Wigtownshire 5, Stewartry 17
The annual Wigtownshire v Stewartry game is one of the oldest fixtures in the area.
Records show that an East v West Galloway match was played in Castle Douglas involving players from Stranraer before the Wigtownshire club was founded in 1922.
Stewartry play their rugby in the league ’Shire were relegated from last season. With considerably larger than normal benches, the two sides took to the field to compete for the Hannay Tully Cup.
Wigtownshire kicked off into the wind, which had dropped considerably but was still strong enough to prevent the ball carrying the required distance and Stewartry were awarded a scrum on halfway. This, however, did not prove to be any advantage. The ’Shire pack drove the visitors back, winning the ball and swiftly set off up the park with ball in hand.
The Stewartry defence held and a penalty at the tackle allowed them to gain field position with a lineout. ’Shire showed their lineout was equal to their scrum, taking possession against the throw and it was their turn to clear.
The wind made this difficult but with the forwards dominant they were able to win possession. The home side made use of this, driving up in a maul and releasing their backs. The visitors’ back line was efficient at frustrating the running game and proved difficult to beat.
The power plays by the Wigtownshire pack were great, time and time again driving the visitors off their ball. Stewartry were very much on the back foot but, with 13 minutes on the clock, they won good possession for their backs, from a turnover at a break down, and proved just how dangerous they could be.
Quick as a flash they were on the attack, moving the ball along the line and creating an overlap. Their winger took the last pass in space and ran round behind the posts for a fine try, and the conversion was a formality.
Wigtownshire came back, working well and putting pressure on Stewartry. The visitors’ back row hampered the home attack and the defence was solid. Unfortunately, the home side incurred the displeasure of the referee at the breakdown. With the free kick and penalty count increasing, it prevented them from capitalising on their possession.
The match progressed at a hard and fast pace. Both teams went to their bench early as the impact of tackles, scrums, mauls and clearing out at rucks took its toll.
The second half started with bang, Stewartry kicked off, won the ball and were off. They moved forward at pace, using short pop-passing. The home defence managed to stop them going straight in, but this only delayed the inevitable as the ball was recycled and taken over the line for a fine team try, though the conversion slipped wide.
This hurt the home side, who redoubled their efforts from the restart. Powering up the park they drove hard and straight, taking no prisoners as tempers began to rise. They worked their way right onto the Stewartry line and stayed there. Despite the ball being cleared once or twice they came right back up the park.
With 11 minutes of the half played they were awarded a five-metre scrum. There was no doubt what the play would be. ’Shire won clean ball and turned the power up. This allowed Keith McNeil to pick up at the back and score though the conversion came back off the posts.
The friendly aspect of the match was somewhat lost as the combative elements took over. Both sides took every opportunity to break forward with the ball. The visitors were winning more possession and using it to good effect. Solid support play and hard fast running stretched the home defence.
Once again it was a penalty that proved to be the decisive factor. A quick tap and break left the home team playing catch up. Pace proved too much as the ’Shire defence failed to prevent them from crossing the line. The wind pushed the kick wide.
The Hannay Tully Cup was retained by Stewartry though the scoreline and the play on the day certainly did not reflect the two teams’ respective league positions. In the clubhouse after the match it was apparent that the real winner on the day was the sport of rugby. The importance of these seasonal “friendly” games cannot be overstated as it maintains and strengthens bonds between local clubs. Wigtownshire now turn their thoughts to this Saturday when they travel to Bladnoch. They will be playing Division 1 side Newton Stewart for their annual New Year “friendly” fixture, when both 1st and 2nd XV teams will be playing.
’Shire: C Hose, S Cameron, B Forsyth, J McIntosh, A Farquhar (captain), J Dalrymple, J Hunter; M Hastie, G Keith, M McConnell, J McKie, G Dunlop, C Stephens, R Forsyth, K McNeil. Replacements: B Graham, C McGregor, R Dewar, P Thompson, J Patterson, C Austin, M Clarke, F McColm, H McGeoch, J Wilson, S Blain, K Loch, G Hunter, K Little, C Reid, R McCreadie.