The Reds travelled to Maybole last weekend for their biggest match of the season so far, against rivals Carrick RFC.
Both teams have had winning starts to their season and will fancy each other as amongst their biggest challengers for the league title this year.
The ground and weather conditions were perfect once again for a fast-paced game of rugby: glorious sunshine and barely a breath of wind.
Newton Stewart were keen to get ahead early and pile the pressure onto their opposition. Within the first five minutes they saw their opportunity and took it with both hands. A line out on the Carrick 22-yard line was taken in textbook fashion allowing the Reds to set up a driving maul with hooker Thomas MacDonald at the helm. The home team seemed at a loss to stop the manoeuvre once the pack had some momentum behind them, and MacDonald was able to fall on the ball over the line to secure the early advantage for Newton Stewart. Stand-off Jamie Muir converted the score.
Renowned for their fast-paced wingers and quick ball, Carrick immediately countered with a try of their own to avoid their visitors the luxury of feeling comfortably ahead. Turning over the ball just inside their own half, Carrick ran at the Newton Stewart defensive line who were found wanting. A gap opened up and the home team took their opportunity: 7-7.
The game now looked destined to be a ‘tit for tat’ affair. Taking a high ball, fullback Tyrell Wilson showed his pace and ran at the Carrick defence to make some good yards. Back row Jason McKie also made a fantastic break, crossing the gain line and putting some serious pressure onto the opposition. This powerful attack began to take it’s toll on the defence who gave away a penalty for not releasing. Newton Stewart elected to take the penalty kick and opened a narrow lead once again courtesy of Muir’s boot.
Carrick came on the attack once more. Utilising the size of their forwards, they drew the Newton Stewart defences in before throwing the ball back to their stand-off, who had dropped back into the pocket, to score a drop goal. The scores were level again.
The Reds were working hard now and threatening Carrick, however they couldn’t seem to convert their graft into points. Perhaps frustrated by their unrewarded efforts, Newton Stewart gave away a few penalties, one of which resulted in another three points for their hosts, 13-10.
The ball remained predominantly in Red hands at this stage, however Carrick are opportunistic in their attack and they needed little invitation to extend their lead. Turning over the ball in the mid field, Carrick spun it out wide quickly and used their pace to break through the Newton Stewart defence and score once more. Their kicker was accurate and added the extras to stretch to a ten point lead.
Desperate to get the next score and stay in the game, Newton Stewart started to utilise their ‘impact players’ and run at the opposition, looking to out-muscle their way to the line. Jason McKie and second row Euan Dewar made some devastating yards, bulldozing players out of the way to really put Carrick under pressure. Patience was required, and the Reds demonstrated it nicely, working diligently through the phases to eventually allow captain James Wallace to find his way over for a try. Muir converted to add the vital extra points.
As the first half drew to a close Newton Stewart were defending another fast paced attack from Carrick. A loose ball in the line was pounced upon by red shirts. Playing the hosts at their own game, the ball was thrown wide to winger Fraser Morton who showed exceptional pace, breaking a tackle as he ran from well inside his own half to score a superb try and allow the Reds to go into half-time 20-22 up.
Both teams could feel that this match would come down to the wire and that points early in the second half could be vital. Newton Stewart started the second half promisingly: they had the bulk of the possession and putting pressure on the Carrick defences, were awarded a penalty. Muir took the kick and gave them another three points.
The referee lost patience at this stage with both sides for repeated infringements, and first Carrick, then Newton Stewart, lost a player to the sin-bin for ten minutes.
The Reds had initially looked the more comfortable team in the second half, however as the minutes ticked past, Carrick started to find their rhythm, and their opponent’s weakness. The usually solid Newton Stewart scrum started to give way to the powerful push coming from the home team. Utilising this vice well, Carrick requested repeat scrums close to the Newton Stewart try line until they were eventually able to secure the push-over try right in the corner. A difficult kick followed for the critical conversion points, and the ball landed just short of the bar to level the scores at 25-25.
The remaining fifteen minutes of play was tense to say the least from a Newton Stewart perspective. The opponents were growing with confidence as the minutes passed and looking for further chinks in the Red armour. The defensive effort from the boys was immense in the final stages, refusing to allow gaps to form and young Russell Morton, on from the bench, made a heroic try-saving tackle at full pace to bundle a considerably larger opponent into touch.
The scrum, which was under so much pressure from a buoyant Carrick pack, also produced a fabulous effort when it was vitally needed to secure the ball and clear the lines. Final score 25-25.
A draw was probably a fair outcome given the supreme efforts of both teams. Newton Stewart will feel disappointed their winning streak has come to an end, however the game was not lost and the two points they take from this match may prove vital in the months ahead.
There is work to be done on the set pieces, which were the weak link in Newton Stewart’s play, ahead of two more big games in the next fortnight. The team should be commended on their physical presence however, repeatedly intimidating their opposition with their fearless efforts in both attack and defence.
Centre Craig Johnstone make some huge tackles, and both Euan Dewar and Jason McKie were supreme in their ball carrying skills. The whole team fought hard for these two points, but none more so than back row Mark McCornick, who was on a tackling mission, particularly in the last fifteen minutes when the game was hanging in the balance. As such, he is this week’s Man of the Match.
Newton Stewart play host to Garnock RFC next weekend at Bladnoch Park. Kick off is at 3pm, the club looks forward to welcoming a large crowd to support the team.