The Sandy Irving Memorial Trophy has been an annual fixture between local rivals Newton Stewart RFC and Stewartry RFC for a decade now.
It is played to remember a former player and friend of both sides, and it always commands a great turnout of supporters and fierce competition between the sides.
Last weekend was no exception with an impressive number of supporters attending Greenlaw to watch the game in some dreadful weather conditions. The ground underfoot was wet, the rain was lashing, the wind was bitterly cold and strong, yet the two teams took to the pitch and entertained the gathered crowd. Newton Stewart currently play a league above Stewartry, however both teams are having successful seasons so far, and either or both could be promoted up a league next year. With both sides riding on a winning wave, they would both go into this game feeling confident.
From the kick off Newton Stewart knocked the ball on and allowed Stewartry some early possession. The home team were keen to get an early lead and began knocking on the door deep in the Newton Stewart half. The Reds’ defence stood resolute however and an eventual penalty allowed them to clear their line and draw breath having avoided an early rouse.
The game now moved to the other end of the field and Newton Stewart started to put some phases together. The ball found it’s way to prop Kit Wright who made a bulldozing run into the the heart of the 22 before some clean passing despite the conditions gave centre Craig Johnstone space to score the first try of the game in the corner. A tight angle in strong winds made the conversion a stretch too far for stand-off David Sommerville.
Another try followed shortly after for back row David Montgomery to take the lead to 0-10. With their noses in front, Newton Stewart began to dominate the play. For a time Stewartry had the upper hand in the scrums, putting real pressure on the Reds and winning one ball against the head. Outwith the scrum however, the difference in in league standing became obvious.
Towards the end of the first half Newton Stewart once again created some space for themselves out wide, the back line drawing the defence in to allow outside centre Liam Brawls a finish a well worked try with some impressive pace into the left corner. This time stand-off Somerville found the target and converted.
Only a few more minutes passed before the final score of the first half was scored. Prop Martin Wallace took a quick tap penalty within Stewartry territory and the ball was passed through several hands before another overlap appeared for winger Fraser Morton to finish the half with another try in the corner. Somerville converted again to make the score 0-24 at the interval.
The Reds made some personnel changes at half-time: Russell Gaw came into the second row in place of Mark McCornick, and Craig Murray replaced Fraser Morton on the wing.
The second half started largely as the first had finished. Newton Stewart had most of the possession and control of the game. About six minutes into the half, scrum half Robbie McCornick delivered a perfect reverse pass straight to the hands of back row David Montgomery who charged through the defence to score his second try of the game. Somerville had his eye in now and the wind behind him to add the extras.
Stewartry were now facing an uphill struggle with the wind in their faces and the points accumulating against them. To their credit they battled on in these miserable conditions and did their best to stem the tide.
Despite their efforts however, the Red onslaught continued. Craig Johnstone took a second trip over the try line before fullback Tyrell Wilson got a chance to stretch his legs and finish a final try for Newton Stewart with ten minutes left on the clock. Somerville once again converted both tries to extend the lead to 0-45.
In the dying minutes of the game Stewartry had some of their best chances. Finally claiming some possession they repeatedly ran at the Newton Stewart defensive line, desperately looking for a way through. The Red line was steadfast however and the coaching staff will be delighted to see the efforts made right to the last to protect their clean sheet.
Man of the match for Newton Stewart was centre Liam Brawls. He made some incisive runs, showed safe hands and scored a try. David Somerville also gave an impressive performance at stand off, particularly in his communication and kicking prowess.
The game was a fairly one-sided affair on the most part, however the spirit in which is was played made for an enjoyable day for all concerned despite the weather. Sociable and fun - such words describe both the fixture each year and the man who is remembered by it.
Newton Stewart RFC continue their league campaign next weekend at Bladnoch Park hosting Lenzie RFC. Kick off is at 2pm