Stirling County 22
Edinburgh Accies 15
ALEX MCLEMAN @ Bridgehaugh
A last minute Ruairidh Leishman try helped Stirling County snap their losing streak and book their place in the semi-finals of the BT Cup.
The crisis at Stirling, currently battling BT Premiership relegation after six consecutive defeats, isn’t quite averted but in this match, at a damp Bridgehaugh, there was enough evidence of spirit and determination to suggest that they can still carve a path away from relegation trouble.
The scoreboard did not tell the full story of County’s resilience and fight against their gallant visitors – who managed to level the scores at 15-15 in the second half, before losing out at the death. Stirling were outplayed by their lower division opponents during this period but, despite being down to 13-men after a pair of yellow cards, the hosts secured their place in the last four of the cup with that 82nd minute Leishman try.
“Thank (expletive) we won that,” shouted a relieved Stirling captain Johnny Hope as the final whistle went. The full-back had contributed to his side’s 15-3 half-time lead with a penalty and a conversion, to go with two tries from Kerr Gossman and Ross Curle, only to watch that advantage evaporate as Accies fought back to level the score 15-15 after the break.
Richard Mill had lodged Accies only first half points before Matt Couper and Max Love dotted down after the break, with Mill converting one, to level the scores with 12-minutes remaining.
But then, with the clock red and 20-minutes of extra-time looming, Leishman bulldozed his way over from close range to send Stirling into the semi-finals.
“We’ve gotten into a bit of a habit of doing this in recent weeks, taking the lead then letting teams back in – againsts Ayr, Currie and Watsonians – and folding. We saw that happening a little bit in the second half today but we somehow managed to find a way,” said Stirling’s Curle.
“The boys stuck in. It was not easy as we had boys in the bin, myself included, but we got there in the end. A win’s a win.”
“We’ve got to make this a spring board and hopefully take this result into our next league game. Today was about our mental resolve and getting it right when it mattered. Long may it continue.”
It was a triumph for Stirling’s resilience, but the adversity they faced was a product, at various points, by their own making. County had shown their flamboyant side in the opening period, and while their ambition cost them when Leishman was yellow carded early for deliberate obstruction, they regularly spliced a defence that was no less aggressive.
Stirling scored their opening try after Curle picked up Conor Hirini’s knock-on and sent Gossman racing to the line, and the duo combined again for the second when Hope’s high kick towards Accies’ tryline was controlled by Gossman’s feet and Curle pounced first to score. Starved of possession and territory, Accies managed a solo Mill in reply meaning County took a 15-3 lead in at the break.
When the visitors battled back after the break through those tries for Couper and Love, it looked like momentum was on their side, especially when the hosts were reduced to 13-men after Andrew McLean and Curle were yellow carded for not rolling away and a tip tackle, respectively. But County somehow found a way to salvage the situation, with prop Leishman crashing over in injury time to secure the win.
“I think we won the battle of the half-time talks, really, but came up short when it mattered,” said a frustrated Accies head coach, Derek O’Riordan.
“For us, we left too many tries in the first half. We had two visits into their attacking third and didn’t come away with anything. We didn’t stick to our systems much throughout.”
“All that said, to lose by a late-minute miracle try and only by seven-points, we can take something from this game into the rest of our season.”
Stirling County: J Hope; A McLean, E McGarvie, G Hughes, K Gossman; R Curle, R Swan; R Chies, R Kennedy, G Holborn, S Yarrow, J Pow, R. Bundy, S Macdonald, R Leishman. Subs: B Gilchrist, A Wood, C. Jardin, H Henderson, L Bonar.
Edinburgh Accies: L Hirini; M Couper, R Chalmers, C Hirini, J Pecqueur; R Mill, S Johnson; J Pearse, C Black, C Lacour, R Lovett, R Seydak, A Inwood, R Simpson, R Snape. Substitutes: C Weetman, M McGinley, C Imrie, A Wood, J Bruce, M Love, W Stephen.
Stirling County: Tries:. Gossman, Curle, Leishman; Cons: Hope 2; Pen: Hope.
Edinburgh Accies: Try: Couper, Love; Con: Mill; Pen: Mill.
Scoring sequence (Stirling first): 3-0; 8-0; 10-0; 10-3; 15-3 (h-t) 15-3; 15-8; 15-13; 15-15; 20-15; 22-15
Yellow cards –
Stirling: Leishman, McLean, Curle
Man of the match: County captain Jonny Hope was instrumental in helping his side take a 15-3 lead while then in keeping them engaged after they had been pegged back to 15-15. The full-back kicked two crucial conversations plus a penalty, and was an all round menace in helping hold a side averaging 45 points a game to 15.
Talking point: Down to 13 men after Curle and McLean were shown yellow cards, County survived a late push by Accies before working themselves into a scoring position to seal victory. A remarkable finish – not least given the men disadantage, but also after giving up a 15-3 half-time lead.