Stirling County 25
Boroughmuir Bears 26
IAIN MORRISON @ Bridgehaugh
A DECENT crowd, great conditions for running rugby and two sides that were determined to showcase their skills for all they were worth. There was plenty for the neutrals to like about this encounter – and even more if you were one of the few Boroughmuir supporters to make the trip to Stirling as a difficult season was somewhat redeemed with this slenderest of victories on the road that the Bears’ coach Graham Shiel was gracious enough to concede could have gone either way.
“We showed some composure tonight and played in the right parts of the pitch,” said a relieved Shiel, whose side has struggled in recent weeks. “Our effort in defence, when making the hits, was outstanding. The effort is there although we are losing tries so we could do better.
“We have some hungry young guys who love running about and contesting for ball and wanting the ball in their hands and, to be fair, Stirling entered into that contest and the result could have gone either way.”
Indeed it could. The lead changed hands a whopping eight times throughout this ding-dong battle with neither side able to establish a commanding lead, although County had a golden chance to do exactly that late in the game.
Marcus Holden managed just one conversion of four tries (plus a penalty), and while several attempts were from the touchline, the last try from Benedict Grant was perhaps halfway between the posts and the sidelines and Holden will wish he had made a better fist of it as his attempt never came close. In contrast, Adam Scott managed three from four for the visitors.
But Holden will know that the rest of his side were complicit in their own downfall. It was impossible to count all the handling errors County made simply because you’d run out of fingers and toes, and many of them came from an excess of ambition. Stirling were the better of the two teams in the tight exchanges but never did cut their cloth accordingly and instead insisted on throwing the ball about willy-nilly with the inevitable knock-ons. The Bears licked their lips and their tenacity at the breakdown heaped added pressure on the home team.
“Yeah, it’s definitely a balance,” said County coach Ben Cairns about how his side played this game. “We talked all last week about execution and building pressure, that was how we would win this match, and we did neither tonight.
“We don’t want to go scrum-maul, scrum-maul, kick and not play any rugby: the players want to express themselves and play, but at times we tried to play too much. We needed to batten down the hatches, regather ourselves and we didn’t do that very well.”
The Bears were gutsy throughout and tackled themselves to a standstill, but they still relied on two maul tries from hooker Corey Tait to help them win this match, and had the Stirling forwards stopped the Bears’ maul at source they would have won at a canter. A third maul try was chalked off at the end of the match when Tait failed to ground the ball.
County kicked off and bossed the opening exchanges. They spurned one kick at goal, aiming for the corner and then coughing up a turnover at the line-out, but when they were awarded a second penalty they made no mistake, with Holden putting the first three points on the board.
The visitors then had the temerity to take the lead with the first try of the match just inside the 20-minute mark. The Bears drove a line-out and when that was halted in its tracks the forwards, with George Breese to the fore, picked and drove until flanker Connor Gordon bullied his way over the line.
The Bears did exactly the same a little later: another penalty, another driven maul, only this time Tait was last man up.
Happily for the home crowd, County had grabbed their first try in between Muir’s twin touchdowns, a scorching solo score from full-back Logan Trotter, who found a gap in the 13 channel before rounding the last defender as if the poor man had put down roots.
All the scoring left the Bears leading by 12-8 going into the final minutes of the first 40, but County were far from finished. Murphy Walker replaced schoolboy Callum Norrie at tight-head. The Glasgow professional is one to watch and he immediately made his presence felt in the set scrum both then and thereafter. County won a scrum penalty, kicked to the corner and then turned the screw some more in a series of five-metre scrums where they clearly held the whip hand.
The home team might have won a penalty try given patience and perseverance, but the ball came out and after some softening up by the big men and it fell to Ross McKnight to deliver the final score of the first half when the leggy right-winger popped up on the opposite side of the field and exploited Muir’s defensive disarray to score in the left-hand corner.
County took a narrow 13-12 lead into the half-time break but didn’t have long to enjoy it when hostilities resumed. Their indiscipline gave the Bears an attacking line-out and Tait stayed calm and, more importantly, stayed in the middle of the maelstrom of a maul to score his second and Boroughmuir’s third while the crowd was still settling for the second half.
When County tried the exact same trick just moments later. hooker Angus Fraser broke away from the maul and lost the ball in contact. The difference in execution was stark.
But County were bossing possession and territory in the third quarter. A penalty gave them an attacking line-out and the Bears’ defence looked solid, numerous assaults were repelled, right up to the moment when lock James Pow scored under the posts, gifting Holden his first conversion of the game at the third time of asking.
The scoring paused although the action continued in its helter-skelter pace with County clearly in the ascendant. The home side had a clear advantage in the set scrum and they used it to good effect in the final quarter, marching the Bears backwards for ten metres for No 8 Grant to score his team’s fourth try of the evening and eke out a six-point advantage; it would have been an unassailable eight if Holden had packed his kicking boots.
While they have struggled for results in recent weeks no one has questioned the Bears’ spirit or belief, both of which seem in rude good health. Trailing by six, the visitors responded with some of their best rugby of the evening, holding onto the ball through multiple phases and building pressure upon County even if the score, when it eventually arrived, was a little fortuitous.
County defended well but when Bears’ winger Glen Faulds chipped ahead, more in hope than expectation, the ball was well covered by fly-half Euan Cunningham but the bounce of the ball beat him hands down, and instead fell straight into Tom Brown’s grateful arms for the one-time Scotland cap to score a crucial poacher’s try.
Scott’s conversion gave the visitors a one-point lead and still there was drama to come in the remaining ten minutes of this match. Awarded a kickable penalty, the Bears opted for the corner and came up agonizingly short when Tait, who else, was held up over the line. County kicked a penalty to the halfway line but overcooked the line-out throw.
Again the home team had one last chance but conceded a penalty at the breakdown for Boroughmuir to lift the siege and run out worthy if narrow winners.
Stirling County: L Trotter; R McKnight, D Innes, M Holden, B Salmon; E Cunningham, H Russell (F Burgess 40); G Breese, A Fraser, C Norrie (M Walker 33), J Pow, H Mcleod (J Spurway 30), H Ferguson, C Gordon, B Grant.
Boroughmuir Bears: T Brown; G Faulds, D Munn, R McCallum, A Scott; H Mercer, M Johnstone; B Sweet (Anderson 60), C Tait, C Smith, E Stewart, H Bain, J Kings, S McGinley, T Andrews (A Mncube 55).
Referee: Ian Kenny.
Stirling County: Tries: Trotter, McKnight, Pow, Grant. Con: Holden. Pen: Holden.
Boroughmuir Bears: Tries: McGinley, Tait 2, Brown. Cons: Scott 3.
Scoring sequence (County first): 3-0; 3-5; 8-5; 8-10; 8-12; 13-12 (h-t) 13-17; 13-19; 18-19; 20-19; 25-19; 25-24; 25-26.
Man of the match: Logan Trotter and Ross McKnight both showed their pace with the ball in hand, while Murphy Walker is a class act and proved as much when he came on. But it is difficult to look past the Bears’ two-try hero Corey Tait, who kept his head when all about him were losing theirs.
Talking point: This was entertainment at its best with eight tries shared evenly between the two teams and countless talking points but you have to credit the Bears for holding out for that frantic, final ten minutes. Muir’s defense is brittle at best but this team displays a collective belief and determination that means they add up to more than the sum of their parts and the Bears’ spirit was on show for all to see in the closing minutes of this match.