Another week of appalling weather conditions left Bladnoch Park unplayable again last weekend when Newton Stewart were due to host BT west division one league leaders, and promotion competitors, Glasgow Accies.
Once again utilising the generosity of their local friends and rivals Wigtownshire RFC, a last minute venue change to Stranraer allowed this vital game to go ahead.
The early minutes of play saw Newton Stewart with most of the possession and some good field position. The game was fast-paced right from the get-go allowing both teams the opportunity to stretch their legs and threaten the opposition on the counterattack. This style of play meant that defence was a key component for both sides and the tackling which followed was ferocious.
After the early exchanges the game settled into some more structured attack from Glasgow Accies. Their slick, off-loading play is always impressive to watch, and was no different in this game, however despite their good ball handling skills they were unable to find a hole in a clinical Newton Stewart defensive line. After around 25 minutes of play the visitors were awarded a penalty within kicking distance, but keen to maximise their damage, they elected to kick to touch instead in the hope of getting a try. Deep in their own half, the Reds’ defence was flawless, and after a solid five minutes of recycling the ball, Glasgow Accies were forced to accept the door was firmly closed and stand-off Chris Rhodes fell back into the pocket to kick a tidy drop goal to open the scoring.
No sooner had the restart been taken than the home team set about correcting the deficit. Some hard running from the back row kept pushing the Accies’ defensive line back little by little, however to their credit, the tackles kept coming and on a couple of occasions were enough to dislodge the very wet ball to force a knock-on.
The breakdown was a point of fierce competition throughout this match and on the whole it was clean from both sides. Late in the first half however the visitors were penalised well within their own territory to allow Newton Stewart stand off Jamie Muir to level the scores at 3-3 for half-time.
After the interval, the pace of the game was maintained and the physicality, if anything, intensified. Neither side would give an inch in their defence; the tackling was relentless.
Once again, a prolonged spell of pressure from Glasgow Accies was proving fruitless for them as they simply couldn’t find a way through the red jerseys to the try line. Once again options ran out for them and the ball was thrown back to Rhodes for another difficult drop goal in extremely blustery conditions. The kick was successful and with the visitors once again in front, the home crowd roared their encouragement at the Reds.
The set piece, which had largely been dominated by Accies until this point, now seemed to come together for Newton Stewart. Winning a scrum against the head they began to pile some pressure on the league leaders and force them backwards once more. With the strong winds blowing in their faces and gusting across the pitch at times, a penalty awarded in the Accies half was no easy task. Centre David Sommerville stepped up to take this one and made the task look easy in a high pressure situation. The score levelled again at 6-6.
With fifteen minutes to play, the result couldn’t be called. Both teams were able to maintain some incredible ferocity in both attack and defence, which is testimony to their fitness. A few big hits went in against players on both sides; the physios being forced to work hard too at times.
Despite a few halts in play for medical treatment, the clock ticked on. An infringement at the breakdown from Newton Stewart inside their own half gave Accies an opportunity to take a relatively easy three points with the wind behind them, and they did just that. The last score of the game giving the unbeaten visitors a nose in front at 6-9.
It is unusual for a low-scoring game, with no tries for either side, to be so entertaining to watch but it was just that. The commitment shown by both sides was exemplary and although Newton Stewart will be disappointed with the result, the team cannot be disappointed with the performance. The coaching staff could not have asked for any more from the players who gave their all for a full eighty minutes.
This was a team performance of the highest calibre. To pick out an individual for man of the match would be impossible and unfair given the efforts made by each and every red shirt. Special mention however to McCornick brothers William, Mark and Robbie for their relentless tackling, winger Stuart McAllister demonstrating the safest of hands under the high ball, centre Liam Brawl running some powerful lines, and hooker Richard Fiskin showing great prowess in the loose.
With this win under their belts, Glasgow Accies will almost certainly be promoted this season unless the unlikeliest of upsets follows. Newton Stewart will continue their league campaign with a long trip away to Oban this weekend. With six games left to play in the league, the Reds are on course for their most successful season so far. And with a performance like this one, it is not hard to see why.
Newton Stewart RFC are extremely grateful to Wigtownshire RFC once again for their willingness to allow this match to be played at their home ground.