Stirling County 41
COLIN RENTON @ Bridgehaugh
STIRLING COUNTY took the honours in a high-scoring affair that was just the latest episode in a FOSROC Super6 tournament which continues to deliver entertaining rugby, particularly for the neutral. The result leaves both County and Watsonians still with a slim chance of winning a place in next month’s final, although with two rounds of the regular season to go their fate is not in their own hands.
In fact, it could all be over on Friday night, when the Ayrshire Bulls are at home to the Southern Knights. If the Bulls win with a bonus and the Knights pick up two points in defeat, neither will be catchable. Any sort of away win will be good enough to book the Knights’ place in the final.
County did all they could to stay in contention for a top-two slot, had the try bonus in the bag by half-time and should possibly have had a bigger winning margin. But it is credit to Watsonians that they proved impossible to shake off, and could have earned a share of the points for a second-half effort that was substantially better than they had delivered in the first period.
That was no surprise to home coach Ben Cairns, who had expected an opposition rally. “Watsonians generally manage games very well, and that’s one of their big strengths, and it’s probably our biggest weakness,” he said. “So you’ve got us playing a lot of good rugby and scoring some quality tries but because we can’t manage the game it still becomes close. We knew they would come back in the second half.”
Cairns is now looking to address another of his side’s failings so far – the ability to back up a good performance at home with a strong showing away, and the prospect of securing enough points to contend for a berth in the final.
“That’s great for the competition generally that it’s still all to play for,” he added. “We could also still be in the fifth/sixth play-off, but it puts us in a good position to be thinking about up the table rather than down the table. We have to go again next week, and that’s the beauty of the competition.”
For his Watsonians counterpart Fergus Pringle, the goal is the same, and he will be looking to use the coming week to look at the failings of the first half. “It’s disappointing from our side. It was a good game for the neutral. We gave ourselves a mountain to climb in that first half. They attacked really well and found space, and we didn’t cope with it well. We now need to regroup and get ready for Boroughmuir.”
The hosts wasted no time in making an impression on the scoreboard. Grant Hughes broke from halfway and, although he was tackled, managed to release the ball to Tom Roche, who sent Caleb Korteweg scampering over. Euan Cunningham stroked over the conversion then took County’s tally into double figures with a penalty.
The traffic was one way at this stage and it was no surprise when County bagged a second try. Another spell of pressure created the platform and Hughes passed the ball to Craig Robertson who failed to control it but had the foresight to flip it into the arms of George Arnott who dotted down in the corner.
Watsonians had barely been seen in an attacking sense, but when they did venture into opposition territory, they offered a glimpse of the threat they carry behind the scrum. And a sustained spell in the ascendancy ended when Roan Frostwick passed to Jamie Forbes, whose grubber bobbled over the County line, allowing the alert Harvey Elms to profit from disarray in the home defence and touch down. Marc Morrison added the extras then stroked over a penalty.
A five-point gap flattered the visitors at that stage and the score took on a more realistic look when Arnott accepted a pass from Hughes and crashed through two attempted tackles to bag a second try. Cunningham converted and did so again after the hosts responded to another penalty from Morrison by claiming the bonus-point score. This time, Cunningham chipped ahead and Hughes gathered then offloaded to Roche who stepped inside the final defender and cruised in.
Although struggling to gain a foothold, Watsonians looked threatening when they did have possession in the opposition half. And they reduced the leeway when Morrison set Lewis Berg free and the centre ran a great line to find a way through, with the creator adding the additional two points for a nine-point gap.
By half-time, County had restored their advantage. A string of penalties ended with Watsonians No 8 Sam Daly sent to the sin bin for collapsing a maul. The hosts exacted full revenge from the next penalty when Reyner Kennedy showcased his finishing skills to barge over from close range for his fifth try of the season.
Watsonians were fired up for the restart and cut the deficit almost immediately. A penalty into touch was followed by a powerful surge that ended with Sam Grahamslaw crashing over and Joe Reynolds booting the conversion.
Back came County and a powerful run by Connor Gordon took the flanker to within striking distance. Cunningham fired the recycled ball out to Roche who sprinted in at the corner, with Cunningham thumping over the conversion.
The introduction of Joe Reynolds brought a new dimension to the Watsonians attack and they continued to ask questions of the home defence. It paid off when they secured a bonus-point try in 55 minutes. A scrum a few metres from the line sparked a series of attacks that ended with Michael Badenhorst finding a way through and Reynolds converting.
That set up a tense finale as the visitors attempted to convert a losing position and two bonus points into a more substantial haul. They had a chance to square matters with two minutes to go. Opting for a scrum from a close-range penalty award, they shunted the hosts backwards and Daly twisted over in the corner. That left Reynolds with a conversion attempt to restore parity, but his effort drifted wide and the hosts held on for the win.
Stirling County: C Robertson; S Hamilton (R McKnight 60), A Russell, G Hughes, T Roche; E Cunningham (A Goudie 60), C Korteweg (L Hayes 70); A Wood, R Kennedy (A Fraser 45), L Skinner (B Dineen 60), J Pow, J King (C Cruickshanks 32), G Arnott, C Gordon, D Taylor-Menzies (M Williamson 55).
Watsonians: J Forbes (M Scott 45); H Elms, L Berg, S King, L MacPherson (D Coetzer 40); M Morrison (J Reynolds 40), R Frostwick; S Grahamslaw (H Courtney 50), R Graham (C Davies 50), A Williams, L Ball, M Badenhorst (K Watt 70), K van Niekerk, K Main (H Fisher 50), S Daly.
Referee: Ian Kenny.
Stirling County: Tries: Korteweg, Arnott 2, Roche 2, Kennedy. Cons: Cunningham 4. Pen: Cunningham.
Watsonians: Tries: Elms, Berg, Grahamslaw, Badenhorst, Daly. Cons: Morrison 2, Reynolds 2. Pens: Morrison 2.
Scoring sequence (Stirling County first): 5-0, 7-0, 10-0, 15-0, 15-5, 15-7, 15-10, 20-10, 22-10, 22-13, 27-13, 29-13, 29-18, 29-20, 34-20 half-time, 34-25, 34-27, 39-27, 41-27, 4132, 41-34, 41-39.
Yellow cards: Watsonians: Daly, Ball.
Man of the match: Centres were prominent for both sides and by virtue of an impressive contribution, particularly in the first half when he was involved in virtually everything County did, Grant Hughes gets the nod ahead of his Watsonians counterpart Lewis Berg.
Talking point: The tournament has been a success, but surely it could have been even more competitive and spectator-friendly if more than six teams were involved.