’Shire locked in relegation battle

Lenzie 55, Wigtownshire 5

Wigtownshire were under no illusions about the task ahead of them as they travelled north to face Lenzie on Saturday.

Lenzie are vying with Annan and Stewartry for the top honours in the league. Despite their win last week, the ’Shire, on the other hand, are fighting a relegation battle.

The match was a rescheduled fixture from December that was cancelled due to a frozen pitch. The local lads found the Lenzie ground, which is looked after by Drummore exile Alan McColm, in as good a condition as it has been all season. The weather was also favourable but, surprisingly, there were some complaints that the bright sun might be problem later in the game.

’Shire kicked off with the sun at their backs and were immediately under pressure from the strong Lenzie side who fielded the ball and drove back up the park. They stretched the visitors on the wide pitch. The ball was dislodged in a tackle, but referee Graeme Fisher did not play any advantage and awarded Wigtownshire a scrum.

The visitors were then penalised for lack of binding at the first set piece. Lenzie ignoring the opportunity for their first points, showed their intentions for the afternoon, and kicked to touch. They took clean lineout ball and sucked in the ’Shire defence.

When the ball was released and worked out, the winger was left facing three attackers and Lenzie crossed the line for the first try with three minutes on the clock. The conversion was successful.

’Shire side responded well, lifting their efforts in every area to meet the powerful play by the home side. The scrums, recently a difficult area for the visitors, showed their mettle after some rearrangements of positions. With vice-captain Keith McNeil installed in the second row, they were able to hold their own. This allowed hooker Gordon Keith to take ball against the head for some much needed possession.

However, it was Lenzie who prevailed again, taking good lineout ball and passing it to their winger, who evaded the ’Shire defence to score. The conversion drifted wide.

’Shire came back with determination, disrupting the Lenzie play. Once again no advantage was played from a Lenzie knock, but ’Shire secured good ball from the scrum.

Stand-off Duncan Maccaig dinked the ball over the home defence. Their winger won the foot race to regain possession, and then mistakenly thought he could run over Hamish McGeoch. Held up in the tackle, he was forced into touch by the supporting Wigtownshire chasers.

A clean catch at the lineout put Lenzie on the back foot, the ball was rucked forward by ’Shire. Recycling the ball, the forwards took play towards the centre of the park, taking the defence with them. With the blindside widening with every play, the visitors took their chance and took the ball through the hands back toward the touchline. Fast, flat passes gave it to McGeoch who sprinted forward low and hard to go over in the corner. Unfortunately Callum Austin was unable to add the extra points.

This was most definitely not in Lenzie’s game plan and encouraged the visitors. For the next 15 minutes both sides sought to gain the upper hand. It was the home side who broke the deadlock, the fullback coming into the line at pace as their three-quarters worked the ball out. This caught out the visitors and he burst though for a try under the posts. The conversion was a formality.

As half-time approached, Lenzie scored again. Powerful ’Shire tackling halted an attack in the middle of the pitch. However, the ball was smuggled out to the Lenzie wing and their hooker scooped it up and charged up the touch unopposed for their bonus-point try. The conversion was successful.

In the last play of the period, ’Shire scrum-half Callum Austin made a valiant solo assault on the try line. Picking up the ball in his half, he evaded the Lenzie forwards and broke through. He sprinted up the park, chipping the ball forward as the winger and fullback closed in on him. Despite his best efforts the ball and the defenders beat him in the in-goal area. The break came with the score 26-5.

The second half started with Lenzie in a very determined mindset and sun now full in the ’Shire players’ faces.

Lenzie are not a big side, but to a man appear to have worked hard on their strength and conditioning. They run very direct lines, supporting each other, and offload well in contact. Any tackle made high was brushed aside.

Despite this the visitors stuck to their task. However, despite their best efforts, ineffective tackles cost them dear and placed them under pressure.

Lenzie scored the first try of the half after five minutes through relentless recycling and driving forward, making ground steadily at contact to cross the line. The conversion kick was successful.

The second came 10 minutes later. A clean lineout catch was mauled forward and into the in-goal area for a score. The conversion went wide.

Wigtownshire worked hard for each other both in attack and defence, but despite their best efforts they were unable to break the home team’s grip on the game.

With 20 minutes of the half played, Lenzie scored again. Charging players burst though the centre of the defence, then spun the ball wide for a score. The kick for the extra points fell short.

A short time later they added to their tally again. ’Shire found the side-stepping play of the Lenzie backs difficult to contain. Despite being put down they played the ball on the ground and continued the attack. They used the width of the pitch to their advantage and scored on the wing. Once more the conversion attempt failed.

As has been their way, ’Shire, despite the scoreline, continued to work hard and never gave up. Even under extreme pressure they fought for everything, frustrating the Lenzie side.

The home side worked back up the field using their tight game to bring them up to the line. On this occasion they conceded a 22 dropout in their attempts breach defence. The visitors cleared their lines with the kick. The ball was fielded and run back up the park. The chasing ’Shire players could not stop the jinky Lenzie runner, who weaved his way through the scrambling defence. His running skills took him clean through for a fine solo try. The conversion was good and a short time later Mr Fisher brought the match to an end.

Wigtownshire have only three games remaining in the league. On so many occasions this season they have given a good account of themselves and Saturday’s game was no different. The scoreline shows a heavy defeat but the play on the field was somewhat different. This fact was commented upon by Lenzie officials after the game, as has been by so many others through the season. In the remaining games it is going to be very important that the ’Shire spirit is turned into points to ensure ’Shire are playing in the same league next season. Next Saturday the team make the short trip to Maybole to play Carrick RFC.

Team: R Forsyth, H McGeoch, J McIntosh, A Farquhar (Capt.), C Hose, D Maccaig, C Austin; B Graham, G Keith, G Campbell, G Dunlop, J McKie, C Reid, C Stephens, K McNeil. Replacements: S Cameron, J Dalrymple

DAVIE HUNTER