Bridgehaugh. Such an inspiring place to play rugby. Flanked by the Wallace Monument & Stirling Castle, the ground echoes with calls to be Brave, to play with Freedom.
County have as good a record as any in Scotland of producing high quality youngsters at home. Gilmour, Edwards, Kennedy, Boswell and Ashe are just the latest incarnations of home-made age-grade internationalists in their line up. Led by the nuggety Alex Moffat, they were without their talismanic No. 8 Stevie Swindall. Stevie’s love for Jaffa Cakes perhaps gave him problems in his pro days but he was looking lean & mean on the touchline here.
Simon Cross, with flowing mane and elegant suit, looked every inch a modern general as he surveyed his troops & their tactics from high in the stand. His battle plan was a mixture of the youthful pace of Farndale, Watson and solid grit – Berthinussen, Teague, and Campbell having been around Raeburn place long enough to see the 3 Blairs come and go.
Ref Malcolm Changeling warned his assistants before kick off it would be a fast paced game. He was right.
Accies set the tone, with Reid breaking off a 5 metre scrum on his own line, countering 20 metres, then seeing the ball through the swift hands of Douglas, Farndale and Bonner. It was captain Teague who touched down for the first score. Bonner added the extras and a penalty soon after put them 10-0 up after 10 minutes.
Back came Stirling, and how. Deacons, whose grey hair is rivalled only by Graham Fisken in the Scottish game, dominated early line outs in his bright yellow skull cup. Edwards kicked to put County in good positions, and a dominant second quarter saw them run in 4 tries in quck succession through Ashe, Hughes and McGuigan (2). With only a Bonner penalty in reply, County turned a 10 point deficit into 14 point lead of 27-13 at half time. And all this without the bloodied warrior Boswell who left the field after 25 minutes, never to return.
General Cross descended from his gantry to give some tactical direction at half time. Black, Berthinussen, and Ewen Campbell, all sturdy muscle, punched up the middle a bit more in the second half, before spinning the ball left & right. Within 10 minutes of the re-start the scores were level with tries by Gavin Douglas & Greg Campbell.
County’s Kiwi coach, Graeme Young, was energised on the touch line with ‘1-2-3-4-5!!!’ advice for the excellent Malcolm Changeling. ‘How could he drop THAT?’ cried an octogenarian at Danny Gilmour as both teams started to tire.
Mistakes multiplied. County increasingly looked to Warriors imports Troy Nathan & Byron McGuigan to conjure something up and they didn’t disappoint. The bearded Nathan crossed for try number 5 after some slight-of-hand and Archibald converted to make it 34-27 with 8 minutes left.
Accies were frantic. Their back row tyros Reid & Watson combined in the last minute for their bonus point fourth try and left Bonner facing the Wallace Monument with the last kick of the game to tie the score.
For the first time all day he missed, giving Stirling County the win 34-32.
Hero of the day: Simon Webster. Every time he touched the ball he was thumped to the ground by double tackling County beef. A nice quiet return to the club game for the ex-pro. Keep going, Old Man.
Villain of the day: Rory Hughes. Spent the day mouthing at his opposite wing Farndale, drew a warning from Mr Changeling & still managed to celebrate the win at full time with a volley of foul language. Grow Up Son.
“Celebrity” Spot: Sometime correspondent of these pages Fraser Gillies was commanding affairs for Accies 2nd XV next door.
Spectator Experience: Engaging Welcome from a ‘Games maker’ whose been volunteering here 27 years. Good value burgers & home baking. Informative PA. 8/10