Last weekend saw Newton Stewart RFC travel to Oban for what they hoped would be the title-clinching match in the league this year.
Knowing that victory in this game would secure them the top spot in the league with a game in hand, there was huge anticipation for the match.
A tremendous number of supporters followed the team on the long journey and created a superb atmosphere during, and after, the game. Oban Lorne RFC are battling hard to stay out of the relegation zone this season and need two wins out of their last four matches to be sure of survival in the league. With both teams desperate for the win, the stage was set for an epic battle.
The opening five minutes saw Newton Stewart start well and take control of the game. They kicked to touch from an early penalty which gave them a line-out on the Oban 22-yard line. Pressurising from the set piece they got agonisingly close to a try, but were held up on the line by some determined Oban defence.
Only minutes later Newton Stewart were awarded another penalty within kicking distance, but stand-off Russell Morton was unable to find the target.
With seven minutes played the Reds had a moment of indecision which resulted in a pass being intercepted by Oban and eventually a try for the home team. Their difficult conversion was accurate and the scores were opened at 7-0.
Russell Morton made a good break from Newton Stewart a few minutes later, but the ball ended up loose deep in the opposition half allowing Oban to clear temporarily. A few minutes later however the Reds were on the attack once more and only an unfortunate knock-on at the last moment thwarted an otherwise excellent scoring opportunity. Russell Morton suffered an unfortunate dislocated kneecap during this passage of play which stopped the game for 45 minutes whilst medical attention was received and sadly put an end to his role in the match.
Following the restart Newton Stewart continued to have the bulk of the possession and created chances which they somehow couldn’t convert to points, repeated knock-ons being the primary issue. But with twenty minutes played the Reds took a lineout on the Oban 5-metre line and threw the ball quickly wide allowing back row Jason McKie to score in the corner. Winger Jamie Muir, now moved to stand-off, had a difficult conversion into the wind and it finished slightly short.
The next ten minutes saw Newton Stewart attacking well and largely controlling the game. When Oban were in possession they repeatedly kicked the ball deep, attempting to pressurise full-back Tyrell Wilson who collected the high balls well and ran back upfield to good effect.
A spell of sustained forwards pressure eventually resulted in a try for second row Euan Dewar. Muir converted to make the score 7-12 with ten minutes left to play in the first half.
The Oban inside centre was yellow-carded a few minutes later for repeated offences at the breakdown, and with only fourteen men on the pitch, a superb covering tackle from Oban bundled Dewar into touch right on the try line to prevent him scoring a second try.
A penalty to Oban in the dying seconds of the first half left the scores 10-12 at the break. Newton Stewart had a very good first half, looking comfortable but disappointed not to have closed off several try-scoring opportunities.
As the second half got underway the wind was now behind the Reds, however Oban came out fighting and upped both their tempo and their physicality. There was fierce tackling and competition at the breakdown from both sides as it became clear that this was going to go down to the wire.
After nine minutes Newton Stewart were awarded a penalty in front of the posts, Muir slotting it through comfortably. An almost carbon copy kick three minutes later allowed him to extend the lead by six points in total, 10-18, whilst Oban lost another player to the sin-bin for ten minutes.
Reds forwards Richard Fiskin, Thomas MacDonald and Jason McKie made some superb breaks to keep the pressure on their opponents, however Oban are always dangerous on the counter-attack and this was never more evident than with when they attacked from deep inside their own half to score a try in the corner with sixty minutes on the clock. No conversion followed to maintain a three point lead for Newton Stewart.
From looking comfortable earlier in the game, Newton Stewart now began to look vulnerable as Oban took heart from their try and came back into the game believing an upset may be on the cards.
With fifteen minutes left to play Newton Stewart had another scoring opportunity, camped right on the Oban try line, but failed to take any points from their good position.
As the minutes ticked down the nerves and the pressure mounted. A penalty to Oban with seven minutes left on the clock gave them an opportunity to kick at goal to level the scores, however Oban are in need of wins and so they kicked to the corner in the hope of a late try.
From the resultant line-out Oban formed a rolling maul but Newton Stewart managed to splinter the group and eventually turnover the ball to temporarily relieve the pressure.
The closing five minutes were a ridiculously tense affair for the spectators, probably for both sides, however the Reds managed to hold the home team at bay to secure the win and with it the league title and promotion to the national leagues.
Newton Stewart produced an excellent first half performance in this game, but an inability to close out their scoring opportunities made life much harder for themselves than it needed to be, perhaps a result of nerves on the big occasion.
Credit where it is due to Oban RFC who showed what a good side they are by coming back into the game and keeping the tension alive until the final whistle.
The Newton Stewart forwards worked tirelessly in this match and defence is what won them the game. The three front row players Martin Wallace, Thomas MacDonald and Richard Fiskin shone against a front row twice their weight. Man of the Match was second row Euan Dewar who scored a try, made supreme defensive efforts when it was needed and carried the ball with power to create some great opportunities for the Reds.
Newton Stewart RFC have one game left to play in the league this season, the date of which is yet to be confirmed due to their ongoing Shield commitments at present. The next game in the latter competition is next weekend away to Irvine RFC. The Reds have beaten Irvine twice this season in the league, however they are a much improved side of late and this looks set to be another difficult encounter on the road.
Newton Stewart RFC would like to thank their many supporters for their presence, efforts and words of encouragement on the way to this title win this season. Promotion into the national leagues is a new height of success for the club and the challenge that next season now holds is an exciting one for all concerned. The players and coaching staff have worked hard for this achievement and are to be commended for their efforts and in particular the manner with which they have conducted themselves along the way. #onelove.
Team: Tyrell Wilson, Jamie Muir, Fraser Morton, Craig Johnstone, Liam Brawls, Russell Morton, Robbie McCornick, Martin Wallace, Thomas MacDonald, Richard Fiskin, William McCornick, Euan Dewar, David Montgomery, Jason McKie, James Wallace (captain). Subs: Duncan Skimming, Alisdair Gaw, Graham McMillan, Malachi Wright