ALAN LORIMER @ BT Murrayfield
STIRLING COUNTY 22
STIRLING COUNTY added a second major success to their impressive record this season by winning the Under-18 Youth Cup at BT Murrayfield to follow their top finish in the President’s Conference earlier in the season.
The margin of victory, however, was not as large as many had predicted such was the resilience of the Ayr defence and the ability of the Millbrae side to take the game to Stirling.
“They sussed us out in the first half but after the break we showed what we were able to do,” said the Stirling coach Matt McGrandles.
Three well-taken second half tries by Stirling proved the difference between the two sides, albeit Ayr were able to hit back with a try and conversion to show their competitiveness.
Outstanding for Stirling was their man-of-the-match, Kieran Gammie. The big full-back played an all-round part in helping his side to victory, including an important goal kicking contribution which brought two conversions and a penalty.
There were telling contributions too from centre Andrew McLean and second-rows, Cameron Keys and Ross Bundy, the latter sadly having to retire injured in the second half.
Ayr had already lost to Stirling in the two previous meetings between the clubs this season, but on the night they appeared to have overcome that psychological barrier by matching their opponents for most of the first half – before they started to find holes in their opponents’ backline defence after the break.
“We defended well in the first half and scored a good try in the second period but tiredness eventually took its toll,” said Stuart Fenwick, the Ayr coach.
Stirling began the game intent on confirming their tag as favourites with the Bridgehaugh side dominating the early exchanges with strong play from both backs and forwards. But an early miss off the kicking tee by Gammie meant that pressure was not converted into points.
Thereafter much of the first half became a stalemate peppered only by brief breaks, the best by Ayr’s Ross McCorkindale, only for the stand-off to be called back for a forward pass.
Ayr got on top in the territorial battle until Stirling changed the emphasis of their game to pick-and-drive rugby. It paid dividends as County worked their way back upfield before winning a penalty in front of the posts, this time successfully converted into points by Gammie for what proved to be the only score of the first half.
County’s approach in the second half seemed much more in tune with their high scoring performances this season, the ball finally given air and a try inevitably resulting.
It came from broken play and excellent handling by sKeys and winger Cameron Hill, whose pass sent number eight Wallace Nelson in at the corner. From the touchline Gammie converted to open up a 10-0 lead.
Then when Stirling stand-off Jonathan Ross made a clean break, Scotland under-18 squad centre McLean was on his shoulder to take the scoring pass.
Ayr, however, were not out of the game and showed their determination to compete with a try by prop Logan Richardson converted from wide out by Jack Gaw.
A penalty goal by Jack narrowed Stirling’s lead further to set up an exciting finale but any hopes that Ayr had of snatching victory at the death were crushed as County made their pick-and-drive game count with a try by flanker Cameron Blakemore, successfully converted by Gammie for the final points in what was to be Stirling’s day.
Ayr: J Baird; R McMurray, J Gaw, H Lynch, M McInnes; McCorkindale, C Black; L Richardson, S Rae, C Miller, E Hamilton, D Bryce, M Wylie, C Gaw, C Reece. Subs: S Collier, J Yuille, C Stillie, J Burns, K Borland, J Rennie, C Hunter
Stirling County: K Gammie; C Hill, A McLean, J Gibson, T Johnston; J Ross, A Riddick; C Clark, B Robertson, R Murray, C Keys, R Bundy, D McLaren, C Blakemore, W Nelson. Subs: F Muir, L McKay, A Rutherford, D Sneddon, C Jardine, A Shaw, J Manners
Referee: I Kenny
Ayr: Try: Richardson; Con: J Gaw; Pens; J Gaw
Stirling County: Tries Nelson, McLean, Bickermore; Cons: Gammie 2; Pen: Gammie
Scoring Sequence (Ayr first): 0-3 (h-t) 0-8; 0-10; 0-15; 5-15; 7-15; 10-15; 10-20; 10-22
Man-of-the-Match: It is useful to have physically big full-back in your side and Kieran Gammie provided that for Stirling. His kicking from the tee provided seven points from two conversions and one penalty.
Talking point: Youth under-18 rugby needs to go to another level if it is to provide stars for the senior game. Ayr and Stirling already play against top schools but only on an ad-hoc basis. Would it not be better if the top clubs and top schools were integrated into one league or conference?