Stirling Wolves 21
AN all-action second-half revival with three unanswered tries was enough for Stirling Wolves to inflict a first defeat of the season on Watsonians, the reigning Super Series champions. It was gutsy and ferocious and in the end the visitors could not cope.
The win was not achieved without controversy, though, and Nikki Walker, the Watsonians coach, made it clear that he expects a citing over a 32nd-minute incident where home prop Marius Tamosaitis seemed to catch opposite number Mak Wilson with a shoulder to the head clearing out a ruck. The Watsonians player went off clutching his head but none of the officials spotted anything.
“I think everyone else saw it but I would think there will be actions to follow,” he said, though it was his players’ game management in slippery conditions that really irked him.
“We’ve had a good few weeks but we didn’t manage this one well,” he added. “We played reasonably well in the first half but didn’t take enough opportunities when we had possession. Then, in the second half, we were barely in opposition territory and they just squeezed us.
“We made too many errors. We are not going to win every week playing expansive rugby and playing pretty. We have to learn how to win ugly. This was a game we probably needed to squeeze a result, kicking penalties, driving the maul and playing in the right areas of the field.”
No regret from his opposite number, though. For Eddie Pollock, the result represented something of a breakthrough for a team that have played some good rugby this season but had not learned how to turn that into wins.
“Watsonians were outstanding in the first 20 minutes so for us to keep them out was huge. We could easily have been 21-0 down but in fact were 7-0 down, the defence was incredible,” he said.
“We have a really strong set-piece, though, and as people come on, it doesn’t change. That was what mattered here, the set-piece eventually won the game. We have beaten one of the top sides and that is important, also that we just found a way to win the game.
“It’s a massive breakthrough. The team were smarting from what happened against the Bulls and Heriot’s but the side is growing all the time, we have mostly been together since the Sprint series and they are getting better all the time.”
When he reflects on the match, he will probably give most of the credit to the power of the defence in the opening quarter that left Watsonians struggling for ideas.
It had a lot more to do with that gutsy defence than any lack of attacking ambition from the visitors that it took 22 minutes for the first score to arrive. Watsonians had had almost all the territory and possession – it took Stirling 14 minutes before they broke into the opposition half – but the home resistance had all the resilience of a brick wall.
Connor Gordon showed the way with a series of crunching waist-high hits but just about everybody contributed in some way as the Edinburgh side hammered the home line and kept coming away frustrated.
They had a few near misses with Freddie Owsley, the Watsonians left wing, close to getting to his own chip ahead and then following up a break from hooker Jake Kerr to put scrum half Murdo McAndrew on a race to the line.
It was typical of the Wolves’ defence that somehow Craig Jackson, the fly-half, got across to knock him into touch a yard short of scoring. It is also typical of Stirling’s maddening ability to shoot themselves in the foot that they overthrew the line-out and hooker Jake Kerr collected the loose ball to crash over the line for the opening score.
With Jason Baggott, the fly-half, converting, Watsonians were deservedly ahead and continuing to dominate the match with plenty possession and playing most of the game in the opposition half but they were still struggling to create a breakthrough.
That said, Stirling were possibly fortunate to stay at 15 men after that ruck incident between the props and that might have affected the way the rest of the match went.
The Watsonians lead lasted into the second half and Stirling were the first to strike after the break, Glenn Bryce, the full-back, setting up a counter attack but it was flanker Ruaridh Knott who did the real damage with a bulldozing run. He was eventually brought down but offloaded from the ground to send wing Ross McKnight in for the score. With Marcus Holden adding the conversion, the hosts were back level.
Soon, they were ahead, the second a far more workmanlike affair. A series of penalties brought them within maul range and they simply twisted and turned the drive with hooker Gregor Hiddleston bound on the back until they were over the line and he could ground the ball. It was wide out but Holden added the conversion.
The Wolves were well on top and they made it work for them when they again got the penalties to move downfield. This time, Hiddleston broke off the back to crash through, but the result was the same. With Holden adding his third kick, they were 14 to the good going into the final 10 minutes, which they rode out without any particular problem.
Stirling Wolves: Try: McKnight, Hiddleston 2; Cons: Holden 3.
Watsonians: Try: Kerr. Con: Baggott.
Scoring sequence (Stirling Wolves first): 5-0; 7-0 (h-t) 7-5; 7-7; 7-12; 7-14; 7-19; 7-21.
Player-of-the-Match: Gregor Hiddleston got the official award for his two tries and Ruaridh Knott was magnificent after an injury-ridden spell but the aggressive defence from Connor Gordon means he gets our nomination.