Fresh from their league-clinching victory the previous weekend, Newton Stewart were back in action on Saturday in the BT West Shield competition.
With the chance to play a national final at Murrayfield only three wins away, the Reds had set their sights high. Newton Stewart have played, and beaten, Irvine RFC twice this season in the league, however Irvine have improved dramatically as the season has progressed and the side which gathered on Saturday was well-organised and fired up.
The early play was fast-paced with possession shifting regularly between the two teams. Both sides were looking for the quick counter-attack and competition was fierce at the breakdown. The colossal Irvine no. 8 wreaked havoc in the ruck; Reds’ back row Jason McKie doing his fair share of damage in return.
Both teams created chances but as has occasionally been the case this season, Newton Stewart seemed to be responsible for halting their own progression as much as their opponents. The Reds defending with fervour, with Euan Dewar, Liam Brawls and Tyrell Wilson worthy of note for their tackling, but some untidy handling of the ball resulted in knock-ons to eliminate their attack.
With twenty-five minutes played Newton Stewart were awarded a penalty within kicking distance. Stand-off Jamie Muir had his work cut out for him in the swirling wind, and the kick went narrowly wide.
From the restart winger Fraser Morton made a promising break with some good supportive running from his team-mates. At the breakdown Irvine were penalised for hands in the ruck, and Muir had another shot at the posts for Newton Stewart, this time finding the mark for 0-3 with ten minutes remaining in the first half.
Kicking off once more, Irvine collected the ball and Jason McKie immediately secured the turnover for the Reds. But only a few phases further on the ball was lost once more to Irvine who countered quickly to score a try on the right wing. The conversion from out wide was missed to leave the scores at 5-3 going in to half-time.
What followed in the second half was more tight and competitive play which was frustrating for the Newton Stewart players and supporters alike. There were moments of promise from the Reds, all too often disappearing as the ball was lost forward, but defensively Newton Stewart impressed once again as they stifled a highly impressive set of Irvine backs.
The Reds scrummaged well and some a few against the head: full credit to tight-head prop Ian Matier who played a hard sixty minutes and was instrumental in the scrum despite not being match fit.
The line-out functioned well too, indeed Newton Stewart did much well, but could not drag a win from the game. There were no scores in the second half and a buoyant and vocal Irvine crowd roared with delight as the referee blew the final whistle at 5-3.
The Reds will feel disappointed with this loss, and the end of their progression in what they believed was a tournament they could win. A silver lining is that the loss, although slightly orchestrated by Newton Stewart themselves, was to an Irvine team who were impressive in attack, their back line completely out-playing their counterparts in red.
Man of the Match in this game was Jason McKie. Although he had to be substituted through injury with twenty minutes to play, he had already made a huge impact on the game, particularly in his tackle count and influence at the breakdown. It was a tremendous performance from a player who has given his all in every game this season.
This defeat leaves Newton Stewart with only one match remaining this season, the home fixture against East Kilbride RFC in the league on Saturday 4th March. This will be an opportunity to celebrate the club’s league success with their very generous and much appreciated sponsors and supporters, and the club look forward to welcoming as many spectators as possible to the game. Kick-off will be at 3pm at Bladnoch Park.
Team: Tyrell Wilson, Graeme McMillan, Craig Johnston, Liam Brawls, Fraser Morton, Jamie Muir, Robbie McCornick, Martin Wallace, Thomas MacDonald, Ian Matier, William McCornick, Duncan Skimming, Euan Dewar, Jason McKie, James Wallace (captain). Subs: Alisdair Gaw, Craig Murray, Malachi Wright, Stewart McAllister.