Stirling County 24
Southern Knights 24
IAIN MORRISON @ Bridgehaugh
THE quality may have been a little variable, but if it was excitement you were after, then Bridgehaugh was the place to be this afternoon as the Southern Knights jumped off the canvas to claim an unlikely draw with the very last act of this match. Full-back Ciaran Whyte was the match-saver, showing nerves of steel to convert Patrick Anderson’s late, late try well after the hooter, around the 82-minute mark.
There were long odds against a draw at half-time when County led by 19-3, three tries to none, after a half when they scarcely put a foot wrong. After the break the home team hardly put a foot right and Ben Cairns is learning to live with the rollercoaster emotions that come with coaching.
“Our mentality coming into the second half . . . we were all just sitting back and waiting for it to happen rather than going for it like we had in the first half,” a shellshocked Stirling coach said after the game.
“Our performance in the first half was very good and we could have had a couple more tries when we got five out, but came away with nothing. I was really disappointed by the 20 minutes after half-time which put us under pressure, and a couple of decisions in the last 20, when we were under that pressure, were not good enough.”
The coaches were a mirror image of each other with the Knights’ Rob Chrystie bemoaning his side’s first-half performance before they hit their straps with two tries in the third quarter of the match.
“It was a horrific first half,” Chrystie conceded. “Absolutely horrific. We chatted about that, in a certain way, at half-time and I asked the players, ‘at least show me something’. The reaction was alright but the shackles were off to a certain degree.”
The enthusiastic Bridgehaugh crowd didn’t have long to wait for the opening score. County got high field position when the Knights fly-half Thomas Galbraith missed touch with a penalty clearance and his opposite number made him pay a high price for the error. Josh Henderson made a sublime break deep inside the Knights’ half of the field and an equally outrageous dummy saw him get to within ten of the try line. The ball was spun wide where the attack was stopped in the corner but only briefly. No 8 Dean Taylor-Menzies picked a superb out-to-in line to crash over the line after just eight minutes.
Henderson failed to add the extras and the Knights got off the mark when Whyte took three off the tee not long after. The Knights enjoyed some territorial dominance but were unable to convert and the same thing happened at the opposite end of the field when County’s wingers were stopped just shy of both corners in quick succession.
The wingers were halted, but the home forwards were made of tougher stuff. Two penalties allowed County to gain a five-metre lineout and several backs added their tuppence worth as the big men edged their way over the Knights try line just after the half-hour mark with hooker Reyner Kennedy claiming the score.
Henderson added a touchline conversion to give the home side a handy 10-3 lead and they still weren’t finished. There was time for another County attack, which continued despite the half-time hooter tempting a shot to nothing. Instead County slowed things down and displayed impeccable patience for Glasgow lock Andrew Davidson to bully his way over the visitors’ line to rub salt in the Knights’ wounds.
If County thought the job was done with a 19-3 lead at the break they were soon put right, as the Knights started the second 40 with a bang and two converted tries to make it a two-point game. The first score fell to lock Ruaridh Knott, who took advantage of the best attacking move of the match from the visitors, and the second fell to speedster Michael Mvelase-Julyan after County had repelled a line-out drive but scrum-half Murdo McAndrew still managed to send the winger over the line with a canny inside pass.
The score remained 19-17 as the match moved into the final quarter. County enjoyed a rare attacking sortie inside the Knights’ red zone and scored their fourth try directly from a visitors’ line-out deep inside their own 22. The ball was not secured, County hacked ahead and scrum-half Caleb Korteweg was the first to react.
Henderson was unable to convert from the far-side touchline and it was to prove a costly error as the Knights, spurred on by their animated coach in the box, went in search of an equaliser with the energy that Chrystie demanded.
County (and Glasgow Warriors) flanker Matt Smith was carded for lifting a leg in the Knights rolling maul and a seven-man County pack failed to add an extra body at a crucial scrum. The Knights won a penalty, kicked to the corner and, with County on their knees, there was an inevitability about Anderson’s late try and Whyte’s even later conversion that divided the spoils right down the middle.
Stirling County: B Thomson; E MacGarvie, R Kent, G Hughes, L Trotter; J Henderson (A Goudie 76), C Korteweg; B Dineen (A Wood 44), R Kennedy©, M Walker, O Bartlett, A Davidson, G Arnott, M Smith D Taylor-Menzies.
Southern Knights: C Whyte; J Jenkins, P Anderson, A Nagle, M Mvelase-Julyan (N Sweeney 59); T Galbraith, M McAndrew (S Hutchison 76); G Shiells©, F Renwick, E McQuillin (C Young 30), A Runciman, R Knott (D Taylor 57), N Irvine-Hess (D Redpath 22), R Darge, I Moody.
Referee: H Davidson.
Stirling County: Tries: Taylor-Menzies, Kennedy, Davidson, Kortweg. Cons: Henderson 2.
Southern Knights: Tries: Knott, Mvelase-Julyan, Anderson. Cons: Whyte 3. Pen: Whyte.
Scoring sequence (County first): 0-0, 5-0, 5-3, 10-3, 12-3, 17-3, 19-3 half-time, 19-8, 19-10, 19-15, 19-17, 24-17, 24-19, 24-24.
Man of the match: Andrew Davidson’s form as a ball-carrier should ensure he gets plenty of game time for Glasgow this season, but fly-half Josh Henderson was the undoubted star of the show. When he wasn’t slicing open the Knights’ defence on his own he was distributing crisply to his back division.
Talking point: That crucial last-gasp equaliser was a suitably dramatic climax to an enthralling match. With the hooter blown all County had to do was win a set scrum and hoof the pill off the pitch. But flanker Matt Smith was in the sin bin and County scrummed with seven against eight, something coach Ben Cairns said he had warned against ahead of this fixture. One small County mistake led directly to a Knights penalty and that vital score that gave the visitors a share of the points.