Much to the dismay of a number of loved ones, Valentine’s Day did not get in the way of another Wednesday Night Lights thriller, with the first XV progressing to the quarterfinals of the BUCS Trophy following a 32-15 victory over Stirling.
Whilst the score line suggests a comfortable victory and justified the pre-match optimism, the first half was a cagey affair in which Stirling were left to rue a number of missed opportunities to convert their territorial dominance into points.
Following a physical and fiery opening 10 minutes, the Saints were first in making their mark on the scoreboard, with captain Roland Walker scoring in the corner after a shrewd pick and go. Flyhalf Finn Murphy then made the conversion after a fantastic kick from the touchline.
The rest of the half belonged predominantly to Stirling, however, with St Andrews pinned back in their own half for long periods. Following a couple of sloppy handling errors which thwarted earlier scoring opportunities, the visitors eventually mauled their way over the line following a well worked set piece, with the unsuccessful conversion leaving the score at 7-5 to the hosts with 20 minutes gone.
It was then that Stirling really stamped their mark on the game, with the next period played largely in the St Andrews 22. Despite winning a number of penalties within kicking range, they opted for the corner on each occasion and tested the Saints defence to the full. A number of wayward lineouts epitomised Stirling’s wasteful first half display, however, and they will no doubt look back and pinpoint this as the turning point in the match.
Their winger did score in the corner with five minutes to go in the first half to put them 10-7 in front, but they were left to rue this wastefulness in the last play of the half, with Murphy slotting a penalty from 40 metres out to tie the game at 10 points apiece. This was an undoubted psychological boost for the Saints, heading into the break all square in the knowledge that they had played far from their best.
While Stirling’s first half display was characterised by squandered chances, the hosts’ second half display was anything but, with a number of individuals putting in match winning performances. Within five minutes, Michael Sutherland had put his name on the scoresheet after a number of well worked phases, with centre pairing Toby Hall and Scott MacGregor linking up beautifully before Murphy’s long pass set up the try.
The Saints’ increasingly expansive brand of rugby continued, with the elimination of errors paving the way for Stirling indiscipline. At the heart of this indiscipline was the scrum, with Dugald Berezford (up against the Scottish Universities’ tighthead prop) and Max Kaufman in particular causing havoc for their opposite numbers. Berezford was in fact the next player to get a try to his name with 15 minutes to go; a clever move assisted by a quick ball from scrumhalf Charlie Davies culminating in the decisive try. The missed conversion left the score at 22-10 and put daylight between the two teams for the first time.
By now, Stirling were jaded and seemingly resigned to defeat. The next score of the game was another St Andrews try, and perhaps the one that best summed up the gulf between the two sides. Having been awarded a free kick following a prolonged period in their own 22, Stirling opted to run with the ball rather than clear their lines and alleviate the pressure. The decision proved an erroneous one, with the home team piling on further pressure and the clearance kick not making it out of the Stirling 22. A penalty ensued from the resultant lineout, and having opted for the scrummage, the forward pack eased their way towards the try line and substitute Dan Cox was the man to put the game to bed. Following the successful conversion, the score stood at 29-10.
With the result now a formality, St Andrews could be forgiven for perhaps switching off, and they did so in allowing Stirling a consolation try with 10 minutes left on the clock. Two minutes later, they were presented with a five on one opportunity, but Walker made a big tackle and forced the knock-on before the Stirling centre could get his pass away. The final points of the game came from Murphy’s boot once again, a successful penalty kick taking the score to 32-15 and bringing his personal tally for the game to 12 points.
All in all, the result of the last16 encounter was a fair one, but the game hung in the balance until the hour mark. Stirling, who currently sit top of Scottish 1A, put in a brave performance, but ultimately succumbed to a better drilled and more complete St Andrews side. Speaking after the game, captain Roland Walker expressed his delight at the result, and spoke of a “massive appetite” within the squad to rejuvenate the season after a disappointing season in the league thus far. He is in no doubt that an extended cup run (they have not progressed past the quarterfinals in the last five years) would go a long way in achieving this, whilst providing some crucial momentum for the three remaining league fixtures. Key players Rob Lind and Jacques Sharam are also set to return from injury in the near future, which should prove a massive bonus to the team.
Hooker and club president Ben Peddie was equally as delighted with the result and reflected on a good day all round for the Rugby Club. They completed the “clean sweep,” with the first, second and fourth XVs all recording convincing victories. He too echoed the importance of a cup run and is looking forward to the season’s run-in following a difficult first semester in which the club lost their director of rugby, David Ross, whilst suffering 15 injuries to first XV players. Now, though, the team have a genuine chance of winning the BUCS Trophy (the quarterfinal will be played on 21 February in Sheffield), and every other team in the club has a good chance of finishing the season at the top of their respective league