Newton Stewart 10, GHK 25
With perfect conditions Newton Stewart welcomed GHK and attempted to do what no other team has done so far this season – conquer.
Accordingly, the Reds came out of the blocks with a powerful statement of intent from the pack and, by their own admission, the visitors thought they were in for a long day in the scrum.
The opening encounters were in GHK territory and, around the 10-minute mark, a break by flanker William McCornick nearly provided the ideal start for the Reds until a fine cover tackle from GHK No8 and local lad Hugh Parker killed any aspirations a couple of metres short.
From there on play see-sawed in midfield but the visitors were showing signs of what they are capable of and a break from their winger McKeown was judged to be held-up.
GHK knocked-on too often by their standards and the Reds were starting to suffer under some pressure.
The lack of a tactical kicker – Newton’s nemesis for too long now – did nothing to relieve pressure and on more than a few occasions possession was kicked away far too cheaply. The Reds were in a struggle and as the back row attempted to run the ball out of their own half the GHK defence was up quickly and gaps were not to be found.
It was a GHK penalty that would break the deadlock on the 30-minute mark after hooker Fiskin was found guilty of “lying around” the tackle area.
The restart took the Reds back deep into enemy territory but the benefits of a big kicker were too apparent when GHK stand-off Davie Reed sent the ball from 22 to 22 in one strike and from that territorial position GHK took full advantage with their second-row Nick Hurn eventually crossing the line for their opening try, Reed adding the conversion.
With a 10-point disadvantage, Newton needed to close the gap to give themselves any chance and for the closing five minutes some dogged defence by the visitors was needed to prevent the Reds from grounding after they had crossed the line.
The five-metre scrum provided the perfect platform for the deed to be done but as the Newton pack trundled towards certain score the Reds front row were penalised for standing-up – a strange decision considering their dominance – and GHK sucked the oranges while the Reds remained pointless.
An early home score would have provided a stage for tense thriller but as the curtains opened on act two, GHK upped their tempo and it was the visiting forwards who took the game by the scruff of the neck and made life difficult for the Reds. A GHK penalty for Reed saw the scoreboard lurch ominously forward and when second-row Hurn charged over the line unchallenged for his second try and with only five minutes of the half gone, the game was effectively over.
GHK perhaps sensed a rout and with play stuck in the Reds’ half chances came their way with Parker and centre Hoffman coming close but it was winger Ruxton who eventually sneaked over in the corner with 10 minutes of play still available for their fourth try.
Newton had avoided the “nil point” humiliation with Iain Russell kicking a penalty from one of the rare upfield excursions but denial of the GHK bonus point was paramount and a well-stuctured forwards charge took them all the way to the GHK line. With a penalty award coming their way a final charge from five metres saw Ben Haigh score and followed by Russell’s conversion the scoreboard took on an air of respectability at 10-25.
GHK failed in their last ditch attempt for the fourth try courtesy of a staunch Reds defence but when the dust settled the city slickers had been too slick for a just average performance from the home side. Not unbeatable, GHK are a well-balanced side with quality in all departments, but the advantage of a stand-off who regularly contributes heavily to the final tally cannot be understated and Newton must seriously address this issue if they are to stand any chance of conquering the quality sides.
This week sees Newton Stewart entertain Irvine in round one of the RBS Shield. Bladnoch Park at 3pm.
Man of the match: Mark McCornick
Newton Stewart: M Wallace, R Fiskin, I Matier, D Skimming, M Adams (captain), W McCornick, J Wallace, A Gaw, R McCornick, J Muir, J McWhirter, M McCornick, D Montgomery, I Russell, T Wilson. Reps: B Haigh, K Wright.