Newton Stewart 6, Garnock 5
For 70 of the 80 minutes Newton Stewart had this bottom-of-the-table clash by the scruff of its neck but in the end only a missed penalty by Garnock let the Reds off the hook to take a last-gasp victory from what should have been annihilation.
A heavy pitch did nothing for either side but Newton opened the affair with loads of possession, and shaping to play as much running rugby as conditions would allow. An early penalty from the “thousand-plus points” kicker Iain Russell settled the nerves and mutterings could be heard on the terracing of a potential four-try bonus point win.
For 20 minutes or so Newton poked and prodded but handling errors at crucial moments prevented that elusive score. The Reds rumbled a rolling maul 20 metres to the opposition line but again that last play eluded them.
A Newton Stewart attacking lineout on the Garnock 22 was key to the first score of the day and – as it turned out – it was, but for Garnock. An overthrow was all Garnock needed to collect ball, dash up the wing and Jordan Taggart was in on their first and only excursion of enemy territory.
From this point on Newton seemed to lose their spark. The half was closed out with neither side doing much but with Newton still commanding the midfield.
The second half could have ended likewise with the double whammy of relegation looming ever closer. The Newton lads, however, shrugged-off their blues and for most of the second half dominated the game from deep inside the Garnock half.
The visitors could have pulled off the ultimate coup. Their best player, stand-off Gareth McCrorie, took possession deep in his own half and with some deft footwork was well into Reds territory before a last-ditch Newton tackle prevented the ignominy of losing another try.
The Reds’ frustration was evident and the scoreboard did not reflect effort, territory or possession and, with a two-point deficit, something had to happen, and fast. With 15 minutes remaining all the Newton forwards were on the pick and drive or crash ball mission but time and time again Garnock repelled the onslaught.
The Newton backs were needing ball to exploit the acres of space which had developed out wide as Garnock were sucked in but when the ball did go wide it was either telegraphed, too late or taken back into trouble.
A penalty to Newton in front of the posts had the nerves jangling and goodness knows what kicker Russell was feeling. The three points were well taken, the slenderest of leads assumed and all that was left was to play out the remaining 10 minutes.
Garnock rallied and for the closing spell finally came alive to foray into Newton territory in an attempt to steal victory. Newton coach Gaw called for no penalties but Newton conceded a penalty in front of the posts as the referee checked his watch for close of play.
Whether Garnock stand-off McCrorie felt it would have been inappropriate to take victory after being effectively humped remains to be answered but his mis-kick was what allowed Newton to collect their second victory of the season.
It would have been a travesty had Newton not collected the win but the Reds seemed to descend to the level of the opposition. There is no virtue in having undoubtedly the best forwards in the league but not using this weapon to launch long-range missiles from behind them.
Coaches Russell Gaw and Ivie Fisher have much to work on to get this team firing as a 15-man unit but they surely will.
This week’s game against GHK at Bladnoch Park has been called-off due to the weather.
Newton Stewart: S Hamilton, B Haigh, M Wallace, R Vance, W McCornick, J Wallace, H Hamilton, A Gaw (captain), R McCornick, J Muir, J Hamilton, I Russell, G McMillan, S Costley, T Wilson.Reps: P Simpson, R Gaw, J Ritchie.