Ayrshire Bulls 24
Boroughmuir Bears 17
IAIN HAY @ Millbrae
CHAMPIONS Ayrshire Bulls opened the Super6 Sprint campaign with a bonus point win over Boroughmuir Bears, but the away side left with a hard-earned losing bonus point thanks to a last-gasp consolation score
“They gave everything tonight, I thought the energy, enthusiasm and competitiveness right across the board was outstanding,” said Bears commander-in-chief Graham Shiel.
“Coming away to Millbrae first game of the season is not an easy task, so I’m really happy with the way that we performed. There’s clearly areas for us to improve on – that’s going to be the same in every game – but it’s nice to have a really competitive performance tonight. It’s hard to be disappointed, but I am a bit.”
In what was a bruising encounter, the breakdown in particular was an area of severe physicality and no little contention, with Shiel and the rest of the Bears’ bench growing disgruntled at the refereeing team not penalising Bulls for not rolling away from the tackle area.
“I want to play rugby. I want to play a quick game, I want to move the ball around the pitch but I felt that tonight the breakdowns were slow. Why was that the case? I’ll need to look into that,” said Shiel. “There’s a number of contentious issues for me tonight, but it’s great because we have this fantastic project with Super6: we get it filmed, we can have a look at it, we can see where to improve our performances, and ultimately we see the parts of the game that we can control, and then the other areas we need help in to allow us to play.”
The closeness of the scoreboard accurately reflects the closeness of the game, even if the Bulls’ final score had essentially sealed the win with 10 minutes remaining.
It was Bulls who started brightest, and a better pass from Australian full-back Liam McNamara could have sent winger Tom Lanni away down the right, however, it hit the floor and was then hacked clear.
Bears took the lead somewhat fortuitously when Adam Scott’s penalty attempt pinged off the left-hand upright and back into his hands around the Bulls’ 22, and the Bears patient building of pressure was rewarded when Josh King squeezed his big frame through a wee gap. Bulls were dealt a second blow when captain Blair MacPherson was sent to the bin for an infringement in the build-up.
It had taken a quarter of the match for King to open the scoring, but it took only a further five minutes for wing king Elias Caven to reply for Bulls, getting on to the end of stand-off Matt Minogue’s cheekier-than-a-Nando’s grubber off his left-foot, beating Scott to the ball before it trickled over the dead-ball line.
Minogue’s conversion edged Bulls in front and they extended their lead in the 33rd minutes when hooker Alex McGuire peeled off the back of a maul, burst through the gap and offloaded to the lively Cam Jones, who found a way to get the ball down.
Coming into the second half like Bears with sore heads, Boroughmuir instantly put the hosts under pressure. Ruairidh Swan’s perfect box-kick was chased hard by replacement Duncan Munn, and he hauled Liam McNamara back over his own try-line. Bears held onto possession until their captain, Craig Keddie, crossed the whitewash right by the posts, with what was his last play of the match. Scott converted for 14-12.
Bulls had begun looking nervy. Passes weren’t quite going to hand, and two knock-ons in quick succession took them from the periphery of the Bears’ 22 back into their own half, however with coach Pete Horne able to call on some old Glasgow Warriors pals in the shape of Tom Lambert and Grant Stewart, they began marching scrums backwards at a rate of knots.
It helped them win possession and position, and then, having only been on the field a couple of minutes, Aaron Tait scored a superb solo try, fending Harry Mercer and giving Scott little chance of stopping him as he flew down the right-wing towards the try-line.
Tait squeezed over again after more scrum dominance had won Bulls the right to attack, only for Robbie McCallum to score a wonderful try in reply … or so we thought. Alas, the touch judge said that his foot was in touch as he finished off a flowing set-piece move.
In slightly better news for McCallum, and Bears, he intercepted with seconds to spare and raced away to claim the try he probably deserved, despite the best efforts to stop him by Bulls debutant Thomas Glendinning, who impressed in the 13 jersey.
“It was pretty cagey, I just felt like we struggled to get going, but credit to Boroughmuir [because] they brought a lot of intensity around the breakdown,” said Horne. “They forced mistakes out of us, they got turnovers on the ground, they wanted to slow us down and it worked.”
“Job done, five points is a good way to start. You’d rather that than play great and come out on the wrong side of the scoreboard. We’ve not changed much [in style of play from last year] when I was here as attacks coach, but we’ll be better.”
Ayrshire Bulls: Liam McNamara; E Caven, T Glendinning, T Jordan, T Lanni; M Minogue, C Jones; A Nimmo, A McGuire, M Scott, E Bloodworth, A Samuel, Lewis McNamara, J Knight, B MacPherson. Substitutes: G Stewart, T Lambert, C Henderson, E Bulger, T Brown, J Lenac, C Townsend, A Tait.
Boroughmuir Bears: T Brown; A Scott, S Robeson, R McCallum, J Jenkins; H Mercer, R Swan; R Dunbar, C Tait, M McGinley, J King, E Ferrie, G Brown, S McGinley, C Keddie. Substitues: I Carmichael, B Sweet, C Smith, H Bain, J Fisher, M Johnstone, R Tait, D Munn.
Referee: Jonny Perriam
Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Caven, Jones, Tait 2; Cons: Minogue 2.
Boroughmuir Bears: Tries: King, Keddie, McCallum; Cons: Scott.
Yellow Cards –
Ayrshire Bulls: MacPherson
Player-of-the-Match: Impressive engine-room shifts from Bears’ Josh King and Bulls’ pair Edward Bloodworth and Alex Samuel, however, when the match was in the balance, Cam Jones produced the decisive moments.
Talking Point: A clash of heads between King and Michael Scott was one of many moments which had the Bears’ bench fuming, and at first look it seems the Bulls man could count himself fortunate that he didn’t receive a card of either colour.