Stirling County 24
DAVID BARNES @ Myreside
A JASON BAGGOTT penalty in the 78th minute secured the home win which was probably the right outcome from this scrappy early-season contest between two sides who had fairly disrupted build-ups to the game through a combination of injury, illness and pro call-ups.
“I don’t think either team was at their best today, we both had late changes and boys coming into the squad for the first time this week,” said victorious head coach Fergus Pringle. “I just felt from our point of view that there was times when we put points on the board then made mistakes with our exit and gave them easy entries deep into our half.
“Overall, I think we were good for the win, but we made it easier than it needed to be for them to stay in the hunt, and they are are a good team so if you do that then they will put you under pressure.
“That will be good for us,” he added. “With guys coming in for the first time, we have now had an opportunity to iron out some stuff, so we’ll be better next week [away to Southern Knights].”
Watsonians set up camp deep in County territory during the opening five minutes, twice kicking penalties to the corner before claiming the lead when Seb Cecil barged over off a short pass from scrum-half Roan Frostwick. Jason Baggott added the conversion and then slotted two offside penalties in quick succession on 21 and 22 minutes to open up a 13 point advantage for the hosts.
The scoreline just about reflected the balance of play at this point. Neither team had really managed to produce much rugby of note – the highlight being the pace shown by Watsonians open-side Harry Fisher on an outside break just before Baggott’s second successful kick.
County clawed their way back into its when and it looked like they were off the mark when Logan Trotter rode a tackle to dot down in the corner, but the touch-judge belatedly raised his flag for foot out of play. The visitors kept the pressure on, however, and got their reward when second-row Max Williamson bashed his way over following several phases camped on the Watsonians line, setting up a fairly simple conversion for Euan Cunningham.
Then, with five minutes left in the half, County edged themselves into the lead by kicking a penalty to the corner and then driving the bus over the line, with Lewis Skinner getting the downward pressure and Cunningham nailing the touchline conversion.
Watsonians struck first after the break, making the most of a penalty advantage to send Lomond MacPherson over off an inside pass from Joe Reynolds. That edged the hosts into a four point lead, but it was soon hauled back to a single point when County captain Marcus Holden sent home high tackle penalty.
Then Baggott produced a rare moment of magic when he put Dom Coetzer into space with an elegant offload. The Watsonians full-back lost his footing as he approached the final defender but County were over-eager at the breakdown and conceded a penalty which was kicked to the corner, setting up the line-out maul off the back of which Cal Davies propelled himself over the line.
But the visitors wouldn’t lie down, and with just ver 10 minutes to go, they edged themselves back into the lead when hooker Angus Fraser dotted down off the back of their own line-out maul and Holden kicked the touchline conversion.
County then had a golden opportunity to see out the game when they were awarded another penalty 30 yards from the Watsonians line with five minutes to go. They went to the corner, which wasn’t a surprise given that they had just scored a very impressive try via their line-out maul, but this time they couldn’t execute, and an excellent tag-team effort from tackler Campbell Wilson and jackaler Davies won the ball back for the hosts.
Watsonians then took advantage of some County indiscipline to get themselves into the strike zone and earn an offside penalty which allowed Baggott to snatch the win.
“There is a little bit of a déjà vu in terms of the start of last season and those tight games not going our way,” reflected beaten head coach Ben Cairns afterwards. “We’ve chosen to go to the corner when we are one point up rather than take the three points, and the thinking is that is that we’ve got the wind so we can stay down there for four minutes to win the game, or we can do what we’ve just done which is march the maul over the line, but instead we are not able to execute. Then it is: penalty, penalty, points and they’ve won the game.
“That is probably a microcosm of us as a group at the moment. Our ability to stay consistent and do the simple things well more often, to be accurate for longer periods, is still a work in progress.
“If we win next week at home to Ayrshire Bulls then this isn’t that bad, but if we lose then this is a really bad one because it was there to win. You’ve got to win your home games in the Sprint, and we’re lucky to have three home games.”
Watsonians Rugby: D Coetzer; L Macpherson, A Guthrie, J Reynolds, R Daley (J Forbes 72); J Baggott, R Frostwick (R Brand 46, M Scott 64); S Gunn (C Imrie, 72), C Davies, G Scougall, L Ball, K van Niekerk (K Main 57), S Cecil, H Fisher (C Wilson 57), I Moody.
Stirling County: M Holden; R Tagive , B Salmon, DJ Innes, L Trotter; E Cunningham (W Fifita 50), F Burgess (H Russell 63); C MacMillan (G Breese 40), A Fraser, L Skinner (C Norrie 79), M Williamson, A Sinclair (J Pow 55), H Ferguson (G Arnott 70), G Hiddleston, C Cruikshank.
Referee: Hollie Davidson
Watsonians: Tries: Cecil, MacPherson, Davies; Con: Baggott; Pens: Baggott 3
Stirling County: Tries: Williamson, Skinner, Fraser; Con: Cunningham 2, Holden; Pen: Holden.
Scoring sequence (Watsonians first): 5-0; 7-0; 10-0; 13-0; 13-5; 13-7; 13-12; 13-14 (h-t) 18-14; 18-17; 23-17; 23-22; 23-24; 26-24.
Player-of-the-Match: Watsonians captain Cal Davies was a colossus over the ball, linked well, scored a try and generally led from the front in a match which was more about gritty endeavour rather than free-flowing rugby.
Talking Point: It wasn’t a classic, and there’s no point pretending otherwise – but that’s okay. It was a first competitive hit-out for six months between two squads who have had significant player turnover. This was a starting point.