’Shire off to a flying start

Shire hold the line stopping the attackers scoring
Shire hold the line stopping the attackers scoring

Wigtownshire 17, Millbrae 14

Wigtownshire started the season proper with a preliminary round in the RBS West Regional Bowl last Saturday at home to near neighbours Millbrae.

Millbrae, in effect the Ayr 3rd XV, are a force to be reckoned with.

The ’Shire took the game to their opponents from the start. Millbrae fielded the ball but the charging home players turned it over and passed it out to winger Craig Hamilton, who was stopped by a high tackle. The penalty gave ’Shire great field positionand an attacking move gave Jay Chan a chance to drive for the line but he was held up short.

From the ’Shire scrum, a quick switch of play, with the backs out to the left, by the back row breaking to the right saw vice-captain Keith McNeil charge for the line. With a little help he crashed over for the first score of the game. Unfortunately for McNeil, it was his last play in the game as he aggravated an old injury. The conversion went wide.

Five minutes later, Millbrae scored. They were awarded a penalty just inside the Wigtownshire half and the kick was good. Ten minutes later another penalty near the halfway line allowed the visitors to take the lead. This spurred on Millbrae and they piled on the pressure. The ’Shire defence was working hard to keep them at bay. The combination of solid tackling and the Millbrae kicker going off the boil allowed the home side to stay in the game.

The ’Shire forwards were fired up and Gary Dunlop disrupted a Millbrae lineout throw-in, and Munro McConnell gathered the ball and took off towards the line. The whole pack got behind him and he was still in possession when they crossed the line and scored. Callum Austin stepped up to take the conversion but, as he began his run, the ball fell over as the Millbrae team charged. Austin grabbed the ball and, with the opposition upon him, struck a drop kick which sailed majestically over for the extra points.

Five minutes later the Millbrae kicker found his range once more when ’Shire were adjudged offside and he narrowed the lead to three points. Despite the visitors’ best efforts the home side maintained the 12–9 score to half-time.

The second half started with Millbrae intent on taking control of the game by fair means or foul. With five minutes gone, ref Brian Johnston sent the Millbrae stand-off to the bin for 10 minutes for repeated offside offending.

The home side used this opportunity to apply pressure but they could not convert this into points. ’Shire coach Ross McCreadie went to his bench to change things up and increase the pressure. A short time later the referee reached for his cards again as Andy Love was adjudged offside at a ruck and given 10 minutes in the bin.

Millbrae turned up the heat and ’Shire were forced to defend. Eventually a clearance kick, which did not find touch, was fielded by a winger. He brought it straight back, supported by his centre, and they evaded the tacklers to score in the corner and retake the lead with 10 minutes to play. The conversion was wide.

’Shire played the remainder of the game on the front foot. Eventually Millbrae played the ball on the ground and a penalty was awarded. A quick tap was taken and passed along the line for winger Hamish McGeoch to sprint in and grab the winning score.

This was a bruising encounter and a real test. The ’Shire players will take a lot from the game, especially the way they stuck to it, going behind twice and coming back to win. It was great to see the side scoring tries, but the need to cut out the mistakes was also evident.

’Shire are back in action at home on Saturday, at 3pm. They face Renfrew RFC in the RBS West Regional Bowl first round at London Road.

Team: C Austin, C Hamilton, A Farquhar (captain), J McIntosh, D Maccaig, J Dalrymple, J Chan; S Blain, G Keith, B Graham, G Dunlop, A Love, C Stephens, R Dewar, K McNeil. Replacements: H McGeoch, S Cameron, C Hose, M Clarke, M McConnell, M Hastie