As the 2016/2017 season draws to a nail-biting close, Newton Stewart RFC hosted close rivals Carrick RFC for their penultimate home game of the season.
A win for the Reds would mean Carrick were no longer in the running for the title and as such the visitors were fired up right from the first whistle.
With the opening play of the game Carrick secured the ball and began to attack the Red defensive line. A decoy runner pulled the Newton Stewart players in the wrong direction before the Carrick stand-off threw a neat pass into an oncoming body travelling at speed, who crashed across the gainline to put the Reds under pressure. Camped on the line, Carrick patiently went through the phases before ultimately scoring a try in the left corner for the opening score. The difficult conversion kick went wide 0-5.
The visitors settled quickly into the game and showed their determination to keep themselves in contention for the league title. As the forwards were put to work in the scrums, Carrick were dominant and repeatedly pushed the Newton Stewart pack back off the ball.
The possession swung back and forward between the teams. The Red back line made some frustrating handling errors, an element of panic and nerves playing a role, not aided by the sticky conditions underfoot which made the ball slippery.
Second row William McCornick made an epic tackle in the middle of the first half to stop Carrick from breaking through once again. Back row Jason McKie worked tirelessly at the breakdown, turning over balls and forcing penalties.
A Carrick infringement gave Newton Stewart a penalty kick from just inside the halfway line. A superb strike from winger Russell Morton narrowed the gap to 3-5 with ten minutes remaining of the first half.
Possession continued to sway between the teams, but neither side seemed able to make any further headway through their opposition defence. Newton Stewart repeatedly hindered their own progress, as well as Carrick’s, with some fantastic defensive work and some woeful mistakes in attack.
Another penalty kick each was awarded to each team before the break: Carrick converted theirs, while Newton Stewart could not, and the whistle blew for half-time with the score 3-8.
The second half started with some better play from the Reds, but still no scores came and the frustrations remained. A penalty kick came eventually for Newton Stewart and Russell Morton once again found the target to narrow the gap to 6-8.
Newton Stewart created a great opportunity when Jason McKie intercepted a loose Carrick pass and ran hard from within his own half. As the defenders closed in on him, McKie found hooker Thomas MacDonald in support and made a good offload. MacDonald tried but failed to outpace the covering tacklers and with no further support with him, the opportunity was gone and a penalty conceded in the ruck.
Another Newton Stewart penalty was awarded with fifteen minutes remaining in the game. Russell Morton’s kick found the left post and bounced back, almost into the hands of his brother Fraser, but an unfortunate knock-on thwarted the Reds’ best chance for a try in this game.
Carrick had two further penalty kicks in the dying minutes, however they could convert neither and the game finished 6-8.
This was a frustrating game for Newton Stewart who had been previously unbeaten in the league this year. Carrick are a good side and they played well in this match, however Newton Stewart were under par and will feel like this was a match they could and should have won. The Reds defensive effort was excellent; their attack hard to watch at times.
The best performances of the day from Newton Stewart came from back row James Wallace (captain) who made plenty of tackles and hard yards. Hooker Thomas MacDonald worked tirelessly around the pitch, and back row Jason McKie was Man of the Match for his heroic work rate and brave tackling.
With three games remaining in the league, Newton Stewart remain top with a four point lead and a game in hand from second placed Carrick RFC. Still favourites to take the title this year, this loss means it will all come closer to the wire and next week’s away trip to Garnock RFC carries even more importance.
Team: Tyrell Wilson, Russell Morton, Fraser Morton, Craig Johnstone, Liam Brawls, Jamie Muir, Robbie McCornick, Martin Wallace, Thomas MacDonald, Richard Fiskin, William McCornick, Duncan Skimming, Euan Dewar, Jason McKie, James Wallace (capt). Subs: Graham McMillan, Alisdair Gaw, Kit Wright, Craig Murray.