, Knott, Anderson, Gunn; Cons: Baggott 3.
Stirling County: Try: Russell; Con: Robertson.
Scoring sequence (Southern Knights first): 5-0; 10-0; 15-0; 17-0 (h-t), 22-0; 24-0; 29-0; 31-0; 36-0; 36-5; 36-7.
Yellow card –
Stirling County: Breese.
Man-of-the-Match: The Knights forwards delivered a powerful performance that allowed their quicker players to flourish. Among these is back-row Harry Borthwick, whose athleticism is becoming a massive bonus for the Greenyards outfit. Although there were several other outstanding players to choose from, including scrum-half Murdo McAndrew, who had his best game this season for the Knights, and full-back Jacob Henry, who scored a brace of tries, it was Borthwick who earns the award.
Talking point: Southern Knights will be hopeful that they haven’t left their best rugby in round 10 of the FOSROC Super6 and that they can perform even better in the final next weekend. Certainly, against Stirling, the Knights revealed a steeliness throughout most of the game that suggests next weekend’s final could be a close affair. For Stirling there will almost certainly be a bounce back to form and an even bigger bounce if they have a home game.