Stirling Wolves 43
Southern Knights 20
AFTER a hard-fought, tough, all-action game in the rain, Stirling Wolves got one foot in the FOSROC Super Series Championship play-offs as they saw off the challenge from the only other team in the running. Their six-try performance moved them three points clear of the Southern Knights with both playing their final matches next weekend.
For the Knights, it was a shattering blow to their morale. They gave everything they had in a gutsy showing at Bridgehaugh but still game up short as the home side showed they had a more clinical edge in the key moments.
The Borderers scored some fine tries but in the end failed to take advantage of too many half breaks while Stirling gave them something of a lesson in being ruthless in the red zone. The Knights now need to beat Heriot’s at home next week and then hope Boroughmuir Bears can do them a favour if they are to have any chance of making the play-offs.
So, no wonder Eddie Pollock, the Stirling coach, was a happy man after the game. “We were pleased that we soaked up a lot of pressure and came out on top,” he said. “We played some really good rugby and when we got in the 22 we carried with real intent.
“Some of the scores were excellent against a good Southern Knights defence and then we managed to hold off their onslaught at the start of the second half and come back strong. We still have a job to do next week, though, and we have to remember that.”
It ended a couple of tricky weeks for Stirling who, by their own admission, underperformed in defeats by Heriot’s and Watsonians. For Pollock, it was partly that they had got some key players back, with Marius Tamosaitis, the tight-head, holding the scrum solid and carrying strongly but it was returning flanker Connor Gordon that got the big plaudits.
“You could see the work-rate he put in, he was phenomenal. He leads from the front all the time and the guys follow him,” was how Pollock put it.
The other outstanding individual performance was from schoolboy Joe Roberts, pressed into emergency service at hooker and needed early when Sam Rainey picked up an injury.
“He is playing for Dundee and is still at school in Aberdeen,” Pollock pointed out. “He was outstanding, not just in the loose but he only came to us this week so didn’t really know the line-out codes and still did well there. He was fantastic, it shows we have some good young players coming through. It’s nice to see somebody like him stepping up to this level.”
The result puts Stirling on the verge of achieving their main target for the campaign, which was to make the play-offs and then see how far they can go from there. “That was the challenge at the start of the year,” said Pollock. “Then it’s just two games. That’s the target all season, the guys have worked really hard, it’s important we get another crack at the whip.”
With so much at stake, both sides could have been forgiven a nervy start and there was plenty of kicking in the fist couple of minutes, but they were quick to show what they could do with ball in hand when they got the chance to run.
The Knights were first to flash their teeth with a lengthy period of pressure that ended with Gregor McNeish, the fly-half, landing a simple penalty. In reply, the Wolves conjured up a superb piece of skill from centre Ryan Southern but when Craig Jackson tried for the cross-field grubber for wing Ross McKnight, the ball rolled just too far and the chance was lost.
It was only a short reprieve for the Borderers, though. Stirling made a mess of their first three attacking line-outs but given a fourth, managed to get it right and rumbled their way to the line. They were stopped short but after a couple of pick and drives, flanker Ruaridh Knott powered his way over for the opening try.
The Knights were the architects of their own problems for the next score as an interception when they were on attack gave Stirling the chance to counter-attack. They switched the ball left, right and back to the middle where No 8 Ed Hadsell powered to the line and offloaded to Knott on his shoulder to make the remaining inches and the ball to ground.
It wasn’t quite an action replay as Stirling took a grip on the game but there were certainly similarities as the Knights lost the ball, Stirling hacked ahead and when they turned the ball over in the opposition 22, Gordon was there to drive over for their third try on his 50th game for the club.
Despite the persistent rain making conditions tough for both teams, there were still opportunities for both sides, though Stirling were the ones showing the more clinical edge with Gordon again to the fore as he drove through the visiting defence and laid the ball back to his support. Though wing Ross McKnight was stopped short, the ball squirted clear and Glenn Bryce, the full back collected to drive over.
The Knights did hit back just before half-time when a series of penalties gave them field position and after the forwards were held short, the ball switched to the wing where Aidan Cross had just enough space to produce a spectacular dive inside the corner flag for a score that gave them some hope.
That seemed to revive the Borderers who came out firing in the second half and soon earned their reward as series of penalties brought them to the home line, and from the maul they drove their way over with replacement hooker Luke Thompson, who had come on at the break, the one to get the ball down.
That hinted at a revival but the Wolves had other ideas, though it took a clever turnover from Gordon to launch them, with Hadsell taking the hosts into the 22 before the ball switched to midfield where Southern waltzed through some weak tackling to dive over.
Bryce then got himself up in support of of a break from replacement with Sam Rockley to collect his second before the Knights laid on another demonstration of their attacking threat with replacement fly-half Harris Rutherford producing an audacious pass behind his back to set No 8 Harry Borthwick charging into the home defence which created space for Cross to take advantage of the scattered defence.
Stirling Wolves: Tries: Knott 2, Gordon, Bryce 2, Southern; Cons: Holden: 4; Pen: Holden.
Southern Knights: Tries: Cross 2, Thompson; Pen: McNeish; Con: Rutherford.
Scoring sequence (Stirling Wolves first): 0-3; 5-3; 10-3; 12-3; 17-3; 19-3; 24-3; 26-3; 26-8 (h-t) 31-3; 31-8; 31-10; 31-13; 36-13; 41-13,;43-20.
Player-of-the-Match: The official award went to Glenn Bryce, the Wolves’ full back, and Harry Borthwick was a tower of strength for the Knights but for TOL, it was Connor Gordon who gets the award for his tries, tackling, key turnovers and work-rate.
Talking point: There are a lot of doubters on the Super Series project but this was a thoroughly entertaining physical game with a lot going for it. Vitally, young players were given the chance to develop in two sides where the older heads could lead the way and direct play.