Relief as ‘Shire squeak home win

Munro McConnell going for a gaps as the tackles close him down.'Photo by John Dunlop
Munro McConnell going for a gaps as the tackles close him down.'Photo by John Dunlop

BT West Regional League Division 3 - Wigtownshire RFC 1st XV 11 – Loch Lomond RFC 1st XV 10

Wigtownshire were back in action at London Road for the second week running on Saturday. Their opposition for the day Loch Lomond having made the journey down from their base in Bonhill, Dunbartonshire. When the two sides met earlier in the season the ‘Shire run out comfortable winners scoring four tries to one. The home side however, were taking nothing for granted as their recent poor form, both at home and way, was significant. They also could see that the visiting team was very different from the side they had played previously, with their pack being significantly bigger.

Loch Lomond kicked off the match playing into a strong cold wind toward Bowling Green Road. It was a sunny, dry afternoon, but for the wind it would have been a prefect afternoon for the game. Wigtownshire started the match with some style. They received the ball cleanly and set off up the park, passing the ball along their backs, unfortunately the last pass failed to find the winger and went into touch. Loch Lomond showed they had similar aspirations, taking a quick throw, and looked to bring the ball back quickly. Sound ‘Shire tackling resulted in the ball coming back to the home side. Cold hands resulted in another turnover and the visitors kicked in attempt to clear the danger. Stewart Cameron fielded the ball and sprinted forward to restart the attack. Once again the backs moved the ball, but a chip through went too far and Loch Lomond touched down to get a twenty two restart. A sound catch brought the ball up the field again, this time it was spun out to Kieran Little who stepped two defenders before being held up short of a try. The visitors managed to get the ball and kicked to touch. Clean Wigtownshire ball at the lineout, set up two ruck moves and quick ball was passed out to club coach Ross McCreadie on the opposite wing. He crashed over the line for a try with eight minutes on the clock. In the process of Rab Thomson attempting the conversion kick he injured his leg. The ball fell short and wide of the posts and the first of the ‘Shire replacements took the field. The restart gave Loch Lomond a chance to get into the “Shire” half for the first time in the game. They chased the ball up forcing an error from the home side, who conceded their first penalty of the game. A kick to touch and line out gave them clean ball on the front foot. Driving hard up the centre of the park, playing short passing game they made ground, assisted by poor tackling from the home side. A knock on halted their progress. The first scrum of the game with fifteen minutes played gave the home side the ball feed inside their twenty two. Wigtownshire pride themselves on their strength in the scrum, but the sizable Loch Lomond pack, showed just what they could do. They turned the home scrum and were awarded the scrum feed at the reset. On their own ball they drove and gave a great platform for attack. The “Shire” were under the cosh. Time and time again they disrupted the “Shire” feed and worked their way forward towards the home try line. The next ten minutes tested the “Shire” defence. Loch Lomond even managed to breach the line twice but were held off the ground and failed to score. Eventually a penalty against the visitors allowed Wigtownshire to clear their line and get back to the half way line. The play got stuck in the middle of the park with neither side managing to get the upper hand. The stalemate was broken when an overeager Loch Lomond wing forward failed to maintain his binding to the satisfaction of referee Dougie Gilchrist at a scrum. The penalty saw Wigtownshire come deep into the opposition half. It was Loch Lomond’s turn to defend, which they did effectively until the half time whistle.

The second half started with neither side managing to gain any real advantage. Stuck in the middle of the park, both sides kicked and probed, and rucked and mauled, with neither managing to break out. Loch Lomond took the scrums and Wigtownshire the lineouts. Eventually it was the home side once more that made the break. A penalty kick into the wind managed to find touch close to the visitor’s line. The forwards took it on from the lineout and Captain Keith McNeil drove for the line. ‘Shire’s hopes were dashed when Mr Gilchrist adjudged a double movement in the act of crossing the line - penalty Loch Lomond. For a third time the teams became entrenched in the middle of the park. Both had occasional runs forward but it always came back to the middle ground. With just over twenty minutes played on one of these incursions Wigtownshire was awarded a penalty about fifteen metre from the posts. With the team’s poor kicking record everyone on the touch line expected a power play. Up stepped lock forward Gary Dunlop offering to kick at goal. With his captain’s blessing he struck the ball clean between the posts to extend the lead. A short time later Loch Lomond had managed to break into the ‘Shire half. With a stable scrum platform, their stand-off attempted a drop kick, using the wind advantage. The kick slipped wide of the post. Even though it missed the attempt seemed to lift the visitors, who were coming into the game. Wigtownshire were very much under pressure. Only poor decision making and passing were preventing scores as the ‘Shire defence was stretched. Eventually it broke and a quick penalty passed to their huge prop out on the wing gave the ‘Shire backs little chance as he crashed over for a try. The conversion attempt went wide. The restart saw ‘Shire recover and the young guns gave it a go, Dickson, Dalrymple, Cameron, and Lammie all showed their metal. Supported by McConnell, Lawson, McCreadie and McCrindle they fought their way back to the Loch Lomond twenty two. A penalty gave Dunlop another kick at goal, which converted, taking the lead back to six points. The match restarted three minutes into injury time with two minutes to play. In an effort to secure the ball from the kick off, the ‘Shire players went off their feet at a ruck. Penalty, the visitors appeared to elect to kick at goal, the referee was signaling this when they changed their mind. He allowed them to take a tap and the Loch Lomond machine ground forward through their forwards. Penalty, five metre out, ‘Shire handling on the ground. Tap and drive, the home defence forced them away from the posts but could not stop the inevitable. Try to Loch Lomond, final play of the game, and the conversion attempt to come. The kick went wide much to the relief of the home side and support and dismay of the spirited visiting team. Mr Gilchrist blew his whistle for no-side, Wigtownshire winning 11 point to 10.

It was a very relieved ‘Shire team that returned to the dressing room after the game. They had managed, only just, mind you, to get a win. What was disappointing however, was the great promise in attack that was shown at the start of the match, was not maintained. The usually strong pack was also given a bit of a lesson in scrum. This was very much down to the size of the opposition particularly in the front row. Tackling at times was a bit hit, or mostly miss in open play, allowing the opposition to break up the park. One great positive was the place kicking of Gary Dunlop. The lack of kicker has been a real issue over the season and one that impacted greatly on Loch Lomond in the match. Due to changes in the fixture card centrally the game due to take place at London Road against Isle of Mull on Saturday has been put back to the 9th May 2015. So their next game is away to Millbrae in Ayr the following week on Saturday 25th April.

Team: K Little, R McCreadie, A Farquhar, A Farquhar, Craig Reid, J Dalrymple, Campbell Reid; R McCrindle, G Keith, D Watson, M McConnell, G Dunlop, D Lawson, R Thomson, K McNeil (Capt).

Replacements: B Graham, C Dickson, M Duffy, C Lammie, I Currie.