Stirling County.......13


BT Premiership

By Kevin Robertson at Bridgehaugh

STIRLING COUNTY are virtually certain of their place in next season's BT Premiership, despite this latest defeat to Heriot's on Saturday.

The Edinburgh side out-muscled their hosts to complete the league-double over the Bridgehaugh men on the day.

However, County would have to lose their final league match at home to Melrose by 116 points to find themselves in the relegation play-off position – a highly unlikely scenario.

The Stirling men were again without first choice props Adam Nicol and Fergus Bradbury, captain Callum Hunter-Hill in the second-row and outside-centre Craig Pringle, all with the Scotland Under-20 squad.

County were forced to make further changes to their team that narrowly lost at Watsonians the previous week, with Mark Hunter starting at tight-head prop in place of the injured Colin Hutton.

Chris Fusaro, released from Glasgow Warriors, came in to the forward pack at open-side flanker.

In the backs, youngster Andrew McLean, who last week scored the winning try for County's Under-18s in their National Youth League Cup Final triumph at Murrayfield, made his 1st XV debut at outside-centre.

In the Bridgehaugh sunshine, Heriot's attacked strongly from the kick-off and kept County pinned back in their own 22 for much of the first 15 minutes, as the visitors launched a series of assaults on the home line, but the Stirling defence held firm.

Heriot's signalled their attacking intentions after nine minutes, when they choose to kick a 22-metre centre-field penalty to the corner, but County held up the visitors line-out drive, and were able to clear from a relieving penalty.

However, three minutes later Heriot's took the lead when powerful Edinburgh professional centre Solomoni Junior Rasolea received the ball from John Semple, and broke through the County defence to score the opening try to the left of the posts, converted by scrum-half Tom Wilson, putting the Goldenacre side seven points ahead.

County responded and from their first incursion into the visitors' half, Heriot's were penalised for not rolling away from the tackle, and skipper Jonny Hope kicked the 25-metre penalty goal to reduce the leeway to 3-7 with 17 minutes played.

Six minutes later Wilson converted a penalty for Heriot's after County were caught offside on their 22, restoring the visitors' seven-point advantage.

County came more into the match, with their scrum earning two penalties, before a loose clearance by Heriot's full-back Charlie Simpson was collected by home winger Logan Trotter who sprinted 40-metres down the left touch-line to score a try in the corner. The conversion was missed, taking the score to 8-10, with 34 minutes on the clock.

Just before half-time, a controversial refereeing decision had a profound outcome on the match. As Heriot's drove over the home try-line, the ball came loose and before it could be touched-down, a County player was able to boot the ball clear. The referee initially

awarded a try, but when he was advised by the touch-judge that a try had clearly not been scored, he inexplicably awarded a penalty-try to the disbelief of the home support. Wilson duly added the conversion from in front of the posts, to give Heriot's a nine-point lead at the break.

Chasing a bonus-point victory Heriot's started the second-half in determined fashion and after a period of sustained pressure on the home line, scrum-half Wilson eventually found a gap in the stretched County defence to score his side's third try, which he converted to extend the visitors' lead to 8-24 on 45 minutes.

County were forced into further changes in the forwards, with Craig Black and Matt Emisson replacing Mark Hunter and Reyner Kennedy in the front row, and Andrew Grant-Suttie coming on for Adam Sinclair in the second row.

The home side refused to give up and from a 10-metre penalty line-out catch and drive, tight-head prop Mike McDonald was driven over by his battling pack for a try in the right-corner on 57 minutes, to take the score to 13-24.

County's Sinclair returned in place of Hamilton Burr in the forwards, with Colin Turnbull replacing scrum-half Matt Donaldson in the closing stages.

Heriot's continued superiority up front saw County's Craig Black sin-binned with 12 minutes remaining, as the weakened home scrum repeatedly buckled under intense pressure, as the visitors encamped in the home 22. Despite repeated infringements, the referee surprisingly chose not to award a penalty try, County survived and eventually cleared the danger.

However on 70 minutes the home-side were reduced to thirteen men when No.8 Ruaridh Leishman was harshly yellow-carded for what appeared an innocuous collision deep in the Heriot's half. This gave Heriot's further impetus and eventually their attacking pressure told in the final play, six minutes into injury time, when full-back Simpson finished off a slick passing move to sprint down the left channel, throw a dummy and squeeze in for an unconverted try in the corner, to secure a bonus-point win for his team.

After the match, County Head Coach David Adamson said: "having lost four key players to the Scotland Under-20s squad, we are not too down about this result. We felt the game was there, but when your scrum is going backwards like that it was tough."

County drop to eighth position in the BT Premiership, with one match remaining at home to second-placed Melrose on 11th March.

In their next match, Stirling County host Boroughmuir in the quarter-final of the BT Cup on Saturday, March 4. Kick-off at Bridgehaugh is 3pm.

Stirling County: Jonny Hope (capt.), Shaun McDonald, Andrew McLean, Alex Black, Logan Trotter, Ross Jones, Matt Donaldson; Mike MacDonald, Reyner Kennedy, Mark Hunter, Adam Sinclair, Hamilton Burr, Alex Taylor, Chris Fusaro, Ruaridh Leishman.

Replacements: Mathew Emmison, Craig Black, Andrew Grant-Suttie, Colin Turnbull, Logan Bonnar. Heriot's – Charlie Simpson, Robbie Mulveena, Solomoni Junior Rasolea, John Semple, Robert Kay, Rory Carmichael (capt.), Tom Wilson; Martin Bouab, Michael Liness, Struan Cessford, Russell Nimmo, Callum Marshall, Michael Maltman, Jack McLean, Struan Dewar. Replacements: Ali Johnstone, Stewart Mustard, Clarke Smith, Alex Hagart, Gavin Parker.