BT West Regional League Division 3
Wigtownshire travelled north to Strathaven on Saturday with a much depleted and somewhat inexperienced squad. A lengthening injury list due to the rigours of the previous three hard league fixtures, combined with player unavailability resulting in only 17 players making the journey.
Strathaven on the other hand had a full squad available and despite being relegated last season have been performing well under the guidance of their new coach.
The game kicked off on an unusually dry Strathaven pitch with the wind blowing strongly, down the slope across the pitch. The visitors secured possession having received the ball. The front row union members McCrindle and Graham, combined to carry the ball back into the Strathaven half.
With a good platform at a ruck a kick and chase put the home side under pressure inside their twenty-two. Stealing the ball in the maul, Shire drove forward but a knock-on brought the first scrum of the game.
Strathaven turned up the power and won clean ball, but John Dalrymple and Campbell Reid chased up putting home stand off under real pressure. He got his kick away but only five metres from their line. The Shire line out secured the ball, but were prevented from scoring by a solid defence. A penalty for holding on the ground allowed Strathaven to break out.
A quick tap and run brought them back into Shire territory. Only a knock on halted their advance. At the scrum they bested the visitors, only a clean strike and alertness of Rory Dewar at No8, secured the ball and allowed Wigtownshire to halt the attack.
Even this early in the game it was clear that this was a very different Shire team from the norm, and the boys on the field were going to work very hard against the well drilled home side. That being said they were working for each other and making it very difficult for the home team, who were wanting to run at every opportunity. Tackle count was rising as Strathaven came on time and time again. Time and time again they were frustrated by the visitors turning over their possession. David Lawson in particular was very effective at this. This caused a home player to incur the wrath of referee Jake Wilson and an inappropriate comment brought a penalty and stern talking to from the man in charge.
The worrying area for the visitors was the scrum, unusually they had no answer for the home side in this department. Despite adjustments, it just was not working as it should. Without clean possession the remainder of the team was on the back foot and under the cosh. It did however take 20 minutes for the home side to break the deadlock, from a scrum the ball was passed out along the line. Eventually the defence failed and the try was scored under the posts. The conversion was a formality.
The visitors worked hard to come back into the game. Runs by Jason McKie and Gary Dunlop took them deep into the Strathaven half but they could not get to the line. If fact both sides were very effective in defence, bringing attacks to a halt and turning over the ball. After 35 minutes it was Wigtownshire who got the upper hand again. The home side had been on the offensive, with lineouts and scrums on the Shire twenty-two. Good tackling and rucking turned over possession and MacCaig, McIntosh and Clarke broke forward with ball in hand. Stopped short of the line the forwards took on the attack, providing a good ruck platform, Dalrymple released the backs again. Duncan MacCaig barged across the lie for a score.
Unfortunately he could not add the extra points. This stung them back into action and as the half came to an end a penalty kick to touch fell short. The home side picked it up and ran it back with interest, stepping and passing they broke through, as tacklers missed their mark. Strathaven scored their second try, which went unconverted to close out the half.
The second half started with both teams freshening up from their replacements. Wigtownshire changed two, Strathaven seven. This and the half time team talk seemed to do the trick for the home side. At five, eight and fourteen minutes into the half they broke the visitors resolve, scoring three fine unconverted tries.
On each occasion they worked the ball out to the wing. A combination of missed tackles and strong hand offs put the winger in at speed. This onslaught was halted for about ten minutes when the visitors rallied getting possession and taking the game back up the park.
All the time struggling to maintain the drive as injuries were forcing changes again and breaking the continuity. Eventually Strathaven came back into the red zone attacking the Shire line. It was their forward that added to the score with a push over try, at the start of another three try, eight minute burst. The other two run in by the backs passing and supporting to outstrip the defence.
Only the last of the three was converted. As the game neared its end, the visitors dug deep. Despite urging from the Strathaven touchline to stay tight and pile on the pressure, the Shire boys came back into the game. The forwards and backs worked together to carry the ball right onto the home line. Once again they were halted just short, however this time, scrum half Dalrymple broke forward, diving in for a late consolation try. MacCaig added the conversion. Mr Wilson blew his whistle for the final time, with the score standing at 44 points to 12 in favour of the home side.
This was a very hard day at the office for the Wigtownshire boys. In the previous three league games they only conceded one try, to have eight put past them in one game was very hard indeed. This being said a number of players stepped up to the mark in the way they played, especially those playing out of position.
A number of younger, inexperienced players proved their mettle under very difficult conditions. Both David Lawson and Gary Dunlop stood out on the day, but everyone played their part. Strathaven went to the top of the league with their victory and they are likely to stay there if they continue with this form.
Wigtownshire must keep working as a team, training together, playing together, mark this game down to experience, an experience to learn from and grow. They are back in action again on Saturday they play host to Isle of Arran at London Road, Stranraer. Another hard game, if past encounters are anything to go by.
Team: H McGeoch, J McKie, D MacCaig (Capt), M Clarke, D Lawson, J Dalrymple; R McCrindle, B Graham, D Watson, L Harvey, A Muuray, C Reid, G Dunlop, R Dewar
Replacements: M McConnell, D Kelly