Newton Stewart RFC were at home once again last weekend, welcoming far-travelled opponents Oban Lorne RFC to Bladnoch Park in a BT West Division One match.
Oban have had a difficult season so far and have struggled to produce many winning performances, however they are renowned for their big pack and physicality, and are a daunting prospect for any team.
Rebounding from a wholly unsatisfactory performance the previous week, the Reds coaching staff were looking for a response from their players.
The ground was soggy underfoot for kickoff, but blue skies overhead made for pleasant playing conditions. The visitors went on the attack early, immediately demonstrating their powerful ball carrying. Newton Stewart were forced to defend for the first ten minutes, but did so well, some notable big hits coming in from forwards Jason McKie and Euan Dewar to keep Oban at bay.
Stealing the ball at last, Reds’ stand off Jamie Muir was subjected to a late tackle and the referee immediately awarded a penalty. Newton Stewart established their territory then started to produce some of their more characteristic attacking play, with only a couple of unfortunate knock-ons hindering their progress to the try line.
A scrum was set deep in the Oban half from which the Reds were looking to score. The first attempt resulted in a held-up try, but when they came back for another go, scrum-half Robbie McCornick finished off a neat move by putting the first points on the board, 5-0, with fourteen minutes played.
Following the restart it was Oban who once again secured possession and attacked with purpose. Using their burly pack to great effect, they camped on the Newton Stewart try line and repeatedly used the ‘pick and go’ to inch ever closer to their target. The Reds held them back for some time, but eventually a gap appeared in the defensive wall and Oban took their opportunity. The conversion kick took an unlucky bounce off the framework to level the scores at 5-5.
As play started once more Newton Stewart captain James Wallace made a superb break up the field to open up another scoring opportunity for the Reds. A forward pass temporarily halted their progression, but another scrum allowed them the platform to push forward from again. This time the ball was thrown out to winger Fraser Morton who was running a great line to allow him to score under the posts. The conversion followed for Muir.
Oban took possession once more and kicked a high ball, looking to force their way into the Newton Stewart half. Winger Graham McMillan demonstrated his safe hands by gathering the ball cleanly and immediately going on the attack. As the tackles came in from Oban the Reds were forced to be patient and go through the phases. They did just that and eventually emerged with a try for back row Jason McKie who was returning to the team following an absence due to injury.
Starting to take control of the game now, the Reds pieced together some textbook training moves and utilised their powerful ball carriers - James Wallace, Euan Dewar and prop Richard Fiskin all breaking the gainline. Some quick and clean passes moved the ball out to the backs, and centre Craig Johnstone crashed over in the left corner for his first try of the game. Another difficult conversion stopped just short for Muir, 22-5.
With the final play of the first half Newton Stewart continued to dominate. Some fantastic running from hooker Thomas MacDonald, along with Dewar and McKie, left the Oban defences in tatters and allowed Graham McMillan to run in another try which would go unconverted.
The second half saw Newton Stewart maintain their dominance and the bulk of the possession, however they lost some of their clinical edge.
An early try for Jamie Muir following an interception stretched the lead to 34-5 when he added his own extras.
McMillan proved his pace once more by scoring his second try of the game on the left wing. Craig Murray, on from the bench, then found himself in acres of space and took his opportunity to swan dive over the line for a score of his own!
The final points of the day came for Craig Johnstone again, now playing in the second row following some substitutions. Running the ball in under the posts for the Reds’ ninth try, the conversion still didn’t follow, so the game finished at 49-5.
This was a much more impressive performance from the Reds this week, and the coaching staff will be happy with the response of their team. A typically heavy pack of forwards from Oban gave the Newton Stewart team some work to do up front, however they rose to the challenge with style. James Wallace, Jason McKie and Euan Dewar all impressed with their tackling and made some important ball carries too, however it was young Thomas MacDonald who earned Man of the Match with his solid performance in the scrums and some explosive play in the loose to repeatedly break the Oban gainline and create opportunities for the Reds.
There is no league action over the festive period, with the next game scheduled for 7th January away to Helensburgh, however the annual Spice Cup derby match against Wigtownshire RFC will be held at Ladies Walk in Stranraer on Monday 2nd January. Always a popular social event, the teams compete for both the trophy and the local bragging rights for the next year! Newton Stewart RFC look forward to the fixture as always.
Tyrell Wilson, Fraser Morton, Liam Brawls, Craig Johnstone, Graham McMillan, Jamie Muir, Robbie McCornick, Martin Wallace, Thomas MacDonald, Richard Fiskin, Williams McCornick, Euan Dewar, Jason McKie, Mark McCornick, James Wallace. Subs: Alisdair Gaw, Duncan Skimming, Craig Murray, Malachy Wright.