Ayrshire Bulls 23
STUART BATHGATE @ Myreside
BARELY clutching on to this contest by their fingertips at half-time, Watsonians took a stranglehold on it in the third quarter to secure a five-point victory that has sent them back to the top of the Super6 table.
Fergus Pringle’s side looked lacklustre and lethargic in the first half, which finished with them 13-3 behind. Second to most breakdowns, they were far less assertive than the Ayrshire Bulls, who went from strength to strength after taking an early lead through an Elias Caven penalty.
But the tables were turned after the break, with the home team scoring their first try through substitute Bobby Bratton within two minutes. There was an element of good fortune about the score as it came from a chargedown which might have gone anywhere, but it exemplified the attitude that their head coach had demanded of them at the break.
“At half-time we just said we needed to be clinical,” Pringle said. “We knew that the Bulls wouldn’t give us many chances, and we said if we got in their 22 we’d really have to score. And we did that.
“They played really well in the first half – they kind of squeezed the game. They dictated the tempo of the first half and we didn’t really get any rhythm or tempo in our game.
“We stayed in the fight in the first half, didn’t go away. We stuck in there, and then when we did get a chance in the second half to get a bit of momentum, we capitalised on it.”
Bratton’s try began a run that saw his team score 24 points between the restart and the hour mark. Lee Millar, who had opened his team’s account with those three first-half points, added the conversion to make it a three-point game.
Will Hunt and Millar exchanged penalties, and then came the crucial score – a close-range try by Harrison Courtney that put Watsonians in front for the first time. When Bulls captain Blair MacPherson was yellow-carded for a high tackle, the home team pressed home their advantage, and Jason Baggott got their third a couple of minutes later.
With quarter of an hour to play, Neil Irvine-Hess got his team’s bonus-point score, seizing ball from a wildly-thrown lineout to touch down with ease. With Millar having remained on target with his conversions, that made it 34-16.
The return of MacPherson added new impetus to the Bulls, as did the sinbinning of Watsonians centre Lewis Berg, also for a high tackle. MacPherson himself scored from a five-metre scrum, Richie Simpson converted, and suddenly from looking dead and buried the visitors were in with a chance of a losing bonus at least.
The Bulls remained in the ascendancy for what was left of the game, thanks in part to a second carding for Watsonians which saw Robbie Deans go off for a dangerous tackle not too long after coming off the bench. But their hopes of that bonus point were dashed when, just as they looked certain to score, the referee called play back for a penalty in their favour.
It was a frustrating end to a game that had begun so brightly for the Bulls, who had extended their early lead through a Bobby Beattie interception try converted by Hunt, who added a penalty five minutes before the break. But Pat MacArthur insisted his team should look to their own failings rather than any decisions by the officials to explain their defeat.
“That would have been a bonus-point loss – but that’s not the way we look at things,” the Bulls head coach said. “I’m disappointed because of the effort the lads put in. There were great shifts out there.
“We’re learning that you can put all that effort in for 60 minutes, but if we take our eye off the ball for the other 20 and give away penalties, this is what happens against good teams. And it’s a learning process two games in.
“Parts of that we’re really proud of, parts of it we just need the top three inches to get a bit better. Defensively we can put great shifts in, but a little bit of stupidity can give the other team an opportunity, and from those opportunities good teams will get points.
“I thought the boys deserved something out of the game. But they have to learn that the way that it works is if you’re a little bit off, they can punish you.
“We started well. I think in the first half we had five times in the opposition 22 and came away with three points. I want to look at the control once we get into the opposition 22.”
Watsonians: H Paterson; L MacPherson (D Coetzer 61), L Berg, C Eastgate (J Baggott 44), A Guthrie; L Millar©, M Scott (B Young 77); H Courtney, C Davies (C Wilson 68), G Scougall (B Bratton 41, R Deans 77), L Ball (K Watt 48), K van Niekerk, S Cecil, K Main (N Irvine-Hess 59), I Moody (B Bratton 78).
Ayrshire Bulls: Liam McNamara; E Caven (T Glendinning 67), J Shedden, R Beattie, A Tait; W Hunt (R Simpson 55), J Lenac (C Jones 47); A Nimmo (W Farquhar 41), J Malcolm (A McGuire 41), M Scott (C Henderson 41), E Bloodworth, R Jackson, A Smeaton (G Wilson 55), Lewis McNamara (T Brown 47), B MacPherson©.
Referee: Finlay Brown.
Watsonians: Tries: Bratton, Courtney, Baggott, Irvine-Hess. Cons: Millar 4. Pens: Millar 2.
Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Beattie, MacPherson. Cons: Hunt, Simpson. Pens: Caven, Hunt 2.
Scoring sequence (Watsonians first): 0-3, 0-8, 0-10, 3-10, 3-13 half-time, 8-13, 10-13, 10-16, 13-16, 18-16, 20-16, 25-16, 27-16, 32-16 34-16, 34-21, 34-23.
Yellow cards –
Watsonians: Berg 69, Deans 79.
Ayrshire Bulls: MacPherson 55.
Man of the match: Watsonians prop Harrison Courtney got on the scoresheet and under the Bulls’ skin with a display that got better the longer the game went on.
Talking point: There is a widespread belief among Super6 watchers that these two sides are head and shoulders above the rest – but perhaps some people will be forced to think again if unbeaten Boroughmuir get a result on their visit to Millbrae on Saturday.