Stirling Wolves 26
Ayrshire Bulls 28
A 20 MINUTE purple patch in the second half made all the difference as Ayrshire Bulls squeezed out Stirling Wolves by a single conversion in a match where both sides claimed a scoring bonus-point.
It was the kind of stuff to keep the crowd entertained but frustrate both coaches who must have seen plenty to work on alongside the positives when they did get things right.
There’s no doubt Pat McArthur, the bulls coach, was the happier of the two, but even he had to acknowledge that, barring that periodwhen most of the tries came, his team struggled to finish the chances they had created for themselves.
So what turned it round? “We just stuck to our systems, and didn’t force it,” he said. “There wasn’t that last offload going wrong. It was taking multiple phases to get there but we didn’t try and force it and and the young players stepped up. We just stuck to our system and executed.”
Which is a reasonable summing up of how they got it right but he also had to acknowledge that in the first half and the end of the second, Bulls squandered far too mane chances and that could have cost them.
“This is where we are, what we’re seeing. We like the pictures we are seeing and we’re putting a lot of the hard work in but we’re not completing. That’s where we are now.
“We’re just not quite getting it right, we’re not executing enough, there’s little blips. It is just about time on the pitch, time on the training park to make sure that we have at least a 40 percent conversion rate.
“If we take technical stuff out of that, it was a battle of hearts. It was a physical encounter with both sides battering each other and some players were barely taped together by the end.”
For Eddie Pollock, in charge of Stirling, it was a case of lessons to be learned. When they got things right, they produced some scintillating scores but when it really mattered they couldn’t find ways to relieve the pressure.
“When we did get the ball in that period, we gave it back to them quickly. There were one or two poor decisions at that point but we saw we came back after that, showing what we could do when we we managed to hold on to the ball,” he accepted.
“It’s disappointing and at one point it looked as though we might come away with nothing but we did manage to grab two points from the game.”
The pattern was established early on. Both sides carved out early openings but in both cases their hands let them down before Wolves, gloriously, finally go it right. It all started on the left before switching across the field where Craig Jardine almost made the line. Patient recycling gave forwards James Pow and Edward Hadsell a look at the line before hooker Gregor Hiddleston found only backs in defence and carried two of them over for the opening score with Marcus Holden converting.
They couldn’t capitalise on their start, however, as the Bulls started to ease their way into the game mostly because they began to find ways to deal with the home side’s aggressive counter-ruck.
The Bulls maul helped them see off the home pressure and then get a foothold in the Stirling 22 where centre Andrew Stirrat came on the crash ball, was tackled but not held. He got back to his feet and strolled the rest of the way to the line. With Ross Thompson adding the conversion, it was back to all square.
There was not much to choose between the sides in overall territory or pressure but Stirling were looking more dangerous with the ball in hand and made that work for them when Kyle McGhie, the scrum-half, broke on his own.
He was caught before the line but protected the ball and after a couple of forward surges, possession went wide where fly-half Craig Jackson put wing Mikey Heron in for the try with Holden again adding the tricky conversion.
The visitors’ problem was that every time they created something their handling let them down, as was demonstrated in the final move of the half were a clever cross-kick from Thompson found wing Luca Bardelli but, with the line open, his inside pass to Grant Stewart went to ground.
Again, early in the second half, a superb piece of skill from centre Bobby Beattie with a chip he collected himself followed by an offload out the back to Thomas Glendinning, the wing, put them in prime position. That led to a penalty in front of the posts only for Stirling to turn the ball over and relieve the pressure.
By now, however, the Bulls had all the ball and all the territory. Sooner or later, it had to count. Stirling managed to survive a maul on their own line but couldn’t hold on as their opponents recycled the ball and eventually skipper Blair Macpherson crashed over.
That seemed to open the floodgates for the visitors as they started to grow in confidence. It didn’t take long for them to get the go-ahead try as they again hammered the home line until wing Glendinning was given space in midfield. Though he was held up at first, he did eventually get the ball down.
Just as quickly, the lead turned into a bonus point as Stirrat again created the space and put the ball wide to Bardelli for the fourth try and the result seemed safe.
But Stirling still had a sting in their tail. When they could get their hands on the ball they created pressure from the forwards before they spread the possession wide where Glenn Bryce, the full-back made the half-break and found wing Ross McKnight outside to take the scoring pass.
Crucially, Holden missed the touchline conversion – Thompson had landed all four kicks for Ayr – so when replacement hooker Reyner Kennedy barrelled his way though weak tackling to score Stirling’s bonus point try, they were still behind.
And that’s how it finished.
Stirling Wolves: Tries: Hiddleston, Herron, McKnight. Cons: Holden 2.
Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Stirrat, Macpherson, Glendinning, Bardelli. Cons: Thompson 4.
Scoring sequence (Stirling Wolves first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 7-7; 12-7; 14-7 (h-t) 14-12; 14-14; 14-19; 14-21; 14-26; 14-28; 19-29; 24-28; 26-28.