The preliminary round of the BT West Regional Shield competition took place last weekend with Newton Stewart RFC drawn against Garnock RFC whom they have already played once in the league this season.
It was narrow win for Newton Stewart on that occasion, although the well-drilled Garnock forwards put some serious pressure on the Newton Stewart scrum, something that the Reds were keen to rectify during this match.
The early play was predominantly in Newton Stewart’s favour, with an early break from stand-off Russell Morton gaining them some vital yards. After eight minutes, the Reds founds themselves deep in the Garnock half, but an unfortunate knock-on halted play and gave the visitors the put-in at the resultant scrum. Determined not to allow Garnock the upper hand in the scrum this time, Newton Stewart dug deep and showed the rewards of their hard work on the training field by winning the scrum against the head. Breaking left, the ball was passed out to Craig Johnstone on the wing who crashed over the line for an early try in the corner. The conversion kick was a difficult one and was narrowly missed by R. Morton.
The middle spell of the first half saw both teams with possession and opportunities to attack. There were penalties awarded to both sides: the Garnock scrum-half scoring his first kick to narrow the points gap briefly, before R. Morton extended it once more for Newton Stewart after Garnock did not roll away from the tackle.
The visitors now had a decent spell of possession, but were unable to make much headway thanks to the relentless tackling of the Reds. Prop Martin Wallace made his presence known in this regard, both his tackle count and his mileage on the pitch impressive. Finding themselves being held at bay by the Newton Stewart defensive line, Garnock took another penalty kick when it was offered and brought the score to 8-6 with ten minutes left to play in the first half.
The Reds regained the possession advantage now and quickly pushed their opponents back onto their try line. Another unfortunate knock-on hindered any progression once more, but the Reds scrum was dominant and providing a good platform for their attack.
In the dying minutes of the first half, Newton Stewart came on the attack once more. R. Morton made another good break, passing out wide to full-back Tyrell Wilson. Two penalties in a row were blown for the Reds with Garnock visibly flustered and struggling to contain the onslaught coming their way.
Some patient play by Newton Stewart paid off eventually when scrum-half Robbie McCornick sniped round the side of a ruck to grab a try right on the half-time whistle. R. Morton converted to give the Reds a 15-6 lead at the break.
The second half was a more balanced affair initially and both sides defended well. Garnock held Newton Stewart out of the danger zone, putting their bodies on the line doing so and there were multiple stoppages for injuries.
Second row William McCornick, on from the bench, made an important try-saving tackle for the Reds early in the second half when the Garnock winger galloped up the left touchline in search of glory. He would have gone all the way had he not been bundled into touch by McCornick travelling at pace.
Twenty minutes into the second half, Newton Stewart found their spark once more. Russell Morton threw a great pass out to his older brother Fraser, playing centre, who was running a superb line to collect the ball at pace and score the try. The conversion was missed but the score extended to 20-6.
As the game progressed to the final fifteen minutes, Garnock started to feature more and more in attack. As Newton Stewart made some changes in the forwards, the scrum dynamics altered and Garnock found themselves in the ascendency now. Dominating the battle up front at last, they pushed forwards and had the Reds pinned back, mounting the pressure.
Perhaps as they would have hoped, they found themselves with a scrum just in front of the Newton Stewart try line. The Reds had the put in and had to give the scrum everything to keep the buoyed Garnock pack at bay long enough to allow James Wallace to collect the ball out the back and clear the lines.
With five minutes to go there was to be a final flourish from Newton Stewart. Attacking directly and with some powerful carries, the Reds passed the ball quickly through the hands. R. Morton found the gap in the defensive line they had been looking for and neatly jinked through it to score the final try for Newton Stewart which he converted himself to bring the final tally to 27-6.
Newton Stewart will be pleased with the end result from this game, but also with the progress they have made in the set piece since they met Garnock last a month ago. Indeed the front row all put in good performances, Thomas MacDonald and Richard Fiskin making an impact with their scrummaging.
In the backs, Russell Morton had a good performance in his first start at stand-off and winger Craig Johnstone had a solid game all round, scoring an important early try.
But it was seasoned campaigner Martin Wallace who deserved Man of the Match for his work rate and tackle count. Putting in some big hits where they were needed, and covering an incredible distance in his supportive play, Wallace defied his age at times!
Progressing to the first round of the competition now, Newton Stewart will travel to Kilmarnock RFC on Saturday 19th November. Kick off will be at 1.30pm to allow for the Autumn International matches.