BT Premiership

Stirling County...28


Kevin Robertson reports from Bridgehaugh:

Stirling County came from behind to convincingly beat Hawick, giving the Bridgehaugh team a solid start to their BT Premiership schedule.

County have considerably strengthened their senior squad over the close-season, with former County second-row forward Adam Sinclair returning to Bridgehaugh after three years playing in France and England. Also joining the new-look County side are four players of New Zealand origin – No. 8 Alex Taylor (ex-Southlands), stand-off Ross Jones (ex-Ospreys) and centres Jake Cresswell and Ryan Elliston. Scotland Under-19 caps Bruce Sorbie (full-back) and Matt Emmison (hooker) have come to Bridgehaugh from GHA and Aberdeenshire respectively; Scotland Under-20 second-row forward Hamilton Burr was recruited from Aberdeen Wanderers, and joined by ex-Lorreto School and Scotland age-grade winger Craig Pringle. Scotland Under-20 forward Callum Hunter-Hill is County’s club captain this season.

Hawick opened the scoring with less than 3 minutes on the clock, when the visitors secured possession from their penalty line-out in the County 22, before moving the ball from right to left, stretching the home defence, for Kirk Ford to touchdown to the left of the posts. The Greens’ full-back converted his own try to give Hawick an early seven-point advantage.

County responded immediately and four minutes later, following two successive penalty line-out catch and drives deep in the Hawick 22, County quickly shifted the ball through the hands to the right wing, for Matt Lamb to exploit a gap in the visitors’ backline and score an unconverted try in the right corner, reducing the leeway to 5 – 7.

County came close after a threatening break by the home backs from half-way only for the final scoring pass to be grateful received by the scrambling Hawick defender. The home-side went in front on 13 minutes when County stand-off Jonny Hope kicked a 20 metre penalty, after Hawick infringed on the ground, preventing release of the ball.

County continued to attack with pace and were unfortunate when a loose pass close to the Hawick line was intercepted by the Greens’ right-winger D’arcy Graham who sprinted the length of the pitch to score a try under the posts, converted by Ford, to put the visitors back in front 8 – 14, after 15 minutes.

County’s heads seemed to go down, and Hawick should have extended their lead when they missed a clear try-scoring opportunity, knocking the ball forward within the home-side’s 22, with an un-guarded try-line beckoning. However, the visitors redeemed themselves moments later, when they carved open the County defence with a flowing passing move from inside their own half, finished off by outside-centre Gary Johnstone who scored an unconverted try in the right corner, giving Hawick an 8 – 19 lead with 21 minutes played.

Hawick continued to attack, and County were fortunate that the visitors couldn’t hold on to the ball within the home dead-ball area following a kick and chase, otherwise another try could have been concede by the hosts.

County worked their way back into the match, and Hope chipped over a 25-metre penalty after Hawick failed to roll away from the tackle, to take the score to 11 – 19 after 28 minutes.

Three minutes later, from a County penalty-line-out take just inside the Hawick half, the ball was moved from right to left and collected on the charge by full-back Bruce Sorbie who sprinted home from 35-metres, through the visitors’ rearguard, to touchdown close to the uprights, with the try converted by Hope, to bring the score close at 18 – 19 in the Greens’ favour.

Another quick break by County’s Sorbie and offload to left-winger Craig Pringle was stopped by an excellent last-ditch tackle from the Hawick right-winger Graham.

County’s Matt Emmison came on for Reyner Kennedy at hooker and Hamilton Burr replaced Adam Sinclair before the break.

Mark Hunter replaced Mike MacDonald at prop, as County attacked from the re-start, and Hope successfully kicked a penalty after Hawick were caught off-side, putting County back in front; 21 – 19 after 44 minutes. The home-side continued to press forward through the mid-channel and down both flanks, but couldn’t find a way through the well-marshalled Hawick defence.

County’s Kennedy and Sinclair returned to the pack in place of Emmison and Burr, before second-row forward Ruaridh Leishman finished off a running move involving Pringle and the industrious Shaun McDonald, to score a try in the left corner, converted from out-wide by Hope, to increase the home-side’s advantage to 28 – 19 with 57 minutes on the clock.

County emptied their bench in the final quarter, with Burr coming back on for No.8 Alex Taylor, Ross Jones for Sorbie at full-back, MacDonald for Hunter in the front row, Colin Turnbull for Alex Black at scrum-half and Emmison for McDonald, after the flanker picked up an eye injury.

County had the majority of possession and territory in the closing minutes, but could add to their tally, and ran out deserved winners of a thoroughly entertaining match in the Bridgehaugh sunshine.