Stirling County 8
ERIN McRITCHIE @ Bridgehaugh
A STRONG wind made it clear from the outset of this match that small errors could well prove decisive, and in the end it was Watsonians who proved less susceptible to mistakes to keep up their pursuit of the places. Stirling County had been tucked in just behind their mid-table rivals before kick-off, but are now down to seventh place, behind Boroughmuir and with diminishing hopes of forcing their way into the top four.
The result correctly suggests this was a relatively evenly-matched game, but as County head coach Eddie Pollock accepted, it was one which Watsonians deserved to win.
“Their defence was excellent throughout, but we coughed up ball and got knocked off a few rucks,” he said. “We just made the same mistakes that we’ve been making, and we need to get better than that.”
It was County who opened the scoring on this blustery afternoon, with Glasgow’s Ratu Tagive making a quick break down the wing and soaring over the line. The conversion attempt went astray, and so, subsequently, did many passes as the conditions made running rugby difficult. Kicking was problematic too, and while County stretched their lead through an Andrew Goudie penalty, two other kicks at goal were missed – one by Goudie himself, the other by full-back Craig Robertson.
All three penalty awards were for offences in the scrum, and if County had been successful with them all, Watsonians might just have found a fightback too tall an order. Instead, they opened their account with a penalty of their own through fly-half Lee Millar after half an hour.
A stoppage in play was needed just before the break for treatment to Watsonians replacement Ewan Fox after Tagive appeared to tackle him fractionally late. There were no repercussions, though, and the half ended with County holding on to that five-point lead. It did not last long once the game restarted, as Millar added a second penalty to close the gap to two points.
The game remained in the balance for a time, but then it was tipped in Watsonians’ favour by Ali Harris. Kicking the the ball through a gap in the defence out wide, he followed the kick through and chased it down before collecting and carrying it over the whitewash to put his team into the lead for the first time.
County had a lot of pressure for a time after that, and looked sure to cross the line and retake the lead. A misjudged chip kick took one chance away, however, while the Watsonians defence remained well disciplined and defiant.
With 10 minutes to go, Watsonians secured a turnover and went on the attack. The referee awarded them a penalty at the breakdown, and Millar was on target once again to make it 8-14.
A converted try would have been enough for Stirling to seize the victory, and with a minute to go a chance presented itself as they were awarded a penalty and kicked to the corner. But, after countless phases of play, another lineout, and a continual battering of the Watsonians line, County were unable to get over the line. Eventually the ball was fumbled, and the referee blew his whistle for time.
Afterwards, Watsonians head coach Steve Lawrie praised his players’ commitment, saying: “The performance was full of character, especially the defensive effort at the end. We did seem to make it as hard as we could for ourselves at times, once we got the ball back.
“But credit to Stirling, I thought they played a really good first half. You know when you come here that you’re going to get a really tough game. Eddie has got the guys playing really well. I thought set-piece-wise they edged it, so we need to get better in that area.
“But I’m really proud of the guys, in terms of sticking it out and getting four points. That was important.”
Stirling County: C Robertson; R Tagive, E MacGarvie, G Hughes, J Brogan; A Goudie, P Jericevich; G Holborn, R Kennedy, M Walker, J Pow, S Yarrow, H Burr, G Arnott, A Mackie. Subs: M Emmison, A Woods, R Bundy, H Henderson, B Sorbie.
Watsonians: J Rowland; R Steele, A Guthrie, D Innes, R McLean; L Millar, M Scott; G Jackson, F Renwick, J Stanley, H Fisher, C Borthwick, R Graham, C Boyle, M Fedo. Subs: F Hobbis, K Watt, G Nelson, A Harris, E Fox.
Referee: S Grove-White.
Stirling County: Try: Tagive. Pen: Goudie.
Watsonians: Try: Harris. Pens: Millar 3.
Scoring sequence (Stirling County first): 5-0, 8-0, 8-3 half-time, 8-6, 8-11, 8-14.
Man of the match: On a day when the wind had a big effect on the game, Watsonians fly-half Lee Millar managed to kick three penalties, which ultimately allowed his team to remain in the game and then grind out the win.
Talking point: If it had been a professional game, with cameras everywhere and video replay, there may have been calls for a quick TMO check for Ratu Tagive’s tackle on Ewan Fox. Instead, the move was merely deemed a bigger man hitting a smaller man with just the right amount of force.