Stirling County 27
Ayrshire Bulls 26
DAVID BARNES @ Bridgehaugh
MARCUS HOLDEN fired home the ugliest looking drop-goal you are ever likely to see deep into injury time of this tense tussle at Bridgehaugh to snatch a win which keeps alive Stirling County’s hopes of overtaking Watsonians to win this Super6 Sprint Series, leaving Ayrshire Bulls heartbroken that they have to make do with just two bonus-points from a match they appeared to have tied up when taking a 26-10 lead with half an hour left to play.
“I think the boys continued to believe in the way we were trying to play rather than going chasing it early, we stayed composed, and our forward pack started to get a bit of dominance which helped us massively,” said victorious head coach Ben Cairns. “We mauled and scrummed a bit more than we have at any earlier point in this season, and it worked for us. The drop-goal was a bit of a haggis but they all count!”
County now have next weekend off and will be hoping that Bulls can do them a favour by beating Watsonians at Millbrae, which will set up a winner-takes-all match for Cairns’ side against the league leaders the following week at Myreside.
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Opposite number Pete Horne cut a disconsolate figure afterwards, choosing his words carefully when discussing the seven-two penalty count which went against his side during the second half. “First of all, full credit to Stirling for holding onto the ball at the end and kicking the drop-goal, but I felt like we deserved more,” he said. “I’m not sure we got the rub of the green in that second half, there was some inconsistency with some of the decisions which was really disappointing. I feel really sorry for the boys who worked so hard.”
Looking ahead to next weekend’s match versus Watsonians, Horne added: “There’s nothing for us to lose anymore so it will be good to get back home with a chance to finish the season on a positive note.”
Stirling flew out the blocks and snatched the lead through debutant Ryan Southern, who dummied his way between the Bulls’ centres off first-phase scrum ball and looked like he could hardly believe his luck as he galloped home from 35-yards, with skipper Marcus Holden adding the straightforward conversion.
The South African centre had actually come close to scoring 45 seconds earlier but couldn’t quite hold onto rampaging hooker Angus Fraser‘s offload with the line at his mercy, and he then broke clear again straight from the restart but this time his try-making pass was picked out by Bulls stand-off Tom Jordan, who romped him from halfway and then added the conversion for good measure to make it all square after whirlwind first seven minutes.
The home side were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes when Walter Fifita‘s deliberate knock-on killed a promising Bulls attack just before the quarter-hour mark, and the visitors made the most of their numerical advantage with Andy Stirrat brushing past opposite number Southern then sending Bobby Beattie unchallenged under the posts, and they stretched further ahead just before the hosts returned to full strength when some good continuity play culminated in Liam McNamara putting Aaron Tait over in the right hand corner. Jordan converted the first of those scores but couldn’t manage the second.
County managed to steady the ship, and threatened when Logan Trotter then Sean Kennedy kicked and chased towards the Bulls’ line, but Stirrat got back to rescue the situation for the visitors, meaning it stayed 7-19 until the break.
A sloppy Bulls offside committed by Lewis McNamara handed Holden three easy points early in the second half, but the visitors roared back to score their bonus-point try on 50 minutes when some great running and handling from Beattie and Joe Knight sent Cam Jones home, with Jordan directing the conversion in via the left post.
But County weren’t ready to raise the white flag yet, and a holding-on penalty committed by Jordan was kicked to inside Bulls’ 22, creating the platform for a powerful line-out maul to rumble 20-yards for Fraser to score, with Holden converting again.
The home side kept their foot on the gas and, after several minutes camped in the Bulls 22, they scored again when Kennedy prodded the ball through for his Glasgow Warriors team-mate Ratu Tagive to race onto and touch down. Holden’s conversion brought it back to a two-point game with just over 10 minutes to go.
The final period was physical and frantic, with county dominating possession and territory, but they couldn’t find a way through Bulls’ vice-like defence, until Holden finally stepped back into the pocket and after several phases got his shot at glory. It wobbled over the bar with about a foot and a half to spare.
Stirling County: L Trotter; R Tagive, B Salmon, R Southern (C Robertson 58), W Fifita (S Hamilton 61); M Holden, S Kennedy; L Skinner (G Breese 58), A Fraser (G Hiddleston 58), M Walker (J McKenna 75), J Pow, A Sinclair (M Williamson 47), G Arnott (C Cruickshank 58), C Gordon, B Grant.
Ayrshire Bulls: Liam McNamara; E Cavan (J Shedden 63), B Beattie, A Stirrat, A Tait; T Jordan, J Lenac (C Jones 33); T Lambert (W Farquhar 58), G Stewart, M Scott (C Henderson 54), E Bloodworth, R Jackson (E Hamilton-Bulger 26), A McGuire (Lewis McNamara 30), J Knight (J Drummond 68), B Macpherson.
Referee: Keith Allen
Stirling County: Tries: Southern, Fraser, Tagive; Con: Holden 3; Pen: Holden; DG: Holden.
Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Jordan, Beattie, Tait, Jones; Con: Jordan 3.
Scoring sequence (Stirling first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 7-7; 7-12; 7-14; 7-19; 10-19 (h-t) 10; 24; 10-26; 15-26; 17-26; 22-26; 24-26; 27-26.
Yellow cards –
Stirling County: Fifita (13mins)
Man-of-the-Match: Plenty of solid performances across both sides, however Stirling No 8 Benedict Grant’s work-rate and ability to put his team on the front foot with ball in hand means he was a stand-out.
Talking point: During the first (aborted) Super6 campaign, Stirling County had an awful habit of losing games they should have won. They now have a happy knack of winning matches they should have lost. Ben Cairns and his coaching team deserve credit for instilling a grittiness in their side which has put them in the frame to win this Sprint Series title in a fortnight’s time … although they must rely on the Bulls doing them a favour by beating Watsonians at Millbrae next weekend.
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I am not casting aspersions against referees. 1 guy “in the middle” cannot possibly get every decision correct.
Meanwhile, the 2 touch judges roam the touch lines awarding lineouts, spotting the odd transgression, etc.
Why have 2 qualified refs running touch? Everyone & their granny & the ref can see the ball went into touch.
Why not have 2 refs on the park with the knock on (pardon the pun) effect of increasing the number of refs across all levels of rugby?