Wigtownshire 26, Isle of Mull 9
Wigtownshire played host to their furthest travelled opposition of the season on Saturday. With a ferry crossing and a five-hour bus journey, their trip was not without incident. Road works and accidents conspired against them and they did not arrive in Stranraer until 15 minutes before kick-off. The referee, Dougie Gilchrist, and home club agreed to delay the start.
Mull have made a good start to the season with two wins and a draw in their first four games. They were third in the league, two places above ’Shire, but with only one point separating them.
The visitors kicked off playing towards Bowling Green Road. The weather was perfect for running rugby.
Wigtownshire received the ball and drove straight up the pitch. A fine display of power produced a maul heading straight for the line. Mull halted progress by pulling the players to the ground. The resultant penalty was kicked to touch for lineout five metres from the Mull line.
Connor Stephens took the ball cleanly and the maul formed once more. There was no stopping them this time and it was Campbell Reid who dotted the ball down for the first score of the game after just four minutes, but the conversion slipped wide.
This stung the Mull players into action and they showed why they are high in the league. They turned over ball at the breakdown and ran out strongly from defence. It was the ’Shire who were struggling to contain their attack. Once more the maul proved effective in gaining ground and difficult to stop. Not wanting to leave the 22 pointless, a fine drop kicked earned Mull three points.
From the restart Mull went on the attack again. Driving forward they crossed the ’Shire line but were held up by determined tackling.
The ’Shire scrum took charge at the set piece and applied pressure. They took the ball against the head, encouraging the local lads who showed their scrummage power at every opportunity.
Despite this display the last pass just would not stick for the local team. Scrum and ruck infringements kept the visitors in the game. With 30 minutes played they were awarded a kickable penalty and converted it to take the lead. A short time later they were back in the ’Shire half with another kick at goal. It sailed between the uprights to give them a four-point advantage at half-time.
The break saw a number of changes in the ’Shire side. Mull did not have that luxury. In fact, the hard scrumming against the dominant ’Shire pack was taking its toll.
The home side exploded into action from the kick-off. Chasing the ball put pressure on the fielding team with replacement scrum-half Jason Patterson intent on making his inclusion count. A hurried clearance by Mull was charged down by ’Shire captain Andy Farquhar, who collected to the ball to score beneath the posts, Callum Austin adding the conversion.
This put Mull on the back foot but their three-quarters were a real handful. Wigtownshire worked hard to break the line only to be stopped by strong and robust tackling. Any kicks to gain field position were returned with interest, either through the hand or from line kicks.
The ’Shire scrum had the upper hand and the lineout was beginning to dominate as well. Eventually something had to give, and 17 minutes into the half it was a Mull prop who succumbed, a shoulder injury resulting in him leaving the pitch.
Mull were down to 14 players and the scrums uncontested for the remainder of the game. Despite the disabling of Wigtownshire’s effective attacking platform, the extra man gave the home side the edge. Lineout power plays and quick tap penalties brought them to the Mull line, Munro McConnell got his hands on the ball and crashed over to add to the score. Austin added the conversion.
Now Mull able to get scrum ball they had a chance to show what they could do. The home tackling kept them out and clearance kicks relieved danger. This kicking with a man advantage was frustrating the supporters but it was a well placed kick that produced the next score.
A cross field dink was collected by Matt Clarke on the wing and he sprinted in for the bonus-point score. Austin by this time had found his range and had no problems with the conversion.
This was a good display by Wigtownshire. The scrum was working well and looked powerful. The lineout came on strongly through the game. Campbell Reid, returning from injury, gave more options in this department. The repeat offending, a feature of the team’s play this season, was reduced, but the penalty and free kick count was still too high. The back line is still establishing its combinations. They have loads of potential but the last pass, all too often, fails.
All of these issues can be worked on before the next league game. However, before that the team is back in RBS Regional Bowl action again on Saturday at home for the third week running against Bishopton, kick-off 3pm.
’Shire: C Hose, S Cameron, A Farquhar (captain), J McIntosh, H McGeoch, J Dalrymple, C Austin, M Hastie, G Keith, B Graham, G Dunlop, R Dewar, C Reid, C Stephens, K McNeil. Reps: C McGregor, M McConnell, S Blain, R Pauley, J Patterson, M Clarke, K Little.