’Shire show true grit to win

Scrum brakes down
Scrum brakes down

Wigtownshire 10, McLaren 6

With the Six Nations in full swing, a rested Wigtownshire were back in action on Saturday after three weeks off.

They had been in need of a break as the very full festive calendar had taken its toll. They had not managed a win of any kind since December 8 with their league position becoming precarious, as all the teams below them have many games in hand due to weather disruptions.

This was a very important match for both sides as the visitors on the day were just below ’Shire in the league. They travelled down from Callander with a full complement of players and a sizeable support in an effort to lift their side to an important win. When the sides last met, ’Shire had scraped a win in a close match. The home side were hoping for a repeat performance.

The match kicked off on an unusually heavy London Road pitch with a steady drizzle making conditions difficult. What little wind was blowing was from the south, combined with the rain to make kicking challenging. It immediately caught out the home side as they kicked straight into touch from the start. This gave the visitors scrum advantage on the halfway line and the chance to put ’Shire under pressure.

The ’Shire scrum has appeared shaky at times, but in recent games has found form and performed well against a strong side. They were in for a shock. The McLaren pack appeared smaller than the home side and in the past presented few difficulties. They had very obviously been working on this area of play, as they pushed the ’Shire side back 10 metres before releasing the ball and their backs.

The ’Shire three-quarters and back row defended well and tackled strongly, halting the attacks, good counter-rucking and balls being knocked on turned over possession.

The home side used any possession they had to drive back up the park. However, neither team appeared to have the measure of the other with ball in hand and play was contained between the 22-metre lines.

At scrum time it was a different story: regardless of put in, McLaren were on top. It was from a scrum the first scoring opportunity came. The visitors won clean ball and drove 20 metres. The Wigtownshire scrum, completely disrupted, eventually halted the progress by illegal means. McLaren kicked the penalty to take a deserved lead.

If the home scrum was not working, the lineout most definitely was. As bad as they were in the former, they dominated the latter. This gave them possession to work with, and the ruck ball being produced quickly scrum-half Callum Austin found his stand-off Duncan Maccaig with great accuracy, releasing centres Andy Farquhar and John McIntosh on crashing runs. It was McLaren who needed to tackle with commitment, which they did.

Eventually the ’Shire forwards and backs combined to thwart the defence. The tight five produced clean ball, from quick rucks, spinning it wide along the backs, but a change of direction coming from flanker Jason McKie broke the defence. Like a knife through butter, he sliced through the McLaren line, and once over the try line ran behind the posts to make Callum Austin’s job of adding the extra points a good deal easier.

McLaren came back with vigour. In open play the home defence held, stopping the attacks, double tackles, holding players up, preventing release. However, the scrums continued to be ’Shire’s Achilles heel. They moved players around, they changed positions, they dug in, but McLaren had them on the rack. Time and time again it looked likely that they would eventually score through their driving scrums. The local boys just kept on fighting and somehow held them out. It did cost a couple of penalties before half-time, both kickable, but only one of which was converted. The home side had a one-point lead at the break.

When play resumed it was very similar to the first half, although the home side decided to put boot to ball and play very much in McLaren’s half. The young ’Shire back three chased up their kicks, ensuring their players were all onside. On many occasions they met the fielding defender just after they caught the ball and made the tackle to put McLaren under pressure.

McLaren battled and attacked but could not break through. They did not use their possession well, choosing to step inside, with ball in hand, instead of passing out. This played right into the ’Shire scrambling defence – if the three-quarters did not stop them, the back row did. McLaren came forward time and time again to be met by solid tackles and strong defence. They tried to chip the ball but the back three worked well to sweep up these attempts and clear their lines.

It was ’Shire who broke the second half deadlock when they were awarded a penalty for McLaren players going off their feet at a ruck. Austin stepped up and added three points to his season’s tally. This gave the home side a four-point advantage, and McLaren then went on the offensive looking for a try as the game was drawing to a close. They threw everything into their attacks but the home defence held firm.

Coming down to the wire, the last play of the game was a scrum, McLaren’s ball. Having been on the rack all afternoon, the home supporters held their breath. For the only time in the match, Wigtownshire took the ball against the put in and held the push. Austin kicked the ball into touch and referee Scott Livingstone seemed to take for ever to blow the final whistle.

This was a great display of grit and determination, and the victory brought a huge cheer from players and supporters alike and loud blasts on the car horns, from senior club members watching from their cars. Every one of the ’Shire squad played their part and should be proud of their efforts and fortitude.

At times it was not the greatest game to watch, but the way every man stuck to his task was impressive. McLaren are not an easy team to play against. The ’Shire players worked hard for each other and that was the difference on the day. In particular, Maccaig, Farquhar and McIntosh, not only with ball in hand, but in the tackle were immense. McConnell, McKie and McNeil in the forwards made some great runs with the ball. ’Shire man of the match Callum Austin played very well at scrum-half, his kicking from hand was good but the quality of his passing made a huge difference.

With four games to go in the league, the team will need to build on this performance and dig deep, especially as three games are away from home, starting with Lenzie next Saturday, who are third in the league and going well.

Team: K Little, J Dalrymple, J McIntosh, A Farquhar (Capt.), C Hose, D Maccaig, C Austin; M McConnell, C Reid, C McGregor, B Graham, G Dunlop, C Stephens, J McKie, K McNeil (captain). Replacements: D Watson, S Hannah, G Campbell, S Blain, S Cameron.