Newton Stewart RFC made the long trip to Orkney RFC last weekend accompanied by an enthusiastic throng of sixteen supporters.
With a flight chartered from Glasgow to get them there, the boys set off with a buoyant spirit of adventure.
The game kicked off with Newton Stewart playing into a strong Orcadian breeze. The home team immediately went on the attack and made it quite clear what a physical side they are. Scrambling to organise their defences in the early plays, the Reds gave away a penalty for an offside offence and Orkney took their three points.
As Newton Stewart struggled to find their rhythm the play was scrappy and Orkney were allowed to dominate. The hosts continued to knock on the door of the try line and although the Red defences stood firm, they did give away a further penalty which Orkney were unable to convert to points.
With a quarter of an hour played Newton Stewart finally gained some possession and with it some territory. Hooker Thomas MacDonald made a great break into space and found the pass to full back Tyrell Wilson running in support. Wilson then showed his pace, running around the last defender for a try for the Reds. Centre Fraser Morton’s conversion attempt was scuppered by the strong wind.
Newton Stewart were settling into the game now and using their forwards to good effect, patiently working through the phases. A superb break from prop Richard Fiskin started a move which nearly culminated in a try, but stand-off Jamie Muir was bundled into touch at the last by an excellent Orkney covering tackle.
The visitors were able to regain possession when Orkney knocked-on at the resultant lineout. A solid Red scrum produced the platform for an attack: Euan Dewar burst from the back and the ball was sent through hands to winger Liam Brawls who scored in the corner for 3-10.
With their tails up now, the Reds attacked once more. Thomas MacDonald and Euan Dewar both created chances and it was the latter who set Morton up in space. The centre then showed some great composure and pace to run in a superb individual try right under the posts, dummying the last man on the way.
The remainder of the first half saw Orkney trying to claw their way back into the game. Their forwards came again and again, playing the patient pick and go game and looking to tire the Red wall and force errors. The defensive display from Newton Stewart was immense. The tackling from all players in the second and back rows was exemplary, but Mark McCornick stood out in particular. The exhausting effort from all the boys was ultimately rewarded when second row Allan Ferrie forced a holding on call against Orkney. The half-time whistle sounded and it seemed a pivotal moment in the game had been won by the Red wall.
The second half started fast-paced with both teams countering quickly. Again the Newton Stewart defences were secure but progress in attack was hindered as the Reds came under immense pressure in the scrum from the sizeable and skilful Orkney pack.
The first twenty minutes of this half were aptly described as an ‘arm wrestle’ by some Orkney observers. Although the scoreline favoured Newton a Stewart, the game did not feel secured until the Reds were awarded a penalty within kicking distance. With the wind behind him now, Muir found his target and stretched the lead to 3-20.
Now coach Martin Wallace pushed the boys to go after the bonus point. Red possession was improving again but progress up the field was slow. A hard worked try was eventually produced with Ferrie rumbling over to score and Muir converting.
Newton Stewart’s fitness was on display as Orkney tired and the Reds started to run away with the game. Ferrie took a great high ball to start an impressive team score with scrum half Robbie McCornick putting the ball down.
In the dying minutes of the game Morton intercepted a pass and took off down the wing. He found Wilson running in support and offloaded perfectly to make it 3-41 at the final whistle.
The scoreline suggests a more one-sided game than this was. Newton Stewart undoubtedly showed their class at times, but full credit to Orkney who were by far the team’s most physical opponents to date. The big score is pleasing - but it was the exceptional defensive efforts which filled Red hearts with pride and drew recognition from the home team.
This was a special team performance - no man gave any less than his best. Players of note include Fraser Morton who shows increasing maturity with each game, Euan Dewar was ferocious once again and led the defensive line, and youngsters Allan Ferrie and David Adams both had solid performances for the Reds. Man of the Match though was flanker Mark McCornick who was made for games like these.
The hospitality of Orkney RFC and the island in general was second-to-none and the party which followed will be remembered as fondly as the game itself. Newton Stewart RFC look forward to the return leg at Bladnoch Park in November and hope to be able to return some of their kindness.
This week’s match is at home to Haddington RFC. With the Reds now sitting top of the league expectations will be growing and must be managed. Newton Stewart RFC are small fish in deep water, but right now they are riding the crest of a wave.
Team: Tyrell Wilson, Liam Brawls, James Wallace (captain), Fraser Morton, David Adams, Jamie Muir, Robbie McCornick, Richard Fiskin, Thomas MacDonald, Ronan McDonald, Allan Ferrie, William McCornick, Jason McKie, Mark McCornick, Euan Dewar.
Subs: Duncan Skimming, James McMiken, Mark Craig, Martin Wallace.