Newton Stewart RFC had a break from the league action last weekend, instead facing local rivals Annan RFC in the quarter-finals of the West Regional Shield competition.
Having played each other twice in the league this season already, both teams would be expecting another tight game and so it was with Newton Stewart reaching the semi finals with a 10-16 win.
There is no game for Newton Stewart RFC next weekend in light of the RBS Six Nations matches, however the following weekend sees them travel the long road to play Oban Lorne RFC in what could be the league-clinching match for the Reds. Kick-off will be be at 3pm on Saturday 11th Feb.
The Reds initially had the bulk of the possession and were able to take advantage of it when they were awarded a penalty for an Annan offside offence.
Stand-off Russell Morton slotted the ball through the posts for an early 0-3 lead.
Determined not to allow Newton Stewart any breathing space, Annan came on the attack now and patiently went through the phases, looking for a gap in the Red defensive line. The tackling from Newton Stewart was merciless and gave Annan no opportunity to work with, eventually forcing a knock-on to allow them to clear their lines.
Both teams played the territory game for a short spell, each trying to pressurise the other. A knock-on from Annan at the line out eventually led to a scrum for Newton Stewart ten metres out from the Annan try line. An offence in the scrum allowed captain James Wallace to take a quick tap penalty and run for the line. Some slipping and sliding in the mud followed, with the ball and multiple Reds’ players ending up over the line, but the referee deemed the ball to have been held up and set another Newton Stewart scrum. The ball was lost in the resulting action this time and Annan breathed a temporary sigh of relief as they cleared their lines, however the Reds were soon awarded another penalty and Russell Morton once again found the target to extend the lead to 0-6.
Annan began another spell of possession with a quick break down the right touch line. An initial missed tackle allowed them to break the gain line, however scrum-half Robbie McCornick made the covering tackle and bundled the Annan winger into touch.
Annan remained in control, continuing to pressurise the Newton Stewart defences. Once again a Red brick wall awaited them, with ferocious tackling from props Richard Fiskin and Martin Wallace, and back row players Euan Dewar and Jason McKie to name a few.
Eventually Annan stand-off McCann became desperate and popped the ball over the top hoping to find one of his own men running onto it. His plan was semi-effective when the ball was knocked-on by Newton Stewart trying to gather it in the mud. A series of scrums followed, deep in the Reds’ half, but some solid scrummaging kept the home team at bay and Newton Stewart cleared their lines once more.
Only minutes later Annan pushed forward again. Camped on the Newton Stewart line, they were going through the phases when the ball went loose at a ruck and landed in the hands of centre Fraser Morton. Beating the first man, Morton kicked a neat chip over the head of the Annan defenders who were doubling back as fast as they could. Showing impressive pace, three Newton Stewart backs outran the Annan defence and it was Russell Morton who was able to deftly kick the ball over the line before falling on it to score a sensational opportunistic try for the Reds. His own conversion kick went wide to make the score 0-11.
The remainder of the first half saw Newton Stewart continue their exemplary defensive effort. Annan missed a penalty kick and the half finished with Newton Stewart in control.
The interval was a short one given the cold and miserable conditions, but the brief Annan team talk must have been good as they came out determined to get back into the game.
When Newton Stewart were penalised for holding on, McCann found his target and narrowed the gap by three points.
Barely five minutes later Annan were back attacking the Newton Stewart line. A scrum ten metres out was the platform for a superb break from their number eight to bulldoze his way over both the Reds and their line to score. The try was converted too to put Annan right back in the mix at 10-11.
With everything to play for now, the game became predominantly a forwards battle in the mud. There was some impressive attacking play from James Wallace again with hooker Thomas MacDonald and full-back Tyrell Wilson in support up the right wing, however the slippery ball was unforgiving and a knock-on halted any further progression.
With fifteen minutes remaining in the game Newton Stewart had a line-out in a good position deep in the Annan half. Patiently utilising the ‘pick and go’ the Reds created some space before passing it through the hands. Craig Johnstone and James Wallace both ran superb lines to break the gain line before scrum half Robbie McCornick threw the ball out to his brother William who crashed over the line with the help of some propelling Red shirts to score a well-worked try for Newton Stewart. The conversion attempt went wide to make it 10-16 which would be the final score.
Newton Stewart played well in this game and felt more convincing winners than the scoreline suggests. Annan had a good share of the possession but with the exception of one lapse in concentration were unable to penetrate the organised and determined Newton Stewart defences.
There were high tackle counts from prop Richard Fiskin and back row Jason McKie, and some impressive attacking play from centres Fraser Morton and Craig Johnstone, but scrum-half Robbie McCornick was Man of the Match for his near faultless provision of the ball at the rucks despite horrendous conditions.
Team: Tyrell Wilson, Liam Brawls, Fraser Morton, Craig Johnstone, Jamie Muir, Russell Morton, Robbie McCornick, Martin Wallace, Thomas MacDonald, Richard Fiskin, William McCornick, Duncan Skimming, Euan Dewar, Jason McKie, James Wallace (capt). Subs: Alisdair Gaw, Graeme McMillan, Craig Murray.