We’ve had some fantastic rugby occasions in Scotland over the last few weeks, with Scotland winning two 6 Nations games in row, Scotland U20’s matching that achievement, and Glasgow completing a record breaking run of bonus point wins to take them to the top of the RaboDirect PRO12.
Club rugby has done its best to serve up its own contribution to this appetising smorgasbord with Heriots having a successful marketing exercise to ‘#fillthestand’ last weekend at home to relegation-threatened Boroughmuir, Stirling County outplaying Gala to end the braw lads league chances, and Ayr wrapping up the RBS Premier 1 title with a 7-try win against Currie, in front of a large ‘Ladies Day’ crowd that was featured superbly by BBC Alba on Friday night.
With all these headline games, no wonder Saturday’s quarter finals of the RBS National Cup felt a little bit ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’, as the 4 Scottish representatives in this year’s B&I cup joined the competition, with away ties against the 4 regional cup winners.
At Millbrae, Ayr hosted Stirling County, who had done them a big favour last week. Pro players are not allowed to play in cup games, but EDP players are and this can cause a slight imbalance in team sheets. Ayr had to leave out Glasgow’s young pro, Nick Campbell, who has featured prominently for them in recent weeks, but Stirling were able to play Sean Kennedy, who has made a much bigger impact in Glasgow colours this season, because he is still on an EDP contract. There was an interesting tussle at stand off where Finn Russell lined up as an EDP player attached to Ayr against Stuart Edwards who used to keep him out of the Stirling County line up and forced him to move to Falkirk to get a game.
Ayr, unsurprisingly after last week’s efforts, were a bit off the pace in the first half. There was a lack of accuracy and a loose-ness about their work, which combined with spilled passes, poor choices, and botched chances caused them to go behind early on. Kenny Murray, their coach, was not impressed and let them know in no uncertain terms when the players stood behind the posts watching Brian Archibald convert a penalty-try awarded to Stirling, when the same player was taken out off the ball, while chasing through his own grubber kick. It was a full 30 minutes into the game before Ayr put a few phases together, allowing Andy Dunlop to plough over for a try, which with Russell’s conversion brought Ayr to half time rather fortuitously at 10-10.
Murray changed things significantly at half time. McConnell replaced Jericevich at scrum half, Wisnewski, Sykes and Doneghan came into the pack. Immediately there was a more direct threat to their game, with the muscular McConnell directing the traffic, and Doneghan joining Forrester in giving an aggressive lead to their forwards. Although Archibald added a penalty for Stirling to edge them in front 13-10 shortly after half time, the tide turned Ayr’s way with 3 pacey tries in a 12 minute burst in the 3rd quarter of the game. The hard running Richard Dalgliesh scored the first, before the irrepressible Craig Gossman side-stepped and scampered his way over for the next two, with movement reminiscent of Peter Horne’s great tries in recent weeks for Glasgow.
Callum Forrester then laid down the law to his side, letting them know that he expected 15 minutes of solid defensive work, and that is exactly what he got as County never looked like breaching the Ayr line.
So Ayr are into the semi-finals, where they are joined by last year’s winners Gala, and the highly motivated Melrose and Dundee HSFP, who will be both be determined to end the tenure of their present coaches with a cup win. With coaching vacancies at Edinburgh just now, the SRU would do well to keep an eye on the work of all 4 coaches leading up to the semi-final – they have all created set ups committed to developing players, deepening team work and motivating success.
Meanwhile, in Premier 1, Heriots beat Boroughmuir for the 2nd week in a row with a last minute try to get themselves right into the mix for B&I cup qualification & leaving Boroughmuir clinging to their Premier 1 status by their finger tips. Raeburn Place, Edinburgh Accies v Stirling County, next Saturday lunchtime, is now a crucial game in deciding who might be under threat of relegation with them.