’Shire hang on for victory

Wigtownshire 25, Clydebank 19

With the weather wrecking the rugby programme across Scotland on Saturday, the milder climate at Stranraer permitted the Wigtownshire club to host their first home game in five weeks. Clydebank RFC, travelled south from their frozen pitch to find the London Road positively balmy by comparison.

With both teams firmly rooted in the bottom half of the league, the outcome of the match was likely to be important as its conclusion marked the halfway point of the season. The ’Shire team, as always, were keen to make home advantage pay, especially as it was the first of a series of four home games. Starting with a win would be significant in setting a benchmark for what was to come.

Clydebank kicked the game off, playing into the light wind that was blowing from the west. Although it was cloudy, conditions overhead were dry and ideal for running rugby. However, the damp ground made the ball a little difficult to hold onto.

From the start it was clear that both sides were up for the game and determined to take every opportunity to attack. With three minutes on the clock the home side were first to make their mark. Keith McNeil cleaned up lose ball at a lineout and passed to release Jason McKie, who drove forward at pace. He was stopped, but the visitors were adjudged to have gone off their feet at the ruck. Callum Austin stepped up to convert the penalty with three minutes on the clock.

Two minutes later Ewan McCurdy had another chance to add points with a long-range kick from a ruck infringement, but it dropped under the bar. Despite the close attention of ’Shire’s chasers, Clydebank touched down for a drop-out.

The ’Shire boys were encouraged by this start and took the game to the visitors. The forwards worked hard to win ball, releasing the backs, who unfortunately became isolated when stopped and conceded penalties. This allowed Clydebank some respite. This, combined with the fact that the home lineout and scrum were not working to their usual standard, very much kept them in the game.

In the loose, however, the ’Shire forwards were dominant, providing good ball for the backs. Time and time again, they broke forward keeping the pressure on the visitors.

After 26 minutes winger Hamish McGeoch was released and his chip and chase was only just pushed into touch by a stretched defence. Maintaining the pressure after the lineout, ’Shire were awarded a penalty which was quickly taken and McCurdy twisted and barged his way over the line for the first try. Austin added the conversion.

Clydebank restarted at the halfway line only to have McKie recover the kick and drive straight back up the field. The ball was passed out to Duncan McCaig, then onto Corrie Hose.

He kept his feet despite the attention of two defenders and passed back inside to his captain, Andy Farquhar, who crossed the line for a try. The conversion attempt went wide.

A short time later the home side were reduced to 14 men when hooker Gordon Keith was given a 10-minute rest by the referee who felt he had committed too many penalty infringements.

This put the already creaking ’Shire scrum under much more pressure. Clydebank made the most of this and effectively mauled the ball up the park. The home side struggled to stop their progress but did so at the five-metre line, which both the referee and perhaps the visitors, mistakenly, thought was the try line.

A scrum was awarded to the attacking side who felt confident of pushing over. The rugby ball, however, did not behave itself, coming out of the side and home scrum-half Jason Patterson reacted quickest clearing up the park.

The visitors were awarded a penalty on the 22 soon after but it slipped wide, bringing the half to a close with ’Shire leading 15-0.

At the restart Clydebank went back to using their forwards and set off on an attack up the blind side. This came 
to nothing when McNeil bundled them into touch.

Gordon Keith then returned to the field to restore the home side to its full complement. This sparked a revival of the home team’s attacking ways. The ball was worked up the pitch close to the Clydebank line. Awarded a penalty five metres out, Keith took a quick tap and contact, the recycled ball came into the hands of Patterson who crashed across the line to score. They were unable to add the extra points.

Two minutes later it was Clydebank who crossed the line. They recovered their own kick-off and drove up to the 22. The ball was moved first right across to the wing and then passed along the line to the left, putting their winger in for their first score. The conversion attempt dropped short.

From the restart a fumbled ball gave the visitors the advantage again and they cleared their lines but failed to find touch. Instead they found Hose on the wing, and he pinned his ears back and set off, sprinting and stepping, he got well into the visitors’ half before off-loading to Maccaig. A try looked certain as Austin joined in support, but no-one told the Clydebank players.

Maccaig was brought down by a great cover tackle from behind just short of the line. A scrum ensued and despite Clydebank’s strength in this department, ’Shire won the ball, were able to recycle it and this time it was Farquhar who passed to Hose to put him in for his first senior try. It also gave the team a four-try bonus point.

This elation was short-lived as again from the restart, slack home defending and very determined support play by Clydebank put them under the posts for a try, which they converted.

Wigtownshire attempted to regroup but Clydebank had found their legs and began to make use of the forward power. Eight minutes later they scored again.

Wigtownshire were awarded a scrum close to their own line after no advantage from a knock-on. The scrum, however, proved to be no advantage as Clydebank took the ball and scored under the posts. The conversion was good and reduced the point difference to six with 12 minutes to go and Clydebank very much on top.

The local boys dug deep, Clydebank came time and time again, but the closest they could get was the five-metre line. The ’Shire defence held, just, and when Patterson cleared his line with a wobbly kick to touch, referee Colin McInnes brought the game to a close. Much to the relief of the local supporters, club officials and players the score line stood at 25-19 in their favour.

This was a game which Wigtownshire appeared to have in the bag. In the first half they were in a comfortable position and looked as if they would move on to a very respectable score. A combination of the home side going off the boil and the visitors finding their feet and second wind almost turned the game on its head.

Clydebank left with bonus point for getting to within seven point of ’Shire but they most definitely felt they could have won. On the other hand, the local boys were left wondering what went wrong. Great Expectations turned into The Great Escape. They have plenty to work on at training during the week, not least on reducing their penalty count which really hurt them during the game.

On Saturday the visitors to London Road will be Strathaven as the second half of the season starts. The home side will be looking to overturn the defeat they suffered in their first match against them in September. This should be one worth watching.

Team: C Austin, H McGeoch, A Farquhar, D Maccaig, C Hose, E McCurdy, J Patterson; R Drysdale, G Keith, B Graham, G Dunlop, J McKie, C Reid, C Stephens, K McNeil. Replacement: R McCreadie, M McConnell, J Dalrymple, S Hannah.