Super6 Sprint: Stirling County burst Ayrshire Bulls’ bubble

Clinical finishing and resolute defence during third quarter provide basis for well-deserved home win

George Arnott crosses for Stirling's second try. Image: Bryan Robertson
George Arnott crosses for Stirling's second try. Image: Bryan Robertson

Stirling County 33

Ayrshire Bulls 24

DAVID BARNES @ Bridgehaugh

CLINICAL finishing and heroic defence during the first 25 minutes of the second half laid the groundwork for this well-deserved home win achieved by County over last year’s Super6 champions.

Home head coach Ben Cairns has spoken previously about his frustration at his team’s habit of falling on the wrong side of the scoreline in tight games, but they demonstrated real steel here to knock over the tournament favourites.

“I thought we worked really hard for each other today, never gave up, and that was the difference,” he said. “When you keep going to those places like we did again last week, of being close but not quite getting there, eventually you do build up that resolve and you start figuring out how to do it. We’re starting to turn that corner, hopefully.


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“The Bulls will obviously be very disappointed with the number of errors they made, but a lot of that was down to how hard we made it for them – they had to go that extra phase or make that extra pass, and I’m delighted we got our reward for that.

“Next up is Southern Knights away on Friday night,” he added. “That’s a big one. Can we got away from home and do what we did here? It’s fine talking about feeding on the emotion of a big home crowd like we had today, but it’s harder when you go away from home, so that will be a big challenge for us.”

The first try was the story of two turnovers, with Bulls initially capitalising on a County mishandle through Jordan Lenac and Lewis McNamara, but the visitors then lost control of the ball 10 yards from their opponents line and Marcus Holden hacked ahead twice during a footrace which ended with Ross McKnight outstripping Elias Cavan to touch down. Holden added the extras.

Bulls then lost outside-centre Andy Stirratt and winger Cavan (temporarily) to injury inside the space of three minutes, but responded positively to bring it back to a two-point game when Lewis McNamara got the downward pressure at the back of a line-out maul.

There was a flurry of tries before half-time, which was ignited by several phases of County pressure culminating in Connor Gordon bowling over Ali Rogers and sending George Arnott under the posts, with Bulls responding in quick order through Glasgow Warriors hooker Grant Stewart, before the hosts struck strike again when Ben Salmon jinked through midfield and sent Logan Trotter galloping home.

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Bulls dominated the third quarter and had their chances to score but really struggled deliver a decisive blow. Christian Townsend was held up over the line, Cam Jones lost control of the ball as he dived for the score, and a Lewis McNamara touch-down was called back for a forward pass, before the visitors finally found their way through County’s heroic defence on 66 minutes. The try was scored by replacement scrum-half Jones off a fine pop-pass from the deck by skipper Blair Macpherson.

Townsend’s conversion made it a two-point game but gave County their first opportunity to get out their own half in over 25 minutes, and they took full advantage, surging towards the Bulls line with a series of pick-and-drives before Macpherson was penalised and yellow-carded for coming in from an offside position. The hosts opted for a scrum in front of the posts and got their reward a few phases later when John McKenna powered over.

Glasgow Warriors winger Walter Fifita put the gloss on the home win when he came in field to collect a short ball and blasted through some upright tackling on his way to the line.

Bulls did manage too pick up a four-try bonus-point when Joe Knight touched down at the back of a line-out drive in injury time, and they could also have claimed a losing bonus point, but Matt Minogue couldn’t manage the touchline conversion meaning the deficit remained frustratingly beyond nine points for the visitors.

“In the second half we spent about 30 minutes in their 22 and came away with nothing, which is disappointing,” reflected Bulls head coach Pete Horne. “Fair play to Stirling, they battled hard, they forced us to make that last pass, they forced us to really tough it out to score, and we weren’t up to it on the day.”

“They literally had two trips into our half during that second half and came away with points on both occasions,” he added. “So they were clinical, but all their tries came from poor defence. I feel like that sums up the game – Stirling scrapped really hard for every loose ball and we just made too many mistakes.

“Hopefully that is the shake-up we need and we can get our fingers out for next week, which will be a tough game at home against Heriot’s, who are flying at the moment. In this league, you have too be in your game or you are going to get knocked over.”

 

Teams –

Stirling County: L Trotter; R McKnight (E Cunningham 55), B Salmon, C Jardine ( D Innes 40), W Fifita; M Holden, F Burgess (H Russell 71); C MacMillan (J McKenna 60), A Fraser (G Hiddleston 51), G Breese (C Ramsay 64), J Pow (H McLeod 51, G Arnott 62), A Sinclair, H Ferguson, C Gordon, C Cruikshank (G Arnott 17).

Ayrshire Bulls: Liam McNamara; E Cavan (C Jones 23-29), A Stirrat (F Callaghan 21), T Jordan, A Tait; C Townsend (M Minogue 71), J Lenac (C Jones  53); A Rogers (T Lambert 40), G Stewart (A McGuire 45), E Pieretto (C Henderson 51), E Bulger (G Wilson 48), A Samuel, E Bloodworth, Lewis McNamara (J Knight 71), B Macpherson.

 

Scorers –

Stirling County: Tries: McKnight, Arnott, Trotter, McKenna, Fifita; Con: Holden 4.

Ayrshire Bulls: Con: Liam McNamara, G Stewart, Jones, Knight; Con: Townsend 2

Scoring sequence (Stirling County first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 12-5; 14-5; 14-12; 19-12; 21-12 (h-t) 21-19; 26-19; 28-19; 33-19; 33-24.

 

Yellow cards –

Ayrshire Bulls: MacPherson (70 mins)

 

Player-of-the-Match: For consistency across the full 80 minutes, for taking his try well, and for harnessing the strong wind to kick several important penalties into the corner, classy Stirling County full-back Logan Trotter gets the nod.

Taking point: Stirling County made a big effort to turn this first home match of the campaign into an event, laying on food stalls, an inflatable kids play area and cheerleaders from Stirling University (who persevered bravely with their ambitious aerial routine despite the blustery conditions), while the team delivered a performance befitting the occasion on the park. It was a great effort by all involved. Selling Super6 on live streams is fine, but the one thing we can all agree on after the long months of lockdown is that sport is at its best when played in front of a lively and engaged audience. This was a good day out.


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About David Barnes 3956 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.