Newton Stewart get the better of a tight battle with Garnock

Russell Morton at full speed. BB Photography.
Russell Morton at full speed. BB Photography.

Newton Stewart RFC continued their run of tough games last weekend hosting Garnock RFC at Bladnock Park in BT west division one.

Both teams have had promising starts to the season and this fixture looked sure to be a closely contested one.

Kicking off the game, Newton Stewart were guilty of making some early mistakes. There were some spilled balls, resulting in multiple knock-ons, and after six minutes the Reds gave away a penalty on their 22-yard line. The Garnock scrum-half went for the posts, but the kick was off target and Newton Stewart could breathe an early sigh of relief.

It was Garnock’s turn to fumble the restart and the Reds were awarded the put-in at the scrum deep in the visitor’s half. Having struggled at times in the scrum last weekend, the team would be looking to put on a more effective display. This one was lost against the head however, with Garnock demonstrating they have a powerful and well-drilled pack.

During the next ten minutes, Newton Stewart had much of the possession, however repeated mistakes hindered their ability to create any real pressure. Several off-side offences and further knock-ons frustrated the side, however eventually the Reds were awarded a penalty which winger Russell Morton kicked to touch close to the corner. A successful line-out allowed the home team to create a driving maul and push their way over the line for a try for second row Euan Dewar. The conversion attempt by stand-off Jamie Muir went wide.

The remainder of the first half continued in a similar fashion. Newton Stewart had most of the possession and were able to able to put phases together, but they showed alack of finesse in the critical moments. Coupled with some impressive defence from Garnock, they were unable to extend their lead any further.

Right at the end of the first half, Newton Stewart came on the attack once more. Within striking distance of the try line however, prop Richard Fiskin was harshly judged to have been holding on and the movement was ended.

Garnock would let out a sigh of relief to have finished the half with only a five point deficit, however the Reds were rightly frustrated by the narrow scoreline when they had had so much possession and opportunity to score.

As the second half got underway, Newton Stewart continued their pressure and looked for a chance to extend their lead. Russell Morton came agonisingly close to scoring when he made a superb break from within his own half and was only stopped from scoring by the last man in Garnock’s defence who made an excellent tackle.

The game was physically tough: the large visiting forwards well drilled and making their presence known. In the early stages of the half second row Duncan Skimming and stand-off Jamie Muir had to go off with injuries, meaning the subs bench was put to use. Reshuffling positions to account for the changes, youngster Russell Morton was moved to stand-off - a big responsibility for young shoulders.

Garnock now had a phase of possession and opportunity when Newton Stewart gave away a succession of penalties within their own half. Kicking to touch from one of these penalties, Garnock had a line out on the Newton Stewart 5-metre line. Securing the ball, Garnock set up a driving maul and looked to push for the line, however some superb defence from the Reds held off the attack and disrupted the maul to keep the attackers at bay.

The next twenty minutes of play ebbed and flowed from one end of the pitch to the other. Newton Stewart had some good possession and pressurised the Garnock try line once more, however their opponents defended well and the Reds couldn’t find their way over.

There remained a tight battle in the forwards, with Newton Stewart coming under immense pressure in the scrum again.

With ten minutes left to play Garnock’s stand-off, who had chosen to kick the ball at every opportunity in the game, unexpectedly made a break with the ball in hand and slipped through the red defensive line to score. A poor conversion attempt followed, and the scores were levelled at 5-5 with minutes left to play.

Determination and belief were called for by the coaching staff, and the boys set about finding a way to win this tough match. Straight from the restart, back row Mark McCornick chased down the high ball and immediately attempted to turnover the ball. Under such immense pressure the Garnock receiver was forced to hold on to the ball, and a penalty to Newton Stewart was awarded right in front of the posts. With regular kicker Jamie Muir off injured, the responsibility fell to Russell Morton. The kick was from an easy position but it was into the wind and by no means guaranteed. The confidence of youth kept his nerves at bay, and he slotted the ball neatly through the posts to put his team ahead once more.

In the dying minutes, Newton Sterwart had another good attacking opportunity. Hooker Thomas MacDonald made a great solo run and looked set to score a certain try, but a perfectly timed tackle came in from Garnock’s last man to bundle him into touch.

The final play of the game saw the visitors with possession and looking for the late steal, however the Newton Stewart defence stood firm to see out the match.

The Reds take the points home from this match, however their performance was far from polished. Poor execution in the scrum and line out gave their opponents too many opportunities and hindered their own ability to create good platforms. This was a good Garnock team who deserve recognition for their efforts, however Newton Stewart should have won more comfortably with several opportunities to score not taken.

There were good performances this week from Mark McCornick and centre Liam Brawls, however Man of the Match has to be Russell Morton who showed great composure when he was moved to stand-off, scoring the winning penalty and creating try-scoring chances.

This weekend Newton Stewart will travel to East Kilbride RFC for what is likely to be their toughest match of the season. East Kilbride are unbeaten so far, although having been held to a draw last weekend by Kilmarnock RFC, they will be looking to consolidate their position at the top of the league table.

Newton Stewart have much to work on if they are to challenge their hosts.