Battling ’Shire hold out

McLaren 5, Wigtownshire 11

After three weekends at home, Wigtownshire were on the road again on Saturday.

The McLaren are based in Callander but this season are playing their fixtures in Dunblane, where they have secured a better pitch and access for visiting teams is much easier.

’Shire’s player availability difficulties arose again. Only 13 players were able to make to trip from Stranraer and three of the club’s centrally-based student membership made up the team.

McLaren were promoted from Division 3 last season and have found things difficult, managing one win from five games. However, all their games have been tight, even against the top teams in the league. These sides last met in the Bowl competition last season when McLaren won. It was with a degree of foreboding that ’Shire took the field.

McLaren kicked off with a slight advantage from the cold wind. It was dry, and the few flakes of snow that fell when the referee started the game did not develop any further. The home side’s kick did not go far enough and the first scrum of the day was set, with a ’Shire put in. Clean ball was won, but it was turned over at the tackle.

McLaren then took the chance to show just how dangerous they were: their fullback set off on a mazy run avoiding tacklers and only a pass adjudged forward prevented them going in for the first score.

The home side, having made it into opposition territory, were not going to give it up. They caught the clearance kick following the ’Shire scrum, and for the next five minutes pinned the visitors back inside their 22. Only determined tackling and resolute defence kept them from scoring. But the visitors broke out and were awarded a penalty 35 metres from McLaren’s line. Callum Austin’s kick slipped wide of the post, but the home side, confident with ball in hand, ran it straight back into attack mode.

Once again the defence held and cleared back up the park.

With only their second attacking opportunity of the match, ’Shire’s normally dominant lineout let them down twice in succession. McLaren broke out again and came to within five metres of scoring, but they could not break down the ’Shire defence. Time and time again the visitors disrupted play, taking ball against the head at the scrum, driving them back in the ruck and pushing them back in the tackle to clear. When the half-time whistle blew the score stood 0-0.

’Shire kicked off the second half with intent. Austin’s kick was chased and fielded by Jason McKie, who crashed through the McLaren pack. When stopped, he off-loaded to Ross McCreadie, who powered on towards the line, ploughing the defence aside as he went. They eventually stopped him just short of the score and, despite the support of Campbell McGregor and the pack, they could not carry the ball over.

The referee, however, saw fit to award a penalty for an offside and Austin stepped up to break the deadlock.

McLaren raced up and kicked off, caught the visitors unaware, and only a scrabbling defence stopped them making good on their advantage. It was now they who were awarded a penalty, and a “not 10” decision brought them to the five-meter line. They ignored the kick at goal and went for the lineout. The ’Shire line was back on form, Campbell Reid, disrupted the throw and the strong defensive game clicked in again. Once more they turned over possession by halting a maul and stopping McLaren using the ball.

’Shire then gained the advantage from a penalty in McLaren territory. Austin took the chance offered and increased the lead to six points. However, straight away the home side stormed through the ’Shire lines. This time they made good on their assault scoring the first try of the game. The conversion attempt went wide, but the points difference was reduced to one.

McLaren went back on the attack from the restart but ’Shire were equal to their efforts and, having recovered composure, played tight hard rugby. Unfortunately, wing forward Campbell Reid was given a yellow card, for a late tackle on the McLaren stand-off. Down to 14 players for 10 minutes so late in the game seemed like the fatal blow for the visitors. Nobody told the ’Shire players, though, and they redoubled their efforts. Eight minutes later they got their reward. The phrase “attack is the best form of defence” appeared to be the best way to describe how they rallied. The ball came out to Captain Andy Farquhar, who decided to play it back to the blind side, against the flow of play. He passed to scrum half Jason Patterson, then fast hands brought it via Gordon Keith and Keith McNeil to give Hamish McGeoch space on the wing. He did not need any encouragement as he accelerated, outstripping the cover to score a well deserved try. Unfortunately the conversion was wide.

With several minutes to play and only six points the difference, McLaren threw everything into the game but ’Shire, restored to 15 players, held out until Mr Dowling blew for the final time.

This was a gutsy, determined performance by the Wigtownshire side who were on the rack for much of the game. Each man in the ’Shire team stepped up to the mark. The combination of young and old combined to produce what coach Alan McKie described as “the best display I have seen this season … the commitment from each and every player was immense. They played for each other and, very importantly, as a team”.

This weekend Wigtownshire play host to Carrick at London Road, Stranraer, kick off at 2pm.

Team: R Forsyth, C Hose, A Farquhar (captain), D Maccaig, S Cameron, C Austin, J Patterson; B Graham, G Keith, C McGregor, G Dunlop, R McCreadie, C Reid, J McKie, K McNeil. Replacement: H McGeoch.

DAVIE HUNTER