Last weekend saw Newton Stewart RFC travel to East Kilbride in their biggest game of the season against the division one league leaders.
Both teams are unbeaten this season, adn so they remained after this match.
From the kick-off Newton Stewart were immediately on the back foot. A penalty was awarded to East Kilbride when a red shirt didn’t roll away, giving the hosts a kick to touch. However, having secured the ball from the resultant lineout, East Kilbride were now penalised for crossing.
For the next five minutes the play continued deep in the Reds’ half. Multiple penalties were awarded to the home team for Newton Stewart players not rolling away, and eventually prop Martin Wallace was yellow-carded for repeating the offence.
East Kilbride looked to take advantage of having the extra man. With a scrum on the Newton Stewart 22, the home team mounted an attack, however they could not find a way through the defensive line. Having failed to make any headway, the referee took the game back for for an earlier penalty awarded at the scrum. The East Kilbride stand-off kicked for the posts and opened up the scoring: 3-0.
Having weathered the early storm, Newton Stewart now had some better midfield possession. Clearly enjoying the sound of his whistle, the referee awarded another penalty, this time to the visitors, and stand-off Jamie Muir had an opportunity to level the scores. An unusual off-target kick left the scores unchanged however.
The next fifteen minutes saw the Reds start to take control of the game. The Newton Stewart forwards patiently worked through their phases, and some strong running from the back row put East Kilbride under pressure.
The home team were now on the receiving end of the referee’s whistle, and another penalty to Newton Stewart allowed Muir to level the scores midway through the first half.
The play was all Newton Stewart now and some great attacking performances started to threaten the East Kilbride line. Centre Liam Brawls made a superb break but couldn’t quite pass the last defender on the wing, whilst captain James Wallace pressured the opposition with some powerful running off the back of the scrum.
The referee now handed the East Kilbride number 7 a yellow card for repeat offending and it was the Reds with the numbers advantage.
A midfield scrum to Newton Stewart saw James Wallace break from the scrum once more. The ball passed through the hands of the backs, eventually finding fullback Tyrell Wilson in space to cross the line for a try in the corner. The conversion kick was difficult and went wide, but the Reds looked like the team in control at 3-8 as the whistle blew for half-time.
Newton Stewart continued their attacking play in the early minutes of the second half. A scrum to Newton Stewart on the halfway line finished with the ball being thrown out wide to winger Russell Morton. Running from the East Kilbride 22-yard line Morton outpaced two defenders to score in the corner for a brilliant individual try. No conversion followed once more.
Determined not to let the game get away from them, East Kilbride now came on the attack. Some better possession gave their winger an opportunity to cut through the Newton Stewart defensive line only to be stopped just short of the Reds’ try line. Some good support allowed them to secure the ball quickly and recycle it to score however. Their stand-off converted the following kick to narrow the gap to 10-13.
East Kilbride were all fired up now, and utilising their vocal home supporters. Newton Stewart were repeatedly penalised for offside and not rolling away offences, and eventually the home team found the opportunity they had been looking for when a penalty kick hit the target and they drew level at last with fifteen minutes to play.
The balance of the play had been with East Kilbride throughout most of the second half, but Newton Stewart continued to take the opportunities they were given. Centre Fraser Morton intercepted a flat ball to break deep into his own half with James Wallace in support. The chip through that followed found East Kilbride hands, however the ball was spilled and the Reds were awarded a penalty within range. Muir’s kick was good and Newton Stewart took the lead once more with less than ten minutes to play.
The final minutes couldn’t have been more tense as Newton Stewart defended for their lives whilst East Kilbride threw everything at them to try to steal the win.
A line out and well worked driving maul brought East Kilbride right to the Newton Stewart line, but staunch Reds defence denied them a score and Newton Stewart could clear their lines after a knock-on.
The watching Newton Stewart fans could breathe a sigh of relief for a moment as the play travelled back to the other end of the pitch and it started to look like the points were in the bag. East Kilbride had other ideas however, and having turned over the ball they were on quick attack down the wing. Determined not to let them through, an overzealous Newton Stewart tackle was deemed dangerous by the referee and a penalty kick was given to East Kilbride to finish the match.
Kicking almost from the halfway line, the stand-off struck the ball perfectly and secured the last three points to level the scores at 16-16.
Bringing any points home from this match must be viewed as a success, however there must be some disappointment in the outcome too having led the game for so long. Newton Stewart were the dominant team in the first half, and refused to be outmuscled by their physical opposition in the second half, and their overall performance was an impressive one.
Standing out were all three of the back row: Jason McKie, Mark McCornick and captain James Wallace for their ferocious tackling and physicality. Man of the Match is the captain himself whose defensive effort was matched by his strong running off the back of the scrum.
Next weekend Newton Stewart face Irvine RFC at Bladnoch Park. The Reds won their earlier match up 10-13, and will be looking for more of the same this time around. Kick off is at 3pm, all supporters are welcomed to watch the match and stay for some evening entertainment later on!