Newton Stewart RFC 8 Melrose Storm 14
The opening pre-season gambit for Newton Stewart RFC this year was a much anticipated affair against the rugby royalty Melrose Storm.
A good crowd turned out to watch what promised to be an exciting match and they were not disappointed - glorious sunshine and some scintillating rugby combined to provide a most entertaining afternoon.
Newton Stewart kicked off the game with gusto. Right from the word go the home side were on the attack and the opening passage of play saw an impressive 20 metre break from the always industrious Mark McCornick, back in the team this year following an extended absence last year after breaking his ankle. Some good ball handling followed from the backs but the Reds were stopped in their tracks by the man with the whistle after an unfortunate forward pass. Newton Stewart remained dominant throughout the first 15 minutes with some excellent phases of play and in particular some good ball carries from the experienced James Wallace at number 8 and Thomas MacDonald, making his debut for NSRFC, in the second row.
The remainder of the first half was a tightly contested battle. Both teams had spells of possession, but neither were able to convert their efforts into points until in the dying moments of the half Newton Stewart were awarded a penalty for an offside infringement which was neatly slotted over by stand-off Jamie Muir to give the home team a half-time lead of 3-0.
The coaching staff at Melrose must have made an impression in the break as the visitors came out all guns blazing to start the second half. A long spell of very one-sided play saw Newton Stewart forced to defend their line at all costs. A series of line-outs for Melrose Storm built more and more pressure until eventually their persistence paid off when after 60 mins a bull-dozing driving maul formed off the back of a line-out and the man mountain Crookshanks crossed the line to put the visitors on the scoreboard. A comfortable conversion brought the score to 3-7.
Momentum was very much with the away team and the watching crowd wondered if they had overdone the wine at the pre-match lunch when an almost carbon copy of the previous play unfolded, Crookshanks again scoring from the back of the impressive Melrose maul. Conversion followed once more: 3-14.
As the match moved into the final quarter Newton Stewart dug deep and attempted to finish with the same strength they had started with. It is a credit to the fitness and determination of the young team to see them able to work hard right up to the closing stages. Some positive running and well executed passing resulted in reward for the home side when Jason McKie, on loan from Wigtownshire RFC, scored to narrow the gap to 8-14. A difficult conversion attempt followed for Jamie Muir from out wide and a narrow miss left the Reds in need of a converted try to win the match.
The remainder of the game stayed very much in the favour of NSRFC but despite their best efforts no further scores were made and the game finished with Melrose Storm the deserving winners.
This was always going to be a big test for Newton Stewart and they will be delighted to have been able to make such a contest of this match up. Special mention must go to Robbie McCornick at scrum half for some excellent game management, Craig Johnstone for putting in a superb performance at centre with some enormous hits, and to Thomas MacDonald who at 18 was making his first team debut for the Reds and showed that he was more than up to the task against some very physical opposition. Man of the Match, as chosen by coach Martin Wallace, was Mark McCornick for proving what a vital role he plays in the team with his hard running and relentless presence at the breakdown resulting in several turn-overs for Newton Stewart.
NSRFC will play at the Annan 15s tournament next weekend. The first home league game will be on September 19 against Glasgow Accies, the club looks forward to welcoming supporters back for a new season.