Newton Stewart 25
The rugby new year in the area started, as it has done for many years, with the annual club derby games between Newton Stewart and Wigtownshire.
It was the Stranraer club who played host to the fixture on Wednesday. Players and fans alike were very surprised to find the London Road pitches as wet as had been seen in living memory. Nevertheless they were still playable and in a much better condition than the majority of rugby grounds across Scotland at the moment.
This factor has kept the Newton Stewart side out of league action since November 3 and they have only managed to get a friendly game in Dumfries last Saturday to give them some recent game time. The ’Shire have been more fortunate, only missing one game so far this season due to weather. This fact was not lost on the large expectant crowd who gathered to watch the game.
This is a very important match for both clubs as part of their festive calendar and to secure the county bragging rights for the rest of the year, when the players and supporters meet up. Of course, there was also the matter of the silverware to be won as well.
From the kick-off it was plain to see that it was going to be a busy afternoon for referee Rab McHenry. With one minute on the clock, ’Shire were awarded a penalty and young Callum Austin stepped up to score the first three points. As the teams tried to settle into a rhythm, the fiercely contested nature the derby match had Mr McHenry awarding another kickable penalty. This time it was Newton Stewart who stepped up to score through Iain Russell.
Both teams were playing hard and fast and with the ball being knocked on by both sides, they were going to get a chance to work on their scrumming skills. Wigtownshire continued their recently revived ability in this area. Much to the surprise of the visitors, they found themselves going backwards at pace in the setpiece, something that does not happen often to the powerful Newton pack.
The home side took advantage by driving forward, only to be repelled by hard tackling and rucking. The Newton boys pounced on any loose ball, recycling it and charging up the field. It was the home defence that was then tested, but not found wanting, as they repaid their guests in kind.
This stalemate was broken from a ’Shire clearance kick. It resulted in the kicker being adjudged to have been impeded. Electing to take the penalty were the ball landed, Cammy Craig put the ball between the posts to put the home side in front again. Newton Stewart responded from the restart with so very positive play taking them to within five metres of the home line. This attack was pushed back by strong defending but not without cost. The hard play and combative contact was taking its toll on the ’Shire players and they began to sustain injuries. Jason McKie and Connor Stephens, back row players, both needed attention but were able to play on, as was standoff Craig, who injured his leg.
Abrasive hooker Gordon Keith and powerful lock Munro McConnell both had to come off with blood injuries and for Keith it was the end of his game. With replacements brought on the game continued, and the visitors were on the front foot, as the home side struggled to contain them.
A Newton Stewart penalty failed to get over the bar. The ’Shire restart was brought back for a scrum on the 22, as a chasing players got in front of the kicker. This gave the visitors an excellent attacking chance and they made the most of it. They won the ball and came up into the home try line. The ’Shire defence held, the ball was dropped as Newton tried to get over the line. They kept the pressure on at the resultant scrum and the visitors regained possession. Once more tested in defence, McKie and Keith McNeil inspired the local boys to keep Newton out, and the first half ended with ’Shire leading 6-3.
Newton Stewart started the second half with purpose and determination. They won the ball from the kick-off and kept it, driving forward and keeping the pressure on. They recycled and passed the ball, moving ever closer to the ’Shire line, keeping the play tight in the forwards. With 42 minutes on the clock, their efforts were rewarded when Stevie Wright crossed the line to score the opening try of the game. The conversion was wide of the mark.
The Newton Stewart half-time team talk must have had an effect because not more than five minutes later they scored again. This time a poor restart from ’Shire gave them the scrum and having got the ball they kept it, driving, then releasing the backs who showed good skills to break down the defence, Scott Costley touching down. Iain Russell added the conversion.
Wigtownshire wing forward McKie had retire and the home side were very much on the back foot. Time and time again through both the forwards and the backs, Newton probed and prodded but could not break through. Eventually an up and under was caught by Newton who broke up field at pace. Only a high tackle in defence stopped the move, a kick to touch from the penalty, bought the visitors back to the five-metre line. A clean take allowed Ben Haigh to get on the score sheet with a try. The conversion again went wide.
The final play of the game saw Newton back in ’Shire territoryand once more it was Haigh with the ball when they managed to get to the line. He stretched forward while being tackled to score. The conversion missed and Newton Stewart retained the Spice Cup deservedly winning with a fine second half display.
This was a great game with both sides giving their all, and no quarter given. The players enjoyed their annual meeting and as usual there was not that much between them despite playing in different leagues. Both are back in league action shortly.
Wigtownshire: C Austin, J McIntosh, A Farquhar, D Maccaig, H McGeoch, C Craig, J Patterson; A Love, G Keith, R Drysdale, G Dunlop, M McConnell, J McKie, C Stephens, K McNeil. Replacement: B Graham, R Thomson, E McCurdy, R Forsyth, B Forsyth, C Hose
Newton Stewart: T Wilson, L Brawls, G McMillan, S Costley, I Russell, J Muir, R McCornick, M Wallace, B Haigh, C Nicholson, S Hamilton, A Gaw, W McCornick, J Wallace, H Hamilton, S Wright