Stewartry triumph in local derby

Wigtownshire were hard in their tackling. PR
Wigtownshire were hard in their tackling. PR

Wigtownshire 10, Stewartry 27

On Saturday a rare local derby took place at London Road when Stewartry were in league action against Wigtownshire.

Stewartry's Paul Swalwell is brought to the ground yards from the Wigtownshire try line. PR

Stewartry's Paul Swalwell is brought to the ground yards from the Wigtownshire try line. PR

The two teams had played a friendly match earlier in the year at Stewartry when ’Shire managed to squeeze a victory to regain the inter-club Hannay Tully Cup for the first time since 1996. ’Shire were hoping for a repeat performance, especially with home advantage.

However, their opponents have been going well this season, having won four of their five games and taking a bonus point in all of them.

On paper this was going to be a challenging match for both teams and, in truth, no-one was willing to call who might come out on top.

Wigtownshire kicked off playing towards Ladies Walk, on a fine sunny afternoon with the advantage of a light wind. A large expectant group of supporters gathered on the touchline to witness the clash.

Stewartry's Paul Swalwell is brought to the ground yards from the Wigtownshire try line. PR

Stewartry's Paul Swalwell is brought to the ground yards from the Wigtownshire try line. PR

Immediately the home players piled on the pressure, but were adjudged to have gone off their feet, nullifying any advantage. The penalty brought them up the park and into attack, but a knock-on resulted in a ’Shire scrum. This allowed Stewartry to display their power in this department. A ’Shire pack going backward is not a scene often witnessed at London Road.

With ball in hand Stewartry attacked, laying off passes before going to ground. Only resolute tackling halted their progress and effective rucking broke up their play.

The ball was spilled in contact and gathered up by the defenders who set off on their own runs only to knock-on themselves. On occasions the ’Shire scrum got it right, but the home side was working hard to halt a fiery Stewartry team.

With 13 minutes played the visitors were awarded a penalty in the ’Shire half and this was converted to give Stewartrythe lead. From the restart it was the visitors who had to defend as the ’Shire showed they could use the ball effectively when they had the chance.

The home side got a nudge on at a scrum and powered the visitors off the ball. The ball was then driven and rucked through the hands of Jason McKie and Gordon Keith. When sent wide, the ball was grabbed by a Stewartry player, coming back from an offside position, to halt a very good attack. This cynical act brought howls of derision from the home support, who sensed a try was in the offing. The referee awarded a penalty which Callum Austin stepped up to convert and level the score.

For the remainder of the half the both sides vied for advantage, and it was the visitors who had the better of the play. Time and time again the home defence covered their attacks and tackled well to prevent any scores. In particular, young Austin at fullback proved very difficult to beat when they did break clear.

Playing with the wind, Stewartry continued their attack in the second half. Once again they came right onto the home try line but were held out by the strong and effective tackles of the ’Shire players who refused to give in.

An incident of crossing by the attackers allowed the home side to clear their lines. With 45 minutes gone and the ’Shire players beginning to show signs of tiredness from their defensive efforts, Stewartry player/coach John Muir took a quick penalty. He caught the home side napping and at full speed managed to avoid the defenders who were playing catch up. He scored an opportunist try in the corner, though the conversion went wide.

’Shire made an effort to come back from the restart, but the attack broke down when they were pushed into touch by the visitors’ cover tackling. At this point ’Shire centre Ross Williams came off the field having sustained a knock earlier in the game. The ’Shire back line was adjusted to compensate but tiring home players and good tactical kicking by Stewartry was turning the game in their favour.

Despite the best efforts of the home defence Stewartry crossed the line again 10 minutes later as a result of good driving and passing with ball in hand. The conversion again went wide.

With Stewartry tails up and the home side flagging, the next score came with another 12 minutes remaining. This time the visitors’ scrum set five metres out. They powered over the line for the touchdown, despite the best effort of ’Shire ’s scrum-half Jason Patterson. The conversion attempt was successful on this occasion.

Straight from the kick-off Stewartry came back and attempted a long-range drop kick to the amusement of the spectators. However, the referee was less impressed, awarding a scrum back to the home side. Stewartry were soon on the attack again and brought play up to the home five-metre line again. This time they opted for a lineout. Expecting the drive, the home side did not compete and from the free ball Stewartry used their backs to good effect to score their bonus-point fourth try. The extra points were added.

As the match was drawing to a close ’Shire mustered a final foray into the visitors’ half. They worked the ball forward putting pressure on the try line. Stewartry were on the back foot for what seemed to be the first time in the half. The home forwards took charge to set a maul pushing over for Campbell McGregor to score a consolation try at the last. Austin added the conversion and referee blew for no side.

Stewartry proved to be a strong, well prepared outfit, who came with a game plan and left with the Hannay Tully Cup and a bonus-point win. They gave little away, playing a fast, supporting, passing game, and made good use of the elements when they got the chance.

The ’Shire players left the field dejected. They felt they should have, and could have, done better. The home side seemed particularly in the second half to run out of steam. There were too many mistakes, too many balls knocked on, too many penalties given away. This cost them dearly and could have been avoided. It most certainly gives them points to work on at training.

’Shire are in action again at London Road on Saturday against Waysiders Drumpellier, while Stewartry are home to Strathaven, both kicking off at 3pm.

Team: C Austin, J Iyiku, A Farquhar (captain), R Williams, H McGeoch, J Patterson, M Hastie, G Keith, D Watson, R Drysdale, G Campbell, J McKie, C Reid, K McNeil. Replacements: C McGregor, M McConnell, J Hall, R Graham, K Little, C Hose, S Cameron.

DAVIE HUNTER