The first match of the new season for Newton Stewart RFC was away from home against Carrick RFC in the preliminary round of the BT Cup.
These two sides will face each other twice more in the months ahead in league fixtures, so this match was to be a good indication of some of the challenges to come for the Reds.
The game started off as it was to continue – fast paced and full of big tackles. Both teams had spells of possession and used it to mount hard-running attacks. The first score of the match was to come for Carrick in the 13th minute when a phase of tidy passing and quick off-loads created an overlap for their scrum half Conor Duignan who crossed the line in the corner. The conversion attempt from inside centre Blair Jardine went narrowly adrift.
An opportunity to narrow the deficit came just a few minutes later for Newton Stewart when some repeated infringements at the breakdown by Carrick resulted in a penalty for the Reds. Slotted neatly through the posts by stand-off Jamie Muir, the score was 5-3.
For the remaining 20 minutes of the first half both teams battled hard in what was turning out to be an evenly matched game in warm conditions. There were no further changes to the score before half-time and both sides would relish the break.
After the interval Carrick stepped out immediately on the front foot. A line out at 46 minutes was executed well and the ball safely deposited in the hands of second row Ian Speirs. A driving maul was formed and it ploughed its way over the line to allow Speirs the try. This time conversion followed from Jardine and lead stretched to 12-3 for Carrick.
Newton Stewart needed to stay positive and keep working hard in a game that was much closer than the score was suggesting and they did just that. The Reds used their next spell of possession to build pressure on their opponents and ultimately some good interplay between Robbie McCornick at scrum half and David Montgomery at flanker resulted in a try for the latter. No conversion, the score was 12-8.
The next twenty minutes saw NSRFC continue to apply pressure to their opponents who were clearly more comfortable in attack than defence. Some repeated flaunting of the rules as the home team felt the strain resulted in a yellow card for the Carrick prop Stephen Raby. The continued Newton Stewart attack was direct and they broke through the game line several times; some unfortunate handling errors the difference between scoring and not on more than one occasion.
As was the case throughout the game however, the tide soon turned again and it was Newton Stewart who found themselves forced to defend against the oncoming Carrick backs. They displayed some slick passing and eventually their right winger Ross McCulloch caught the ball out wide and ran hard for the line, beating his tackler in the process to finish a well-worked try. Jardine made his conversion again to once again augment the gap to 19-8.
The game was far from over however and the Reds came again on the attack. A confident phase of play with accurate passing allowed the very experienced Peter Simpson, on from the bench, to receive the ball at pace and running a good angle. His strength apparent, he was unstoppable and touched the ball down for a second try for NSRFC. Muir had another near miss on his conversion attempt and the score finished 19-13 to Carrick.
This was a very strong Carrick team who have made a lot of summer signings and will likely be touted as league favourites this year. Newton Stewart can go confidently into their future meetings games on the back of this solid performance.
Players of note in this game included captain William McCornick leading by example in the second row with his colossal tackling, James Wallace at no.8 making some exemplary runs off the back of the scrum and backs Craig Johnstone and Fraser Morton showing their versatility with confident attack and solid tackling in defence.
The first league game for Newton Stewart is on Saturday 12th September away to Allan Glens in Bishopbriggs.