Having had a dream start to their BT National League Division 3 campaign this season, winning their first four games with bonus points, Newton Stewart RFC travelled to Edinburgh to play Murrayfield Wanderers RFC, their most formidable opponents of the season so far.
With the national stadium creating an imposing backdrop behind the pitch, the Reds knew they would have to play some of their best rugby to take anything away from this game.
From the kick-off Murrayfield Wanderers secured possession and looked to make some early impact on the game. A needless offside offence from Newton Stewart resulted in a penalty for the home team. Finding touch, they attacked from the line-out, moved the ball out wide and scored on the wing.
The shell-shocked Reds were on the back foot and lost their first scrum against the head too. With Murrayfield Wanderers attacking at pace, their stand-off found a gap and broke through, offloading to his supporting centre to score. No conversion followed this time.
Immediately following the restart, the home team collected and kicked back to the corner once more. Newton Stewart secured the resulting line-out but were unable to clear their lines. The intense pressure coming from the Murrayfield Wanderers back division was relentless, and ultimately they found their way to the line once again for another converted try.
The Reds supporters who had made the long journey started to despair when a fourth Murrayfield Wanderers try was run in to make it 26-0 with only 20 minutes played. The opposition stand-off was wreaking havoc, repeatedly finding a hole in the usually formidable Red wall, and punishing each mistake sorely.
Digging deep now Newton Stewart were forced to play for damage limitation. Hooker Thomas MacDonald made an important tackle on the line thwart another Wanderers score and give the Reds a chance to breath.
Slowly working out what they needed to do to maintain possession and close down their lines, Newton Stewart began to grind out some territory at last. Knock-ons and penalties hindered their progress toward the line, however the onslaught against them was stemmed and confidence began to grow once more.
With only a few minutes remaining in the first half the Reds finally made their first mark on the scoreboard. Having established a good position within the Murrayfield Wanderers half, the visitors pulled off a well rehearsed move with second row William McCornick the final receiver crashing over for a much needed try. Centre Fraser Morton converted and the half-time whistle blew.
Coach Martin Wallace called for cool heads and determination in the team talk which followed.
From the restart Newton Stewart collected their own kick-off and went on the attack. Murrayfield Wanderers were awarded a penalty at the breakdown to halt the Reds progress, but the visitors seemed to have come into the second half with a more aggressive approach.
Forcing their way back into the Wanderers half once more the Reds set up an effective driving maul. McDonald broke off the back to burst over the line and close the gap to 26-14.
A spell of mixed possession followed. Newton Stewart carried the ball well, centre James Wallace (captain) in particular standing out, while the home team favoured the kick and run approach.
With fifteen minutes left to play Murrayfield Wanderers were camped on the Reds’ line once more. Throwing the ball wide, they scored another try in the far corner, however their conversion was off target once again.
The next score from Newton Stewart was a joy to watch. Morton received the ball deep in his own half and ran up the touch line. As the covering defences tracked across, he made a super offload in behind to stand-off Jamie Muir. Muir beat his man and continued carving a path toward to the Newton Stewart line, drawing in tacklers before passing back to Morton who outpaced the remaining defences to score a superb try under the posts. Making it three kicks from three, Morton also converted to make it 31-21.
In the dying minutes of the game, Newton Stewart remaining in ascendancy, pressurising the Wanderers and looking for the vital fourth try which would secure two bonus points in this case. They were camped only a metre from the line, but some solid home defences kept them at bay and the referee blew time to leave the Reds going home empty-handed.
This match always promised to be tough, however there can be no doubt that Newton Stewart were the better team in the second half. Too many mistakes in the first half cause them to haemorrhage points, and there was simply too much ground to make up after the initial barrage from Murrayfield Wanderers.
The notable performances came from back row players Jason McKie and Ewan Dewar, and scrum half Robbie McCornick. Man of the Match however (chosen by Johnny Johnston) was centre James Wallace who ran some superb lines and made some powerful carries in the second half.
The spirit of this young team shone through in this match - with everything going wrong in the early stages they kept their chins up and refused to go down without a fight. In a league of this standard, that attitude will serve them well this season.
Another difficult game will follow this weekend against Highland RFC at Bladnoch Park. Unbeaten so far this season, and one of the favourites for the title this year, the Reds will need another gutsy performance to be in contention. The club hopes to welcome a big crowd of supporters in what promises to be an exciting match. Kick off is at 3pm.
Team: Tyrell Wilson, Liam Brawls, James Wallace (capt), Fraser Morton, David Adams, Jamie Muir, Robbie McCornick, Richard Fiskin, Thomas MacDonald, Ronan McDonald, Alan Ferrie, William McCornick, Jason McKie, Mark McCornick, Ewan Dewar. Subs: Mark Craig, James McMiken, Gavin Freeland, Duncan Skimming.