Southern Knights 22
Ayrshire Bulls 20
ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards
THE Southern Knights remain undefeated after three rounds of the FOSROC Super6, but in their first home match this season that enviable position was constantly under threat from an Ayrshire Bulls side that looked the stronger team in the opening quarter but which arguably left points on the pitch.
“We had numerous chances in their 22 which we didn’t capitalise on,” admitted Bulls head coach Pat MacArthur. “And obviously the two yellow cards, one of which was doubtful, didn’t help us”.
For the Knights, who trailed 0-10 after the first quarter, there was a sense of relief that they had secured the win. “For the first period of the game we hardly touched the ball, and when we did we gave it straight back to them either through kicking or being inaccurate,” their head coach Rob Chrystie said.
“We struggled to get into the game early on. We can play a lot better than that. We were happy to win but a little disappointed with our performance, if I’m honest.”
The home side owed much to man-of-the match Craig Jackson, who led from the front with two trenchant breaks that pulled the Knights back into the match. Moreover his defence at times was crucial against the lively Ayrshire team.
It took just five minutes of play for Ayrshire Bulls to register first points of the match, from an unconverted try by loose-head Ruaridh Sayce, engineered by a splintered maul after a penalty kick to the corner.
It was just reward for forward dominance by the Bulls, an advantage the visitors continued to display in the build-up to their second score, this time from a clever kick over the Knights’ defence that bounced kindly for Kiwi centre Jordan to touch down wide out. Again, Christian Townsend was just off target with his conversion attempt, this time the ball rebounding infield off the far upright.
The Bulls’ ten-point lead was eroded by a Jason Baggott penalty, but the stand-off failed on a second attempt at the posts. The Knights, though, looked invigorated after a sluggish start and seemed to be on course for a first try when Jackson swept through a midfield gap.
When the Knights’ captain was stopped, Bulls scrum-half Jordan Lenac was deemed to have illegally prevented release of the ball, earning the Australian a yellow-card. From the resulting penalty the Knights kicked to the corner, set up a maul and drove to the line, the inevitable try stopped only by Sayce pulling down the moving mass of bodies.
That meant a second yellow card in the space of three minutes and a penalty-try award to the Knights, levelling the scores at 10-10. Incredibly Bulls instantly overcame their two-man deficit with a daring break out from their own line, which ended with a penalty kick by Townsend to end the first half.
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The Bulls’ lead was again demolished after the Knights kicked to the corner before setting up a maul. Instead of driving directly to the line, the home forwards went through a series of pick-and-drive phases, and when the backs were finally brought into play, Nyle Godsmark skipped through the defence to score near the posts. Baggott kicked his side into a 17-13 lead with the conversion.
If the game was beginning to look disjointed then the Knights brought cohesion into their play with the next score. It came from a penalty kick to touch, the inevitable driving maul and a clever peel by former Hawick man Fraser Renwick. Replacement scrum-half Cameron Jones provided the support before sending Jacob Henry racing over for an unconverted try.
The Knights’ chances of bagging a bonus point try were severely reduced when Renwick was yellow-carded after a stramash had developed. Bulls immediately took advantage, launching an attack which ended with the combined work of their centres producing an excellent try for Williams.
Replacement stand-off Matt Minogue added the conversion to make it 22-20, but the Bulls were unable to rally again, meaning their only consolation was a deserved bonus point for the narrow defeat.
Southern Knights: J Jenkins; V Wara, N Godsmark, C Jackson (captain), J Henry; J Baggott, M Mcandrew; S Gunn, R Anderson, E McLaren, A Runciman, D Suddon, D Redpath, H Morris, I Moody. Substitutes used: F Renwick, G Shiells, H Borthwick, N Irvine-Hess, C Jones, C Scott, P Anderson.
Ayrshire Bulls: M Davidson; E Caven, T Williams, T Jordan, R Nairn; C Townsend, J Lenac; R Sayce, R Tanner, M Scott, E Bloodworth, T Everard, R Sweeney, G Wilson, B MacPherson (captain). Substitutes used: J Drummond, C Miller, C Henderson, E Bulger, R Jackson, H Warr, M Minogue, A Tait.
Referee: K Allan.
Southern Knights: Tries: penalty try, Godsmark, Henry; Con: Baggott; Pen: Baggott.
Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Sayce, Jordan, Williams; Con: Minogue; Pen: Townsend.
Scoring sequence (Southern Knights first): 0-5; 0-10; 3-10; 3-8; 10-10; 10-13 (h-t); 15-13; 17-13; 22-13; 22-18; 22-20.
Yellow cards –
Southern Knights: Renwick.
Ayrshire Bulls: Lenac, Sayce.
Man-of-the-Match: After being considerably second best for much of the first half, Knights were dragged back into the game by their skipper Craig Jackson, whose determined running in midfield led to a crucial score just before half-time.
Talking point: Super6 will take time to settle but already the step up from the Premiership is showing through. Craig Jackson believes the physicality is much greater and that players have to produce consistently high performances. “If you’re slightly off your game you won’t get away with it,” he admitted.