St Andrews 1sts 21
Stirling 1sts 35
A Sean Murchie brace of tries was not enough to stop St Andrews sliding to defeat against a Stirling side that has come on leaps and bounds since the beginning of the season. Although the game was a largely even affair for much of the time, St Andrews made crucial mistakes at costly times and failed to take their chances.
This was in stark contrast to a Stirling team that made the most of a less talented squad and who were ruthless in making every opportunity count. They played a sensible game, recognising when chances were not available and kicking when necessary.
However, they never really looked like cutting open a solid St Andrews defence and were reliant on Saints’ carelessness rather than
their own ambition to score points.
St Andrews were too profligate in attack as players in the backs were guilty of attempting over-ambitious moves when under pressure or throwing away possession with loose passes when simply going to ground under the tackle would have been a wiser course of action.
The Saints may point to what many saw as inconsistent refereeing to partly explain their defeat, as a St Andrews player received a
harsh yellow card while Stirling appeared to be able to infringe at the break-down repeatedly without further censure than penalties.
However, this would simply paper over a worrying lack of composure in front of the try line which was the main cause for their failure to overcome plucky Stirling.
Part of the reason for this was that Stirling defended hugely well. Indeed, tackling and rucking throughout the whole game was powerful, with hard hits stopping runners in their tracks right across the pitch. Despite this, in the first ten minutes it looked like attacking rugby might be the order of the day as St Andrews mounted a string of raking attacks against the Stirling line.
Unfortunately for them, they were unable to finish any of them off with an incisive move and too often found themselves tracking back to pick up the clearing kicks of Stirling’s fly-half, who put in an impressive display of defensive kicking for the full eighty minutes.
It was after one of these kicks that the Saints made their first crucial mistake. Instead of clearing safely down the pitch he chose to attempt a cheeky chip over the on-rushing defender. The Stirling man caught the ball and plunged over the line for a converted try.
After this, St Andrews were always chasing the game and their frequent errors ensured they were never able to regain the dominance of the first ten minutes.
Murchie grabbed the first of his tries swiftly after the Stirling score through good hands in the backs but Stirling struck back almost immediately with another try after a lost St Andrews lineout, an area of the game where they struggled throughout.
Stirling built up their lead through a penalty before Murchie cut it back down to three points after an exciting break, chip and
chase from the St Andrews fly-half led to a period of pressure on the Stirling line.
From the restart, the Saints almost let a Stirling player tap down as they let the ball bounce about dangerously near their try line and were forced into giving away a scrum. This led to a penalty and another three points to Stirling who went into the break 20 points to 14 up.
St Andrews again started the half strongly and a mixture of good hands in the backs and powerful work in both loose and tight from the forwards allowed their full-back to plunge over for a converted try in the corner, bringing them into the lead for the first time.
However, this did not last long. Charging down a Stirling kick the Saints open-side flanker touched the kicker’s face in his follow-through. Although contact appeared minimal, the referee deemed it enough to be worthy of a card and St Andrews were forced to
spend the next ten minutes a man down.
Stirling took full advantage of this and scored a penalty and try during their period of numerical advantage. The try was not converted, leaving St Andrews within seven points of being able to draw level.
As a result of this, the game became cagey, as Stirling seemed loathe to allow St Andrews back into the game and St Andrews attempted to remain within touching distance. A raft of substitutions twenty minutes into the half by David Ross, the St
Andrews coach, gradually had the desired impact and, with just ten minutes to go, the Saints laid siege to the opposition try-line.
They swung left and right, advanced and retreated and finally created an overlap which, in a manner not totally dissimilar to recent Scottish performances, they managed to throw away.
This seemed to be the end of their challenge as Stirling took new heart from their stout defence. When St Andrews failed to deal with a kick hoisted high above the muddy field and allowed it to bounce, they paid the price.
It fell straight into the arms of a Stirling player who took full advantage of a communication mix-up to gallop almost to the Saints’ try-line before off-loading it to a supporting player who applied the coup-de-grace. After this, there was no way back and Stirling ran out 35-21 winners.
“We showed a lot of character and spirit,” said the obviously delighted Stirling coach, Millon Brown. “We defended really well for the first ten minutes and that break-away try really changed the game. We would have lost a game like that at the beginning of the season but we showed great spirit today.”
Not surprisingly, the St Andrews players and staff were rather less pleased with the outcome.
“I’m disappointed. It is really frustrating, but now we’ve got to look ahead and keep focus on our success on Saturdays,” said team manager Constantijn Bakker.
St Andrews prop Jake Starkey summed it up well when he sighed: “We were a little unlucky to lose the way we did. It was individual errors that cost us, but credit must go to a stubborn Stirling defence.”