Stirling County 15 – 16 Heriot’s Rugby

Saturday, 18th January @ Bridgehaugh, Stirling

Match Report by Iain Morrison for The Offside Line

This was not a classic, with a dull first half and too many mistakes from sides that had not played since the middle of December. Still, the match came to life in an absorbing second half when the lead changed hands on several occasions, and the outcome was only decided at the death.

Inside the final ten minutes both teams thought they had stolen the points and plaudits. Josh Henderson kicked County back into the lead around the 71-minute mark, only to see Heriot’s march back up field and lure County offside for a soft penalty,  from which Ross Jones stole the show with the simplest of kicks from in front of the posts. The full-back ended up kicking 11 of his team’s 16-point haul, with three penalties and one conversion, every one of them crucial.

till there was controversy as County’s captain Reyner Kennedy took the referee to task for ending the game early because the scoreboard clock showed 77 minutes when the hooter went. So far, so confusing, but the stadium clock sadly bore no relation to the real match time.

“I hate to say this, because we have had some great games in Super6, but that wasn’t one of them,” Heriot’s coach Phil Smith conceded after the game. “It got better in the second half, but it felt like a game where boys have been on holiday. And we had a four-week break since the last time, which was against County in the middle of December. It is just the way it is, but that looked like two teams that hadn’t played for a long time.

“Credit to our boys, because it is something that you practise, but that was a minute and a half that we kept hold of the ball at the end when a penalty could be given for any little mistake at any time. We knew coming in that it was going to be bloody difficult, because Stirling pride themselves on their home form.”

In the home camp, Smith’s opposite number had steam coming out of his ears – which was the only outward sign that impeccably composed Ben Cairns was quietly seething inside. Clearly frustrated by his ill-disciplined team, he pointed out that County top the charts for sorties into the opposition 22 but are the least effective Super6 side at converting this territory into points.

“When we stick to basics and do the simple things we are very effective,” said Cairns. “But we just go off script and start doing our own thing when we don’t have to.

“The big one for me was we’ve drilled them in the maul [at the end of the first half] and should have scored. We’ve drilled them in the scrum, we played advantage, we come back for the penalty and we tap-kick it. Why not come back for a scrum or a maul since we have just drilled them in both?

“When you have a set of individuals who struggle to stay on script and struggle to manage the game well, they are undisciplined in that regard and they are undisciplined in regard to penalties. We are better than that.”

The first half was uneventful as both teams struggled to find their feet. Heriot’s were first out the blocks, recovering the kick-off ball which they held onto until gifted a simple penalty in front of the posts which they took.

County woke up and enjoyed the better of the first 40 minutes. Landon Hayes made good yards at inside centre, the front row seemed to shade the set scrums and Bruce Sorbie posed a threat from the back when the full-back entered the line.

They were eventually rewarded when chip and chases by the twin half-backs, Sean Kennedy and Josh Henderson, resulted in an attacking lineout. From there County attacked and after a few phases a long pass from Hayes found Ewan MacGarvie on the right flank and the winger stepped inside the cover defence to grab Stirling’s only score of the half around the half-hour mark.

They deserved better, because Stirling spent much of the final ten minutes pounding away at the Heriot’s line only to be thwarted by the opposition or their own stupidity. One maul was held up, they won that scrum penalty which they tapped and ran, while another kickable penalty was sent into the corner for an attacking lineout. When Heriot’s came off the field trailing by 3-5 it must have felt like a win.

The visitors dominated the second half and took an early lead when Ross kicked a second simple penalty after more ill-discipline in the home ranks. It wasn’t long before Heriot’s were on the attack again: a teasing kick into the corner, a good kick-chase harried and hurried the defence into touch, and then a few plays later it was centre Cameron Hutchinson who barrelled over from close range. Jones added the extras and the visitors were sitting pretty at 13-5, which is when County’s Oliver Bartlett had his say.

The big lock charged down a Heriot’s clearance kick and won the race to the ball which was over the try line. Henderson added the conversion to make it a one-point game before adding that penalty ten minutes from time to give County a two-point lead. They held onto it until three minutes from time, when Jones kicked his third penalty and kicked County in the teeth. At least Stirling’s losing bonus takes them off the bottom of the table and above the Boroughmuir Bears, who play tomorrow.