Ayrshire Bulls 21
DAVID BARNES @ Millbrae
THE visitors needed a bonus-point win out of this match to secure the 2022 Super6 Sprint Series title with a game in hand, and that looked like a formality when replacement flanker Karl Main burst over for his team’s third try to make it 24-0 with an hour played – but the Bulls dug deep to score three late tries which salvaged respectability on the scoreboard and reinforced head coach Pete Horne’s belief that he has the basis of a team capable of competing for the Super6 Championship after the summer.
“In the first half we were completely out-played,” Horne conceded. “We had a couple of chances right at the beginning where they defended really well and we struggled to get over the line. After that we barely touched the ball, our line-out struggled, we lost a lot of set-piece, and we just didn’t get a sniff.
“So, when I came in at half-time I just said to the boys that we need to fire a shot. We know we can score two, three, four tries when we get on a roll as we showed at the end, but unfortunately it wasn’t until that last 10 minutes that we really started to hold onto the ball and get over the line.”
“We’ve got work to do so we’ll regroup during the little break we’ve got now, but we’re not too far away,” he concluded. “If we can tidy up our set-piece we’ll be in a lot better place. There isn’t going to be too much turnover in the squad and a lot of young guys have had good game time in the last couple of weeks so they will be much better prepared for this level off the back of that.”
Opposite number Fergus Pringle was not too disappointed about his team falling out of the game after doing the hard work to get into that commanding lead.
“We were good in the first half but not as clinical as we could have been, then we came out the second half and had to defend a lot more,” he reflected. “I thought we defended pretty well the whole game, but that last 10 minutes were a bit shaky.
“You have to look at the bigger picture,” he added. “Ayr stuck in today, they are a good team and Millbrae is a tough place to come, so we had to put a lot of effort in to get the win.”
The Bulls’ started brightly enough but a long period of pressure inside Watsonians’ 22 yielded nothing, with a bit more variation perhaps required to prise open Watsonians’ well-organised and disciplined defence.
Then, after the hosts had been penalised twice within two minutes for holding-on, the visitors had their chance to push for the opening score, and after a couple of false starts they were off and running when a wave of rucks culminated with Edinburgh back-row Mesu Kunavalu rumbling under the posts, easily converted by Lee Millar.
After Dom Coetzer had threatened down the left, and man-of-the-match Lomond MacPherson had done likewise on the right, the visitors extended their lead on 28 minutes when their forwards squeezed the width out of Ayr’s defence and the ball was zipped out for MacPherson to bustle over.
Watsonians were primed to extend their lead with five minutes of the half to play when they had a ruck penalty 15 yards out and bang in front off the posts, but the sanction was reversed when one of the assistant referees highlighted that Kunavula had thrown a shoulder into the breakdown after the whistle.
However, not for the first or last time, Bulls couldn’t hold onto their own line-out ball which handed the initiative back to Watsonians. A few minutes later Jason Baggott ghosted up the middle of the park and it would surely have been try number three if the final pass to Seb Cecil had gone to hand.
The Edinburgh side had to make do with aMillar penalty on the stroke of half-time when the truculent Blair MacPherson was penalised for hands in a ruck.
Bulls needed to score next, and they came very close to doing that after nine minutes of the second half when Bobby Beattie and Thomas Glendinning sent Cam Jones on a race to the corner following a rare Watsonians mix-up, but a brilliant cover tackle from Millar dragged the scrum-half’s foot into touch as he stretched for the line.
Jones had Watsonians scrambling in defence again five minutes later when he broke from his own 22 following another dropped ball, but this time his kick down the tramlines as he crossed half bounced into touch before Arron Tait could get to it.
The arrival of Tom Jordan off the bench gave Bulls extra impetus as they looked to claim the try needed to reignite this game as a genuine contest, but there was no way through, and then Karl Main finished off another powerful Watsonians forwards surge with just over an hour played.
One more Watsonians try was needed for that all-important bonus point, which would claim the Super6 Sprint Series title with a game in hand, but Bulls would not lie down and their perseverance finally paid off with three morale-boosting consolations scores during the last 10 minutes.
The first was scored by Thomas Glendinning finishing off a long period of pressure, the second by Finn Callaghan after an excellent piece of individuality from Jordan catching his own chip ahead, and the third came via Glendinning again after Jones had wrong footed Watsonians’ tiring defence.
Ayrshire Bulls: Liam McNamara; T Glendinning, J Shedden (T Jordan 46), R Beattie, A Tait; M Minogue (F Callaghan 57, E Mcara 79), C Jones; A Nimmo (T Lambert, 24), G Stewart (R Tanner 46), M Scott (C Henderson 64-65), E Bloodworth, H Murray (E Bulger 24), Lewis McNamara, G Wilson (J Knight 57), B Macpherson.
Watsonians: D Coetzer (G Cannie 60); L MacPherson, L Berg, L Millar, A Guthrie; J Baggott (C Eastgate 55), R Brand (B Young 74); S Grahamslaw (A McWilliam 74), C Davies (E Young, 74), B Bratton (G Scougall 51), L Ball (K van Niekerk 51), P Phillips, M Kunavula, S Cecil, I Moody (K Main 57).
Referee: Ross Mabon
Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Glendinning 2, Callaghan; Cons: Jordan.
Watsonians: Tries: Kunavalu, MacPherson, Main; Con: Millar 3; Pen: Millar.
Scoring sequence (Ayrshire Bulls first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-12; 0-14; 0-17 (h-t) 0-22; 0-24; 5-24; 7-24; 12-24; 14-24; 19-24; 21-24.
Yellow cards –
Watsonians: Phillips (79mins)
Player-of-the-Match: Watsonians winger Lomond MacPherson has a busy evening, scoring his team’s second try, competing aggressively in the air, coming off his wing to punch holes in the Bulls defence with ball in hand, competing ferociously over ball, and making his tackles.
Talking point: Tom Jordan made a huge impact off the bench having struggled this week with a minor injury. The Kiwi playmaker has been a classy performer week on week for the Bulls, and having signed a contract extension with Glasgow Warriors this week, he is likely to start getting regular game-time for the pro team after he qualifies as a Scottish resident in the Autumn.