Stirling Wolves 17
WATSONIANS guaranteed themselves place in the end-of-season play offs as they came from an early deficit to get revenge on Stirling Wolves, one of the teams that had beaten them in the first half of the season.
They are now 11 points ahead of the Southern Knights, who have only two games left, so are guaranteed at least third spot and still have hopes of a top-two spot with their game against Heriot’s next week crucial.
“We’ve got to just look after ourselves and win our game, try to get the five points in the fixtures we’ve got left,” said Nikki Walker, the home head coach. “We’re definitely up for going to Goldenacre next week. That’s going to be a bit of a grudge match for us.
“If the boys perform like we did as we did in this match, with some small tweaks and improvements, we can do well there. We’re pretty confident on our day we can beat anybody.
“We’re glad that we’re in the play-offs and still hope for that home play-off but if it doesn’t come then we’ll still be confident going wherever we end out.”
On this showing, Walker is right to be confident. “We have been beating teams but not really a putting them away, so we turned a bit of a corner in that respect,” he added.
It’s going to be a big week for Stirling as well with coach Eddie Pollock labelling the game against Southern Knights next week as in effect a cup final for his side. They are still two points behind the Borderers in the race for fourth spot in the table and have used up their game in hand, so it really is a case of winner takes all.
“We started well but we missed a couple opportunities and that cost us,” said Pollock. “We could have been points up but we weren’t and then we made a couple of crucial errors just after half-time and the game got away from us.
“We’ll have to come back and get better. Next week is effectively a cup final, the crunch game of the season. They [Knights] have improved since the start of the season so it will be a close game. We will go away, look at the video and come back firing at home. The guys are hurting at the moment.”
Stirling actually started the stronger. They had half chances but struggled to convert them into full openings until a a moment of brilliance from Craig Jackson, the fly-half, whose clever grubber-kick was perfectly placed for wing Ross McKnight to outpace the turning defence and claim the score.
Marcus Holden, the centre, converted and added a penalty but it was No 8 Ed Hadsell who really lit Myreside up with a break from his own 22 that petered out only after 60 metres when he was caught with his support still struggling to catch up.
When the game turned, Watsonians had much the same struggles. They had both possession and territory and No 8 Kwagga van Neikerk was a powerhouse in both attack and defence but they were finding it hard to create clear chances.
In the end, it was the decision to take a scrum from a penalty under the posts that turned the balance with the ball shooting out to the left where centre George Pringle had the strength to go through a gap and just reach the line, with Jason Baggott converting to send the teams in to half-time with only three points separating them, after a superb solo break from home full-back Dom Coetzer had come to nothing.
Watsonians came back on clearly fired up as they raised the intensity level and reaped their reward almost straight away with van Neikerk carrying hard into the Stirlig 22 and, when the ball was recycled, replacement flanker Seb Cecil was there to juggle then catch it as he dived over the line.
By now Wolves were struggling with the scrum, which had been at least holding its own, suddenly under pressure and the home side starting to find space in midfield. Watsonians kicked a penalty to the corner and, inevitably, they mauled the line-out to send hooker Cal Davies over.
Stirling’s mistakes were starting to pile up in areas where they had been secure in the first half and the Watsonians bonus point came after another huge break from Pringle, which only ended when he slipped trying to beat the final defender. Van Neikerk was first on the scened and carried almost to the line and Alfie Scopes, the lock, completed the move.
There was an element of luck involved in the fifth home try as the all squirted uncontrolled out of a ruck on the Stirling line straight to replacement scrum-half Murdo McAndrew with Lee Miller, the replacement fly-half, adding the conversion.
Stirling managed to hit back with Jackson again the provider as his chip-kick caught the defence napping and Ryan Southern, the centre, touched down, but the result was long since decided and he game ended with replacement hooker Fin Duraj crashing over from another line-out maul.
Watsonians: Tries: Pringle, Cecil, Davies, Scopes, McAndrew, Duraj; Cons: Baggott 4, Miller.
Stirling Wolves: Tries: McKnight, Southern; Cons: Holden 2; Pen: Holden.
Scoring sequence (Watsonians first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-10; 5-10; 7-10 (h-t) 12-10; 14-10; 19-10; 21-10; 26-10; 28-10; 33-10; 35-10; 35-15; 35-17; 40-17.
Man-of-the-Match: A tough call between Kwagga van Neikerk at No 8 and George Pringle at outside centre with both producing some big moments that helped decide the match. In the end, it was Pringle who produced slightly more key plays and gets the prize.
Talking point: After a bit of a mid-season wobble, Watsonians seem to be hitting form again at just the right time, while Stirling are in danger of heading in the opposite direction.