Call-offs take their toll on ’Shire

Lanark 15, Wigtownshire 10

Injuries and unavailability were going to take their toll on Wigtownshire. However, they were confident they would be able to turn out a good side, but the bench would be light.

Then a stomach bug doing the rounds robbed them of more players on the day, reducing their reserves to one and forcing changes to the starting XV.

Lanark won the toss and elected to have ’Shire kick off into the low sun. The ’Shire took full advantage of this opportunity to visit the Lanark half. They chased the kick-off with determination, forcing a scrum in their favour as the home side struggled to clear.

The first set piece produced good ball which Keith McNeil picked up and ran forward, bulldozing towards the line, with a little help from the pack. He was held up just as he reached the line but managed to force the ball free. Scrum-half James Hunter could not believe his luck as the ball popped out for him to grab and fall over the line to score a try, though the conversion went wide.

Stung into action, the home side gained good field position, putting the visitors under pressure and winning a penalty. A fine kick in the blustery conditions reduced the deficit to two points.

Both sides then settled down in the middle of the park, with neither managing to get the upper hand. Lineouts for both were something of a lottery as the wind took the ball and the scrums were evenly matched.

It was an up and under from the home side that broke the deadlock. The high ball moving about in the wind evaded the defence, and the chasing Lanark players hacked forward, winning the race to touch down for their first try. Their conversion was good and gave them a 10-5 lead as half time approached.

Lanark took heart from this and attacked with force. They created an overlap and looked like they were going to get to the line again but determined tackling prevented this. However, at the ensuing ruck Lawrence Smith was ruled offside and the referee decided he needed 10 minutes to contemplate his actions and had the remainder of the half and start of the second in the sin-bin.

Lanark started the second half putting pressure on the stretched ’Shire defence but the Stranraer boys stuck to their task and held out, allowing Smith to return to the park without further loss.

’Shire attacked again and managed to force their way well into the Lanark half. The home team defended and recovered well, in fact too well for the visitors. Despite their field position they elected to run and a switch move by their centre left the usually solid ’Shire defence falling off tackles. The centre cantered the length of the park to score out wide though the conversion missed.

Both sides were feeling the effects of the game and injury forced both to make use of their reserves. ’Shire were to lose another player when Gary Dunlop sustained a cut. Despite treatment, he was unable to continue and the team was reduced to 14 players. This seemed to spur the ’Shire boys on. They secured possession and were able to get the ball out to the backs. Smith and captain Andy Farquhar broke up the wing. Smith used his speed to beat his opposite number and crossed the line to score an unconverted try.

From the restart ’Shire went back on the but, unfortunately, the forwards on both sides became embroiled in a confrontation. The referee halted play to deal with this. His decision was to award a penalty to Lanark, who kicked to touch to end the game.

This was disappointing result for ’Shire. Given the problems relating to player availability, it was not surprising. The boys worked really hard, and their spirit was shown as they came back into the game while under pressure. They are on the road this Saturday again when they make the journey to Mull. Hopefully, some of the illness and injury problems will have passed.

’Shire: C Hose, A Farquhar (captain), G Steel, D Maccaig, L Smith, C Austin, J Hunter; M Hastie, J McKie, M McConnell, B Graham, G Dunlop, C Stephens, J McIntosh, K McNeil. Replacement: R McCreadie.