’Shire left to rue errors

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Wigtownshire 10, 
Strathaven 17

For the second weekend running, Wigtownshire were playing at home as they started the second half of their league campaign.

The visitors on this occasion were their well-known adversaries from Strathaven. Over recent years the two teams have played many times and all have been fiercely contested games with little quarter given.

Last time at London Road, the home side won 5-0 and in the first game of this season, Strathaven took the honours 22-7. Everyone, on both sides, was in no doubt this would be another bruising encounter.

The London Road pitch was in great condition for a fast game of open rugby with little wind and dry conditions. Wigtownshire kicked off towards Bowling Green Road and were straight into attack, chasing up with purpose.

A knock-on gave them scrum advantage, but a clean strike sent the ball spinning out of the scrum. Recovering the ball, scrum-half Jason Patterson released the ’Shire back line on their opening assault. Then disaster: faced with the oncoming running, one of the Strathaven centres took a chance and intercepted the ball mid-pass. Off he set with 70 metres to the line. The attacking home players turned and gave chase but to no avail: he scored under the posts with three minutes on the clock. The simple conversion was successful.

The home side were left to ponder the worst possible start to the match. From the restart the game settled down with the defensive play by both teams preventing any real advantage. This, coupled with handling errors both forced and unforced, kept the game in the middle of the pitch.

Eventually the visitors broke forward. Strong scrummaging by the visitors pushed Wigtownshire off their own ball and a good passage of play brought them to within five metres of the line. They attempted to maul the final yards to be halted by the ’Shire forwards working well as a unit. The subsequent ’Shire scrum was again put to the sword, pushed off the ball. Strathaven attacked using their three-quarters, but the home defence held, pushing them into touch.

The Wigtownshire lineout was working well and they took clean ball, clearing their lines and getting to half way before poor hands once more resulted in a scrum. ’Shire coach Alan McKie went to his bench to shore up the creaking scrum. This had an immediate impact, giving Patterson a chance to move the ball. An attack up the blind side saw a Strathaven defender taken out in the air. They took the quick tap and were halted once again with a crunching tackle, up-ending their ball carrier. Referee Dougie Gilchrist called in the offending players and both captains. They were left in no doubt that if matters were not kept within the law he would reduce the number of players on the pitch.

The play continued at pace with both sides probing and attempting to break forward. Eventually it was Strathaven who broke the defence. They drove forward close to the home line. Once more the ball was turned over and ’Shire formed a maul to give a platform to clear to touch. Having none of this, veteran Strathaven flanker Craig Hamilton worked his way forward and stole the ball to dive over the line, scoring a try. The conversion kick was good and Mr Gilchrist blew for half time.

After the break Strathaven kicked off. Fielding the ball, Callum Austin set off in attack. The move was continued following a pass to Andy Farquhar who, seeing a gap, kicked behind the defenders. The chase was on, the Strathaven fullback went down on the ball just short of the line, but he had Duncan Maccaig in close attendance. Unfortunately, the referee adjudged him too close, awarding a penalty for not allowing the player up. Howls of dissent came from the spectators who felt the fullback made no attempt to get up.

Clearing their lines, the visitors had the next good chance, running the ball into the 22. They went to the maul once more but were stopped by the organised ’Shire forwards. Winning the ensuing scrum, once more the home players gave away a penalty, holding on the ground. The Strathaven kicker did not need to be asked twice as he stepped up and added three more points to the tally.

From the restart ’Shire went on the offensive and were rewarded with a penalty 30 metres from the posts. Austin stepped up to the mark and converted the kick.

Once more the defensive play from both teams proved strong and the error count kept rising, much to the ire of those watching. With ball in hand, both teams attacked or kicked for position but neither tactic gained any real advantage.

’Shire continued to make use of their bench, ringing the changes in an attempt to break down the resolute Strathaven side. Unfortunately ’Shire’s Campbell Reid was forced to leave the field having sustained a cut which required attention. As the clock ticked away, the home side forced their way up the pitch, culminating in a lineout deep in Strathaven territory. The ball was taken cleanly and it was their turn to maul forward. As the drive stopped the ball was spun wide, captain Andy Farquhar took it on and ran a line back towards the forwards as the Strathaven defence drifted out. He crashed through a number of attempted tackles to score a try. Austin kicked the conversion.

Strathaven were now feeling the pressure. Their 17-point lead was now down to seven, and the home side were on the up. ’Shire caught the ball from the restart and set off again, but the clock beat them as Mr Gilchrist brought matters to a close.

This was a disappointing result for Wigtownshire, who had hoped they would be able to hold their own at home. It was very much a tale of far too many errors, the penalty count was once again too high, and the number knock-ons was disheartening. The weakness in the scrummage is causing some concern as well. However, the defence continues to be strong and the three-quarter line in attack is very impressive. All things considered it was only “the rub of the green” or possibly in rugby terms “the bounce of the ball” that separated these two teams.

With no game this weekend, the break is a short one: Annan are guests at London Road on the Saturday, December 29, and Newton Stewart are “first footing” on Wednesday, January 2, for the annual festive fixture.

Team: T Kneale, R Forsyth, A Farquhar, D Maccaig, C Hose, C Austin, J Patterson; R Drysdale, G Keith, B Graham, G Dunlop, J McKie, C Reid, C Stephens, K McNeil. Replacements: C McGregor, M McConnell, S Blain, M Clarke, J McIntosh, J Dalrymple, S Hannah.

DAVIE HUNTER