Stirling Wolves 78
Future XV 0
For the second time in just a few months Stirling showed the depth of problems in the Scottish development system as they put the Future XV to the sword. The August game resulted in 14 tries and 92 points so you might be fooled into thinking conceding 12 was a slight improvement, but you’d be wrong.
This was the Wolves on the rampage and though the youngsters of the Future XV did put in occasional flourishes and even threatened a meaningful break, the reality was that they never got a clear scoring chance and the final margin was the same. There were 13 changes in the starting team from the last game and 16 changes in the 23, but the result was worryingly similar
It leaves a lot of work for Scott Forrest, the co-head coach to do as he tries to mend the damage this did and he admitted that after a positive build-up, he was shocked by how quickly and thoroughly it had gone wrong.
“We are disappointed, we didn’t see that coming,” he said. “We had academy players back and players who had gone well in pre-season training, so we thought we would be better.
“Credit to Stirling, they were very good, better than in the first game, but we were far too easy to score against, particularly in the first half. We need to develop a hard edge, which we just didn’t have in defence. We know this is a big challenge for us in being able to match the physicality of these teams but many of these players are going to be playing against the likes of Ireland and France [in the Under 20s Six Nations] and they are going to be even more physical.
“This is the first time I’ve had a go at them saying it was not good enough in terms of the standards we set ourselves. All these players are ones who want to get into the Under-20s, want to get into the pro game, so they need to be better.”
The issue from a Scottish rugby point of view is that a few months after the Under 20s failed to make it back to the top flight of the Junior World Championship and days after the senior side got booted out of the Rugby World Cup, this was a stark reminder of how bare the cupboard is when it comes to replacing players approaching retirement.
The Future XV had been able to select from something close to their strongest possible side. Last time, the Under=20 players were away on international duty, this time many of them were available. Surely that should have made them more competitive.
For the first eight minutes, that is exactly how it played out. The Futures XV even had a couple of visits to the home half and a couple of crunching tackles promised a stiff defensive effort.
That was as good as it got, though. Stirling won a line-out, Marcus Holden, the centre, barged through and when the ball was recycled quickly. Craig Jackson at fly-half spotted the defence out of position and his low kick though gave Euan Cunningham, the full-back, the opening try on his return to his home town club.
That opened the floodgates. The futures were driven off their scrum ball and Ross McKnight, the wing, got the ball on the blind side and simply ran though anything resembling a tackle to score.
A simple break from Mike Heron on the other wing was carried on by Davey, who’s offload put Jackson in for try number three.
The bonus point was almost as quick coming with Ed Hadsell, the No 8, breaking clear and feeding McKnight before the wing completed his hat trick with another power canter down the wing.
To their credit, the Future XV did wrestle things round again, showing a bit of grit as they stopped the rot for a while – to be precise until McKnight got the ball in a bit of space again and again nobody could tackle him in full fight as he claimed his fourth try with half-time looming.
Not that the break changed things. The second half was barely under way when a simple backs move put Davey through a gap and his offload put KcKnight in for his fifth before he was taken off to recover from the heady heights of his scoring feat.
It slowed the pace Stirling were rattling in the scores but didn’t stem the flow. Reyner Kennedy, the hooker, forced his way over from short range and Hadsell picked a perfect line off Jackson to power in for the next try.
Heron crossed for two more, and replacement scrum-half Ben Afshar got another to bring up a round dozen tries.
It was satisfaction all round for the home side, who were able to haul key players off for a rest ahead of playing Heriot’s back at Bridgehaugh on Wednesday.
“We knew we had to be physical and we knew we had to be accurate,” said Eddie Pollock, their head coach. “The attitude and the way they played in the first half was outstanding. The scrum and the maul went well, that opened up a lot of space elsewhere because they had to work so hard to control that.
“We were very clever about working out how to attack the defence from that situation. We planned for that and I was delighted with the accuracy they delivered. We have four games in the next 14 days, luckily three of them at home, so this will be the defining period in our season. We are relishing the way things are, we have a first squad with just about everyone available.”
Stirling Wolves: Tries: Cunningham, McKnight 5, Jackson, Kennedy, Hadsell, Herron 2, Afshar; Cons: Holden 4, Jackson 5.
Future XV: No scorers
Scent sequence (Stirling Wolves first): 5-0; 10-0; 15-0; 22-0; 29-0; 34-0; 36-0 (h-t) 41-0; 43-0; 48-0; 50-0; 55-0; 57-0; 62-0; 64-0; 69-0; 71-0; 76-0; 78-0.
Player-of-the-Match: No real contest here, Step forward Ross McKnight. You simply can’t overlook a player who scores a hat-trick in 12 minutes and finishes with five tries before being taken off with 20 minutes still to go in an act of mercy.