Stirling Wolves 29
FIVE tries; a nine point winning margin and a result that moves Watsonians up to second in the FOSROC Super Series Sprint. So why is it definitely not ridiculous to describe them as “lucky”? Anyone who saw the game will understand.
Basically, Stirling were responsible for eight or nine of the 10 scores in the game. Some they created with their current brand of exciting, handling rugby; others they gave away with some catastrophically bad decision making, three times gifting the ball to oponnents who had only to trot over the line to score. Add a fourth score from equally crack-handed defending and the miracle was that the result was as close as it was.
“We’ve got to three lucky scores straight away and that made a big difference,” conceded Steve Scott, the Watsonians coach. “They gave us a bit of confidence off the of the back of last week’s disappointment.
“The thing I like about this team is that we showed a bit of fight, that’s all we want. We’ve got a lot of injuries, boys not playing and some under-18 players on the field. I think that is great for the competition, great for the youngsters but I just enjoyed seeing that hard edge in the fight was there.”
His team might be back into the top two but it is desperately tight and Scott knows they won’t get so lucky again. The determination and resistance they showed, particularly when a man short, will, however stand them in good stead.
For Eddie Pollock, the Stirling coach, the real disappointment was that his side did more than enough to win the game but it was not just the gift scores they gave away that hurt them. In the opening spell of the second half, they did drag themselves back into the contest but also squandered three or four try-scoring chances.
“You gift them 21 points in the first 20 minutes and also a couple of set-piece scores and you will always struggle, it was pretty disappointing,” he said. “They didn’t have to work to score and in many cases it was the experienced players getting it wrong. It was well down on the standards we expect from ourselves so in many ways it is back to the drawing board.
“There was some great lead-up stuff but we didn’t quite have the composure to finish. I think that happens a lot when you’re points down. You’re trying not to chase the game but in reality you always are.
“They defended very, very well, too. They were under a lot of pressure but when I thought we had them on the ropes and would go on to win, they came back well to close out the game. It shows why they won the Championship last year.”
What really caught both coaches out was that the kamikaze stuff was there right from the start. Neither side got the chance to establish a rhythm or pattern before the scores came rattling in. Giving away one so quickly may be understandable, three is not. Particularly when you take into account the nature of the tries.
With two minutes on the clock, the ball went to ground in midfield and Ross McKnight, the Watsonians wing, hacked ahead then won the race to collect it, cruising home for the opening try.
Stirling did manage to gather themselves and a reasonably routine score from the back of a rolling maul, hooker Gregor Hiddleston getting the touchdown, got them back on level terms before they went all wobbly again.
They collected the kick-off safely enough but with another rush of generosity passed it straight to Watsonians wing Angus Guthrie with nobody between him and the line. A second conversion from Lee Millar, the captain and full-back, and the visitors were back in front.
Minutes later it was almost an action replay. Millar’s chip-kick was about as unthreatening as they come but as Stirling skipper Marcus Holden tried to offload to set something up, he only succeeded in handing the ball back to Millar for a free run in for try number three.
Again Stirling managed to create something from their attacking play, Glenn Bryce, the full-back, finding space to cut through and feeding Holden for a try that momentarily put them back in contention.
But the hosts just couldn’t stop making midfield blunders, though at least the next was a missed tackle, not an interception. George Pringle was held but allowed to wriggle free and get close to the line before offloading to fellow centre Lewis Berg for the bonus point score after only 25 minutes.
Not that any of that stopped Stirling trying things and they almost had their third try but lock Hamish Ferguson lost the ball going for the line. They were good enough to keep up the pressure, though, and created their third try when fly-half Craig Jackson was inches short and a quick recycle of the ball gave Holden space for his second score.
Millar added a penalty for Watsonians to end a seven-try half with his side 14 points clear, almost entirely due to the home side’s generosity.
Stirling came close to closing the gap early in the second half but Holden couldn’t quite grasp an awkwardly bouncing ball as he raced onto his own chip-kick and then his offload to Ferguson was ruled forward as the lock bounded under the posts.
Watsonians kept giving away penalties and successive sin-binnings for Berg and Millar meant they found themselves down to 14 men for 20 almost consecutive minutes, and though Stirling continued to make hard work of converting their chances, they did eventually make it pay.
First Bryce produced a superb kick into space and followed up himself to beat the Watsonians cover defence to the touchdown. Then some wonderful running from Stevie Hamilton on the wing gave Craig Jardine just enough space to squeeze his way over. Only one converted by Holden, though, and Stirling were still chasing the game.
Back to 15 men, the visitors were a different proposition and at last they came up with a score that didn’t rely on a home blunder. It was a classic set-piece move, the ball drifting out to Jason Baggot, the fly-half, on an angle before centre Pringle cut back against the grain to carve cleanly through to the posts.
That was that. Stirling huffed and puffed but never again looked like rescuing the game.
Stirling Wolves: G Bryce; S Hamilton, C Jardine (G Smith, 68), M Holden (C), B Salmon; C Jackson, K McGhie (E Davey, 55); G Breese (L Quarm, 75), G Hiddleston (A Fraser, 55), M Tomasaitis (D Voas, 66), H Ferguson, J Pow (J Spurway, 66), R Knott (H McLeod, 66), C Gordon, B Grant.
Watsonians: L Millar (C) (sin bin: 53-63); R McKnight, G Pringle, L Berg (sin bin: 42-53, S King, 53), A Guthrie (J Brown, 63); J Baggott, M McAndrew; C Davidson, C Davies, G Scougall (R Bratton, 44), L Ball, J Berrisford (J Morris, 64), S Cecil, C Wilson, N Irvine-Hess.
Referee: I Kenny
Stirling Wolves: Tries: Hiddleston, Holden 2, Bryce, Jardine; Cons: Holden 2.
Watsonians: Tries: McKnight, Guthrie, Millar, Berg, Pringle; Cons: Millar 4, Baggot; Pen: Millar.
Player-0f-the0Match: It was a strange game, most of the rugby came from Stirling but so did most of the mistakes. However, when there was a chance that the home side might come from behind, Neil Irvine-Hess, the Watsonians No 8, led a magnificent defensive effort to hold them out.
Talking point: One thing nobody can accuse the Super Series of is a lack of points or a lack of entertainment. This was end to end stuff and if the result was driven by mistakes, they were partly driven by the ambition to play fast, fluid rugby.
Credit: LEWIS STUART (The Offside Line) https://www.theoffsideline.com/super-series-sprint-stirling-wolves-shoot-themselves-in-foot-as-watsonians-climb-to-second/