Stirling County 27
IAIN MORRISON @ Bridgehaugh
STIRLING County came into this match with one win to their credit and found themselves up against a Watsonians side who had only lost one match to date. It could have been a walkover and it looked like going that way when the visitors took a 24-12 lead in the third quarter, but County showed composure and a huge hunger for the scrap to finish well on top.
The result finally saw coach Ben Cairns crack a smile after some agonising losses for his side. He pointed out after the match that this was the first time Stirling had fielded their first choice 8, 9 and 10 together but, of that trio, No 8 Alasdair Mackie was the standout. The burly breakaway tore his pectoral muscle pre-season and he celebrated his first start in Super6 with a hat-trick of tries, one in the first half, two after the break, to give his side a much-needed boost in confidence as we get to the business end of the season.
“We planned to play him for 40 minutes today but we thought he was going really well,” coach Cairns admitted afterwards. “So we gave him another ten in the second half and that ten turned into 20. I thought he was outstanding. He gives us something that we have been missing – that dynamic ball-carrier who gets across the gain line but can also offload off the back of it.
“It is just a massive relief to turn a tight game into a win. We didn’t start very well. We went in 17-7 [down] at half-time, obviously with a bit to do, but I think the wind was a wee bit stronger than it felt in the stands. That helped in the second half and gave us a good platform to work off.”
Sean Kennedy deserves some of the credit, because the little scrum-half played the conditions beautifully, dinking the ball into the corners where Watsonians had all sorts of trouble exiting into the wind. But the forwards merit credit too for out-muscling their illustrious visitors even if they had to draft in several backs to help them do it. The driving mauls that caused Watsonians so much trouble usually consisted of at least ten players.
“I am still trying to process the game,” said visiting coach Fergus Pringle, who was gracious in defeat although Watsonians remain top of the table on points difference. “Stirling were really up for that game. They kept fighting all the way to the end and they deserved to win the way they kept us under pressure.
“Obviously our lineout maul [defence] was an issue today. I will have to go and look more closely. There were a lot of penalties in that area so I’ll have to look and see what was going on there. That was the only place that they had us under any pressure in the game and they really made it count.”
There could have been a little complacency in the league leaders’ camp coming into this match and, if there was, it only got worse after the visitors scored two minutes into this match, thanks to winger Andrew Chalmers. He was followed over the try line by lock Brian Leitch, who bullied his way over the whitewash following an attacking lineout.
At 14-0 the Stirling faithful were losing heart. Lee Millar added a late penalty for the visitors just before the break, but Mackie had already thrown his side a lifeline with a try from close range after attempts by Reyner Kennedy and Dean Taylor-Menzies had both been denied.
Mackie grabbed his second four minutes into the second half, but Watsonians hit back immediately with the best move of the match, which resulted in a try under the posts for Lewis Berg after the centre cut a line against the grain.
That left County trailing by 24-12, but with the wind at their backs, and Watsonians down to 14 men following a card for Leitch, the home side set about securing their second win of the season – a result which keeps their play-off hopes alive. First up Mackie claimed his hat-trick try, and you already know how it happened, before a beautifully executed training field move saw Logan Trotter come off his wind to take an inside pass from Kennedy and the leggy winger sent centre Landon Hayes over the Watsonian try-line.
Henderson had fluffed the last two conversions but he made good this one to level the scores at 24-24 with just over ten minutes to play. Despite Watsonians being back to 15 players, the remainder of the game was played deep inside their half of the field.
County turned down one kickable penalty on the “wrong” side of the field for the right-footed Henderson, but given another, easier opportunity two minutes from time, the fly-half kicked his first and last penalty of the match and County wound down the clock to spark some crazy celebrations.
Stirling County: B Sorbie; C Korteweg, R Kent, L Hayes, L Trotter; J Henderson, S Kennedy; C Brown, R Kennedy, M Walker, O Bartlett, J Vakaloloma, D Taylor-Menzies, C Gregor, A Mackie. Substitutes: A Fraser, A Wood, F Bradbury, J Pow, G Arnott, A Goudie, C Jardine, O Horne.
Referee: D Sutherland.
Scorers: Stirling County: Tries: Mackie 3. Cons: Henderson 2. Pen: Henderson.
Watsonians: Tries: Chalmers, Leitch, Berg. Cons: Millar 3. Pen: Millar.
Scoring sequence: 0-7, 0-14, 7-14, 7-17 half-time, 12-17, 12-24, 17-24, 24-24, 27-24.
Man of the match: Murphy Walker showed up well in both the tight exchanges and the loose, but a hat-trick of tries in what was his first start in Super6 means that the award has to go to County No 8 Alasdair Mackie.
Talking point: There were a few notable moments, but the second-half yellow card to Brian Leitch proved a hugely costly one. The heart seemed to go out of the short-handed Watsonians, and County filled their boots, scoring 12 points in the resulting power play.