Having lost their first match of this season the previous week, Newton Stewart RFC lined up against old foes Highland RFC last Saturday in a national league division 3 match, anxious to make a return to winning form and secure their home points.
Highland made the long trip down from Inverness to Blairmount Park, the game once again being played on the fast-paced artificial surface as Bladnoch Park continues to saturate in the incessant rain. The visitors were unbeaten so far going into this game and, sitting second in the table, they promised to be formidable opponents.
The Reds were steeled for a strong start in this match following their disastrous opening twenty minutes again Murrayfield Wanderers the previous week. Thankfully the early exchanges were solid from Newton Stewart and any dwindling nerves had a chance to settle.
With ten minutes played the Reds were in possession, keeping pressure on the Highland defences, but struggling to be find any gaps. Showing some great ambition and vision scrum-half Robbie McCornick produced a marvellous chip over the heads of his opposition which winger David Adams chased and collected. Dancing around the scrambling defence, he couldn’t quite find the finish line himself, but when the ball landed in the hands of second row William McCornick a few moments later, the first try was scored. Centre Fraser Morton had a difficult conversion kick from out wide into a decent wind, and was unable to find the target.
There was further attack from Newton Stewart following the restart and some excellent linking between Morton and second row Alan Ferrie. The Reds tried to make headway up the field once more, with back row Ewan Dewar carrying powerfully, however when the ball spilled loose Highland countered and the home team were forced to switch to defensive mode.
The referee blew for a penalty against Newton Stewart when they were deemed to have kicked the ball in the ruck, and Highland kicked to touch. A line out on their 22’ yard line was well defended, Dewar in particular tackling with ferocity and forcing the knock on.
The resultant scrum was dominated by the tight Highland pack who won it against the head and this gave the visitors an excellent platform from which to attack. Their big centre bulldozed over from close range to even the scores while the conversion kick went wide.
There were competitive spells now of attack and counterattack. Highland maintained their upper hand in the scrum, but the Reds played some intuitive and free-flowing rugby in the loose. Dewar once again stood out as he made another great break up the field. A penalty against Highland provided Newton Stewart with some good field position, however when hooker Thomas MacDonald’s line-out throw was deemed not straight they found themselves under immense pressure.
Highland powered their way back up the field and initiated a gritty forwards battle. The Reds defensive effort was substantial, however the visitors were not easily held back and ultimately they found their way over for their second try. When the conversion kick hit the target the score was 5-12.
Utilising their substitutes bench early, Newton Stewart brought prop Gavin Freeland on to help stabilise the scrum, and this he did to great effect. With the set piece instilling confidence once again fullback Tyrell Wilson found himself in space and backed his pace to outrun the Highland defences. Bursting up the left wing Wilson found Morton running a fantastic line in support and passed inside to him. Morton proved that he too has the necessary speed to make his mark and cruised over to score in the corner once more. No conversion followed against from a difficult position.
With five minutes left to play in the first half Highland came on the attack again looking to consolidate their lead. As two Red defenders both tackled the same man, a gap appeared in the defensive wall and Highland were able to monopolise, finishing the half 10-19 down.
Previous games have taught this young Newton Stewart side not to panic at the interval as they finish strongly and are able to utilise their exceptional fitness to their advantage.
In the early stages of the second half the Reds built up some possession and made some hard yards. Ultimately camped on the Highland try line, back row Mark McCornick carried well. The forwards drew in the defences as planned, then threw the ball wide to Morton who showed fantastic composure in the tackle to stretch out his long arms and get a try on the line at full stretch. With the wind behind him now Morton was able to convert his try and narrow the gap to 17-19.
The next ten minutes produced a stoical spell of defence from Highland. Newton Stewart attacked with centre James Wallace (captain), Freeland and William McCornick all travelling well with the ball in hand. Dewar eventually received the ball at close range, and when prop Martin Wallace added his weight to the charge, was able to slide over for the bonus point try and the lead once more. Morton had his eye in now and converted again.
The next fifteen minutes produced a long, long spell of Red defence which was impeccable in it’s structure. Highland knocked on the door repeatedly, but no chink in the armour appeared and eventually Newton Stewart recovered possession once more.
Then a moment of brilliance from the Reds. Ferrie made a break up the field using his long stride to cover the ground before offloading out to MacDonald who was forced to scoop the ball up off the floor with impressive skill to maintain the attack. Moving the ball quickly through the hands it landed in the possession of Dewar once again who crashed over for his second try of the day.
A huge shout went up from Highland who felt that the ball had been held up on the line and the referee took objection to the language used by their prop in particular. Showing him a red card, the visitors were reduced to fourteen men for the remainder of the game. Morton made the last conversion count, bouncing it in off the posts to stretch the score to 31-19 where it would stay until the final whistle.
Newton Stewart deserve credit for securing all five points against a very physical Highland team and climbing themselves back to second place in the league table currently!
This was a great team performance once again, with the inventive, off-loading game they play proving to be effective as well as exciting to watch.
Robbie McCornick read the game well again this week and tackled relentlessly, whilst Morton scored two important tries and proved he is fast becoming a reliable kicker for goal also. Young winger David Adams impressed in this game too, showing increasing composure and strength on the ball.
Man of the Match however could be none other than the irrepressible Ewan Dewar. Defensively brilliant as always, he was also the stand out ball carrier in attack and scorer of two tries.
This weekend the Reds will make another long journey, this time to Aberdeen to face Gordonians RFC. Fancied as major competitors for the title this year, they have had mixed results in the first few games and will be looking to consolidate their position with a home win. Newton Stewart must trust in their own abilities, drawing on their successes in these early weeks and head for Aberdeen with the belief that they can not only compete, but bring home the points too. On this week’s performance they are ready for the challenge.
Team: Tyrell Wilson, Liam Brawls, James Wallace (capt), Fraser Morton, David Adams, Jamie Muir, Robbie McCornick, Martin Wallace, Thomas MacDonald, Ronan McDonald, Alan Ferrie, William McCornick, Jason McKie, Mark McCornick, Ewan Dewar. Subs: Gavin Freeland, James McMiken, Mark Craig, Duncan Skimming.