Loss at Bridgehaugh
By Hugh Barrow
All down to last match now
Stirling County 32
Glasgow Hawks 8
DAVID BARNES @ Bridgehaugh
A SCRAPPY, edgy encounter – characterised by too many dropped balls for any continuity to build – ended with home hooker Reyner Kennedy rumbling over from close-range to add a bonus-point to the home team’s well-earned victory which should ensure that they can float above the relegation bun-fight [which now seems to be a three-way affair involving Boroughmuir, Hawick and Hawks] in their final two matches.
Coming into this clash, neither team had won in the league since the end of October, but Stirling had built some momentum with a cup victory over Edinburgh Accies last weekend, and player-coach Peter Jericevich clearly felt that had provided an important edge.
“It’s all it takes. You win one game, get a bit of confidence in training and the boys approach the next game with a bit more belief. You could see that in the first half – a more confident County team – and I think we’re back to showing what we were doing earlier the season,” he said.
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“It is about maintaining that and kicking on because we’ve got a cup semi-final and our two last league games.”
“We’re a bit annoyed with some of the discipline in the first half when he handed them opportunities, but I thought the backs really stepped up with the forward giving them a good platform, and the three tries we scored in the first half were excellent,” he added.
“They battered away at us during that middle 25 minutes of the second half but the good thing is that we didn’t give them anything, then we got an opportunity at the end there and we dug dee to build phase after phase and we eventually got the bonus point.”
Hawks coach Fin Gillies said he was disappointed with his team’s performance, but insisted that all is not in the battle to escape a bottom-two finish.
“The error count kept creeping up and it is weird because we tried to simplify our game this week,” he lamented. “When you are in this position and you are scrapping for your life, things just don’t go well for you. We couldn’t get a foothold in the game and I don’t know whether you would say that is because they defended well or because we attacked poorly.”
“It makes this last game against Boroughmuir [on 3rd March] pretty important. If anything, they are on the up and we haven’t been on the up for quite a while, so we just need to get together and make sure we get the win – by hook or by crook.”
“We will pull together, we will be better and we will be focussing everything on Boroughmuir. Today was a poor performance but it wasn’t a complete disaster because we are still in the fight – it is still in our hands,” he concluded
Hawks had more than their fair share of possession and territory in the first half, and actually drew first blood through a Patrick Kelly penalty in just the second minute. Then, after Jonny Hope had tied the scores with three points from a ruck infringement, the visitors managed to grab the first try of the contest when Scotland Under-20s squad member Mark New battled his way over.
But thereafter Hawks struggled to prize open any clear-cut try-scoring opportunities and also coughed up a hat-trick of pretty cheap scores for their opponents.
First, Stirling made the most of a scrappy line-out steel through some powerful ball-carrying, initially through Lewis Wynne, before Hamilton Burr rampaged cross the whitewash.
Hope’s conversion edged County into a slender lead, and then an excellent outside break from Ewan Macgarvie released Ross Curle to dot down under the posts, to open up a nine-point gap.
And it was soon fourteen points when Erland Oag – on the park for less than a minute after replacing the injured Patrick Kelly – threw a reckless pass in field, which Curle easily anticipated and intercepted for an unopposed canter to the scoring zone.
That put County in a commanding position at half-time, but the Bridgehaugh faithful still nurse the scars of big leads being squandered during the last few seasons and were not ready to relax yet.
Stirling fired out the blocks at the start of the second half, and McLean was bundled into touch as he scrambled for the corner. The home team kept their foot on the gas, and Hope knocked over another three points with 47 minutes played.
To their credit, Hawks rallied and they dominated possession for the next 30 minutes, but Stirling had the bit between their teeth and their aggressive and well organised defence meant the visitors could have played for a week without closing the gap.
Stirling did make life slightly harder for themselves than it needed to be, by passing up a couple of opportunities to clear their lines. After one excellent turnover, Curle picked McLean out with an inch-perfect cross-field kick, but having done the hard part of collecting the ball in full stride the winger then tripped over his own feet and spilled possession – meaning there was several more minutes of Hawks banging out the door to no avail.
Stirling eventually got back on the ball and hammered away at the Hawks line during the final few minutes in search of the four-try bonus point, and eventually secured a full haul with that last-minute interjection from Kennedy.
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Stirling County: J Hope; A McLean, E McGarvie, G Hughes, K Gossman; R Curle, P Jericevich; R Chies, R Kennedy, G Holborn, S Yarrow, H Burr, L Wynne, S Macdonald, R Leishman. Subs: A Nicol, R Bundy, G Gilliland.
Glasgow Hawks: R Beattie; M New, B McGroarty, P Kelly, J Couper; C Harrison, P Boyer; S Findlay P Cairncross, G Strain, A Kirkland, A Linton, C Kerr, S Leckey, G Adams. Subs: J Spence, L Skinner, F Hastie, J Steele, E Oag.
Referee: S Grove-White
Striling County: Try: Burr, Curle 2, Kennedy; Con: Hope 3; Pen: Hope 2.
Glasgow Hawks: Try: New; Pen: Kelly.
Scoring sequence (Stirling first): 0-3; 3-3; 3-8; 8-8; 10-8; 15-8; 17-8; 22-8 (h-t) 25-8; 30-8; 32-8
Man-of-the-Match: Apart from a few flecks of mud on his strip, Stirling stand-off Ross Curle looked almost immaculate as he left the field at the end, reflecting just how hard Hawks had found the challenge of dragging him into the scrap. The 30-year-old prefers playing in the centre, but his experience and self-assurance was vital at first receiver in such an important match. And he also scored two tries.
Talking point: Hawks head coach Fin Gillies correctly pointed out that Hawks’ Premiership survival is still in their own hands, but with every defeat the pressure grows – and there doesn’t seem to be any battle-hardened reinforcements on the way to provide some much-needed belief for their Boroughmuir showdown.