DAVID BARNES @ Bridgehaugh
IT was a game of two halves and neither of them went Boroughmuir’s way. Before the break they were so badly beaten-up at set-piece time that they scarcely had any possession to work with; and after having a chance to regroup, they probably had slightly more of the ball than their opponents during the second 40 minutes, but struggled to carve out meaningful chances for their highly rated outside backs against a ferocious home defence.
The Stirling pack contained five players who have been working full-time with either Edinburgh or Glasgow Warriors this season and their dominance up-front proved crucial, but that wasn’t an issue for Boroughmuir head coach Pater Wright. His side also had Edinburgh pro Lewis Carmichael in the engine-room, plus Dan Winning and Archie Erskine on full-time stage three academy contracts.
“We want as many young guys in that pro level as we can so we’re not going to complain about that. It’s good to play against these types of guys,” he stated.
“They play to their strengths and their strength is that pack,” Wright continued. “They scrum to get penalties which is fair enough, they maul to get tries, and you can’t have a go at guys for doing what they need to do to get a result. I just wish we had done the same.”
“There was one or two individual performances for us, but most of our guys know that they made too many errors, turned over the ball too cheaply and didn’t stick to the game-plan. So that’s a learning process for us. The boys have to come away from this and make sure that we put in a better performance when we play Marr at home next week.”
The key for Stirling was not only that they had a lot of players coming out of the professional environment to play in this game, but the fact that these individuals are invested in the club.
“It’s about building relationships with he pro-teams – Edinburgh and Glasgow – and with the players. It is about building an environment where they want to come and play, and where hopefully what we do here helps them kick on to get to where they want to get to,” said Stirling defence coach Graeme Young.
“There’s a lot of different reasons why guys in the team play club rugby and it’s important that we respect all of those reasons, and do our best to facilitate what guys want,” he added.
While the power of Stirling pack set the tone, Young believed that it was the team’s defence at the start of the second half which secured the win.
“We were under a lot of pressure and defensively the guys lived up to what we had spoken about all week in terms of having more intensity and energy in our defensive line,” he explained. “We came up off the line quicker and put pressure on to nullify some of the threats Boroughmuir had, especially in the back three where they are really strong.”
He added: “We have Ayr away next week so it will be good for us to go down there and benchmark where we are against one of the quality teams in the league in recent years.”
It got off to an inauspicious start for the home side, with number eight Ruaridh Leishman – their star man during the early round of this campaign – being sent to the sin-bin after less than two minutes for an off the ball shove on Damian Hoyland – but Stirling made light work of their one-man disadvantage, squeezing out two scrum penalties to establish the field position for a line-out drive, from which scrum-half Ruairidh Swan dived over a pile of bodies to ground the ball against the post.
It wasn’t until Leishman had returned to the fray that Boroughmuir finally managed to get a foothold in the contest, and they drew level when prop Dan Winning powered over from close range after a series of short, sharp phases.
Boroughmuir were straight back on the attack from the restart, with Blair Mills breaking out of his own half and Callum Atkinson almost going over in the corner, but his foot had slipped into touch as he dived for the line. If missing out on the try was disappointing, losing captain and chief playmaker Chris Laidlaw to injury proved to be a critical blow – especially in that period after the break when the visitors desperately needed his guile to help unpick Stirling’s stubborn defence.
At least the visitors could take some comfort from being awarded a penalty, which they kicked to the corner, only for the home team to concede another penalty by pulling the maul down. The same routine played out again before referee Sam Gove-White lost patience and sent Callum Hunter-Hill for a ten-minute break.
Once again, Stirling made hay out of being man down, escaping up-field thanks to a squint Boroughmuir throw, and then using that set-piece superiority to secure a try through hooker Reyner Kennedy at the back of a driven line-out.
Carmichael didn’t do his team any favours when he threw a fist at fellow Edinburgh pro Hunter-Hill – on the deck, well away from the ball and right in front of the grandstand – earning a yellow-card.
Form the penalty, Stirling once again went to the touchline, and once again came away with seven points, with tight-head prop Adam Nicol rumbling over this time.
Boroughmuir started the second half in lively fashion with Damian Hoyland releasing Ronan Kerr in midfield for a dart at the line, but the centre was pulled down just before reaching his target, and thereafter the visitors struggled to turn their first sustained period of possession into anything incisive – despite a wealth of proven game-breakers such as Hoyland, Jordan Edmunds and Grant McConnell at their disposal.
Stirling, in contrast, were deadly when they eventually got hold of the ball, with Ross Curle cutting an excellent line to open up the park, then throwing a 30 yard pass to Logan Trotter on the left touchline. There wasn’t quite enough room for the winger to fully stretch his legs, so the heavy boys got back in on the act, with Nicol hitting up like a runaway train and Hunter-Hill finishing off a fine try.
Boroughmuir kept battling and eventually got Edmunds into the game when he popped up in midfield and burst over from close range. Replacement number eight Archie Erskine was clearly determined to make his mark, and what he lacked in accuracy at times was compensated for in full-blooded commitment.
But the visitors never really got close. Stirling ended the match triumphantly with: Hope kicking a penalty; Wynne romping home for try number five after a powerful break up the right touchline by Kerr Gossman; and finally a sweeping move right across the park and back almost sending Nicol over for his second try, if he had just managed to hold onto the ball.
Stirling County: J Hope; L Trotter, R Curle, G Gililand, K Gossman; L Bonar, R Swan; R Cheis, R Kennedy, A Nicol, C Hunter-Hill, H Burr, L Wynne, C Fusaro, R Leishman. Subs: M Emmison, M McDonald, J Beech, S MacDonald, C Robertson.
Boroughmuir: C Whyte; D Hoyland, R Kerr, G Cannie, J Edmunds; C Laidlaw, B Mills; D Winning, J Matthews, R Dunbar, L Carmichael, C Atkinson, D Marek, C Keddie, T Drennan. Subs: C Davies, T Gracie, A Erskine, J Hamilton, G McConnell.
Stirling County: Try: Swan, Kennedy, Nicol, Hunter-Hill, Wynne; Con: Hope 4; Pen: Hope.
Boroughmuir: Try: Winning, Edmunds; Con: Laidlaw, Whyte.
Scoring sequence (Stirling first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 7-7; 12-7; 14-7; 19-7; 21-7 (h-t) 26-7; 28-7; 28-12; 28-14; 31-14; 36-14.
Yellow cards –
Stirling: Leishman (2mins), Hunter-Hill (23mins)
Boroughmuir: Carmichael (34mins)
Referee: Sam Grove-White
Man-of-the-Match: Stirling’s dominant pack won the day and Adam Nicol was not only a colossus at scrum time but showed up well in the loose with one try, one assist and one fumble with the line at his mercy.
Talking point: With every passing week, the tension cranks up a notch at Meggetland. We know they have enough ability to be competitive against nearly every team in this league, but they need something tangible to show for it soon or confidence will drain. A huge game at home against Marr awaits next week. Meanwhile, County have a powerful pack, some dangerous backs, and a well-drilled and committed defence – but can they pull it all together for two massive games away to Ayr and at home to Melrose during the next fortnight.