Southern Knights 10
Stirling County 24
ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards
STIRLING COUNTY moved to the top of the FOSROC Super6 Sprint Series after achieving victory over a Southern Knights team weakened by both a red card and injuries to key players. But there is no denying that Stirling, fielding a clutch of under-20 players, were worthy winners such was the quality of their performance based on disciplined defence and, at times, polished attacking rugby.
What is encouraging for Stirling is the number of players in their side who have come through County’s famous youth system, players like Logan Trotter and Euan Cunningham, who, against Southern Knights, both excelled. The younger players were helped by the likes of Benedict Grant, whose ‘soft’ hands were a feature of the No 8’s play at The Greenyards.
For Stirling’s coach, Ben Cairns, there was satisfaction in the way his side always seemed to be in charge on the field. “I thought we controlled the game pretty well generally but it probably didn’t tell on the scoreboard,” he said. “We scored some decent tries tonight; they were all different.”
On a perfect night at The Greenyards it was not a perfect night for the Knights, who, after hitting back in the period just after the break, were on the receiving end of a catastrophic red card and then the loss of their young back five player Rudi Brown adding to the first half departures of Daniel Sudden and Iain Sim.
“When you play over 30 minutes with only fourteen men and you’ve lost three or four players to injury it’s going to take its tol,l” conceded Bruce Ruthven, the Knights’ head coach.“But the guys really stuck in. We created a lot of opportunities in the first half but we’re still making a lot of unforced errors and that’s something we need to tidy up on. There were pockets of play that were really good. We just need to be consistent.”
It was Southern Knights who claimed the first points of the match with a 45 metre penalty goal by scrum-half Ben Afshar and it looked as though the hosts would quickly extend their early lead after pressure on the County line. But Stirling showed ferocious defence in the red zone that repelled the Knights’ close range pounding.
Then from a break out just outside their own 22, Stirling turned on the style. Grant used soft hands rather than hard muscle to put DJ Innes through a gap. When the low-set centre was eventually hunted down, County were able to go through several phases before scoring a try of rare perfection that involved a measured pass by Cunningham, intelligent timing from Trotter and cool finishing by Ross McKnight.
Knights were unfortunate to lose second row Sudden, who was replaced by Ruairdh Knott, leaving Harry Borthwick as the go-to-man in the line-out. Shortly afterwards a second Knights’ player left the field, this time winger Sim who was replaced by Scotland Sevens man Jacob Henry.
Stirling’s pressure defence was causing problems for the Knights who were forced into conceding a penalty that translated into a line-out in the corner and a simple try with a pre-planned move round the front ending in hooker Gregor Hiddleston scoring, the touchline conversion by Marcus Holden giving the visitors a 12-3 half-time advantage.
Whatever their shortcomings in the first half, Knights began the second period of play with much greater purpose, dominating a maul before releasing the ball wide to Paddy Anderson. The wing was tackled high but in the subsequent phases Brown and then Knott came close to scoring before skipper Fraser Renwick finished off the attack with a try under the posts, converted with some ease by half-time replacement Nathan Chamberlain.
Stirling threatened to retaliate with a break by Trotter who found Walter Fifita in support, but a brave tackle by Knights’ full-back Kieran Clark on the big Tongan averted what would have been a certain score.
Knights could justifiably feel pleased with the efforts having forced their way back into the game but any feeling of pride in performance was punctured in the form of a red card shown to Henry after the winger had upended his opposite number in the air following a box-kick from Murray Redpath.
Sensing that their one man advantage could quickly inflate their lead, County piled on the pressure close to the Knights’ line and after a series of forward drives, prop Lewis Skinner drove over for his side’s third try to give Stirling a seven points advantage.
Knights then suffered a further injury loss, this time Brown limping off the field with a leg injury leaving the home side’s forward pack somewhat dismembered. Stirling wasted little time in pressing home their advantage up front with non-stop scrum pressure close to the Knights’ line. The Greenyards men held out until the ball was given to the Stirling backs who grabbed the bonus point try when Innes scuttled through a gap, Holden’s conversion sealing a sumptuous win.
Southern Knights: K Clark; I Sim, B Wara, R Chalmers, P Anderson; C Scott, B Afshar; G Shiells, F Renwick, I Brace, D Redpath, D Suddon, R Brown, W Nelson, H Borthwick. Subs: J Bett, C Bowker, B Riddell, R Knott, M Redpath, A Cross, N Chamberlain, J Henry.
Stirling County: L Trotter; R McKnight, D Innes, M Holden W Fifita; E Cunningham, H Russell; C MacMillan, G Hiddleston, L Skinner, J Pow, H McLeod, H Ferguson, C Gordon, B Grant. Subs: A Fraser, J McKenna, G Breese, C Norrie, J Spurway, F Burgess, C Beckett, M Gray.
Referee: Ruairidh Campbell
Southern Knights: Try: Renwick; Con: Chamberlain; Pen: Afshar.
Stirling County: Tries: McKnight, Hiddleston, Skinner, Innes; Cons: Holden 2.
Scoring Sequence (Southern Knights first): 3-0; 3-5; 3-10; 3-12 (h-t) 8-12; 10-12; 10-17; 10-22; 10-24
Red Card –
Southern Knights: Henry
Man-of-the-Match: Stirling’s opening try was a gem, and it owed much to the timing of Logan Trotter’s pass which sent Ross McKnight over. Trotter also showed his strength is defence by resisting a Knights’ forward attack close to the line. Moreover, the full-back created a scoring chance in the second half which with better finishing should have brought another try.
Talking point: Stirling County look to be in their stride now by following their win against Ayrshire Bulls with this victory over Southern Knights. But for the Greenyards-based side this was a third successive defeat albeit it occurred against a backdrop of a red card and three injuries. Worrying for Knights must be a lack of depth in their squad compared to last season: and co-opting club players for bench duty will not cut it at this level.