Having had no game for the previous two weeks, Newton Stewart RFC travelled to Kilmarnock last weekend to continue their league campaign.
Kilmarnock have had mixed form this season, suffering some heavy losses but also holding league leaders East Kilbride to a draw just a few weeks ago.
The Reds went into the game feeling confident but cautious not to underestimate their opponents.
The early exchanges were fast-paced with both teams pressurising their opponents and kicking for territory. With only five minutes played second row Euan Dewar made a brilliant break through the Kilmarnock defensive line before finding winger Graham McMillan on his left shoulder to receive the pass and score the first try of the day in the corner. Stand-off Jamie Muir’s conversion kick bounced off the framework on the way through to make it 0-7.
With the restart Newton Stewart came back on the attack once more. Dewar once again was the catalyst for the score and went all the way to the line himself this time. The conversion kick was narrowly missed.
The Reds continued to keep the majority of the possession however Kilmarnock forced some errors from the visitors, pressurising well and keep Newton Stewart back in their own half. Jamie Muir impressed with his well-placed territory kicks.
A dangerous tackle from Kilmarnock gave the Reds an opportunity within the danger zone. Demonstrating some of their finest linking play with the ball moving quickly through the hands, an excellent move culminated with Russell Morton running onto the ball at pace and slotting neatly through a narrow gap to cross the line for the third try.
Newton Stewart had really found their stride now and were playing as well as they have all season, their confidence exuding and encouraging them to play with real flair. Their play was fast-paced and some well rehearsed training ground moves were apparent, with support runners always in the right place to receive the offloads. Full-back Tyrell Wilson made a long break up the left wing before passing to McMillan who then sent the ball into the hands of Muir to score the bonus point try under the posts. The short conversion kick was charged down and the score extended to 0-22.
Kilmarnock finally had a spell of possession now and applied some pressure of their own. A couple of loose Newton Stewart passes gave the home team interception opportunities and the end result was a scrum close to the Reds try line with the put in to Kilmarnock. This was the first real test of the Newton Stewart defences in this game and they proved up to the task.
Clearing their lines, the ball fell to the Kilmarnock full-back who slipped and couldn’t collect the ball. Graham McMillan was on hand to tidy up the mess and quickly moved the ball infield for second row Craig Johnstone to run in under the posts. The conversion from Muir was on target.
The hosts once again pushed downfield and made Newton Stewart work to keep the scoresheet clean. The Reds scrum was under serious pressure from an experienced Kilmarnock front row, but some calm and consistent work from hooker Thomas MacDonald allowed them to keep possession despite this. Temporarily clearing the lines, Kilmarnock soon came back, looking for a way through the defences, but some fearsome tackling from Euan Dewar kept them at bay.
With only minutes remaining on the clock in the first half, Newton Stewart rampaged up the pitch once more and it was back row Mark McCornick who this time took the ball across the line to score.
Playing confidently and creatively, the Reds were adventurous in their attack and it paid off. They seemed to score with every opportunity and a superb grubber kick from Muir allowed Tyrell Wilson to sprint up the right wing for a final first half try to make the score at the break 0-39.
The second half started the way the first had ended with Newton Stewart in control. Russell Morton broke down the left wing and used some impressive balance to keep both the ball and himself in play until he could make the offload to Mark McCornick to run in his second try.
The majority of the play thereafter was messy from both sides and considerably less exciting to watch than the first half had been. The possession was mixed and Kilmarnock played with some desperation at times, ever hopeful for the consolation try, but which never came thanks to the determined Newton Stewart defence.
With the dying minutes of the game came a final try for Newton Stewart, a second one for Russell Morton, and Muir added the extras to give a final tally of 0-51.
This was a comprehensive victory for the Reds and a real confidence boosting game which was by no means expected to be a walkover. The first half performance was some of the best play from the team this season and a joy to watch.
Special mention to seasoned campaigner and coach Alisdair Gaw for stepping into the front row breach this week. More accustomed to playing further back in the pack, this was a big ask, but he held his own despite some serious pressure from the opposition and deserves credit for his efforts.
Craig Johnstone had a solid game in the second row, Mark McCornick was dangerous in attack and winger Graham McMillan was ever present around the pitch and used his pace to good effect.
Man of the Match was Euan Dewar who had a superb game, a vital link in the defensive line, consistent in the line-out and creating and scoring tries for the team.
Also of note on the day was the great atmosphere of Kilmarnock Rugby Club. A friendly and welcoming club to both the team and her supporters, they are exactly what an amateur rugby club ought to be and a pleasure to visit.
Elsewhere in the league, leaders East Kilbride were beaten by third placed Carrick to leave Newton Stewart sitting two points behind with a game in hand. It is still all to play for in this league and will come down to the wire.
Next weekend Newton Stewart will play local rivals Annan RFC at Bladnoch Park. Kick-off is at 2pm and the club looks forward to welcoming a good crowd of supporters.