Game Week 5 of Scottish Premiership 1 saw Stirling County entertaining Glasgow Hawks after mixed starts to the season for both teams.
County have recruited the vastly experienced A J MacFarlane from Hillhead Jordanhill, to steady the ship at scrum half. A J is like an auxiliary flanker with his strength, and what he lacks in speed of foot or service, he makes up for in speed of thought and game management. He was up against another former HJ player in Hawks 9, Haddon McPherson, all sniping and darting, in the style of Mike Blair. Both 9’s spent time off the field with injuries, both returned to have a significant impact on the game.
County had also added the experience of Glasgow internationalists Peter Murchie and Gabriel Ascarate to their back line for this game, and it looked from the outset a question of whether their pack, with 4 players 21 or under in it, would win enough ball to release their backs into the game. In the end they did – but not before Hawks had bossed the game for significant periods, with Finlay Gillies, Ross Miller and Andy Kirkland to the fore in their forward effort. The experienced Mike Adamson and Brian Archibald swapped penalties in the opening quarter, before County, with Matt Larsen in the sin bin, fell asleep on a Hawks penalty which Mike Adamson took quickly, before slipping through for a try he converted himself. County gradually got back into the game, with the aggressive Rory Hughes powering over for a try after a nice lay off from the steady Archibald, who with a successful conversion & another penalty gave Stirling a 13-10 lead at half time.
Duncan Weir, having had a 10 minute cameo at scrum half in the 1st half while MacFarlane had a head wound treated, replaced his clubmate Murchie at full back for the second half. Ascarate was straightening the line well for Stirling, enabling their forwards to get more on the front foot, and it was hooker Alex Moffat who scored their second try 15 minutes into the second half, to stretch their lead to 18-10. After Mike Adamson pulled back a penalty, Ben Addison finished off a flowing backs move for Stirling to appear to give County a decisive advantage at 23-13 with 10 minutes left on the clock. However their determination to keep the ball in hand in an effort to score a fourth try and a bonus point, meant they failed to ‘exit’ their own 22, on at least 3 occasions, and eventually Hawks pressure paid off with Haddon McPherson sniping over for a try, which Adamson converted, and it was Hawks who gained the bonus point – albeit a losing one.
FT Stirling County 23-20 Glasgow Hawks
And so to the talking points in Scottish club rugby in the first month of the season:
Scrums Are the new rules of engagement working? Hard to say on the evidence so far. Both Glasgow and Edinburgh games were littered again this weekend with scrum collapses and infringements that stopped the flow of the game. County and Hawks managed at least to complete a few scrums – but then the issue was never as big last season in the club game as it was in the pro game.
Referee Abuse Another edict from Murrayfield suggested referees were feeling a little fragile on this one, and more effort needed to be made to show respect to the officials. One or two questions were asked off the touch judge’s competency by Finlay Gillies, but the players largely accepted the officials decisions, including the two yellow cards issued to County’s two lock forwards, one in each half. When the vastly experienced figure of Hawks coach Jimmy Sinclair, got a little excited at County’s second try, Andy McMenemy had a quiet word with him, and Jimmy suitably hung his head like a scolded school boy to take any heat out of the situation. McMenemy wisely chose to exercise some selective hearing and the game carried on without incident.
Place of Pros Gala coach George Graham has refused to use any pro players so far, and suggested the protocol is being a little misused by the pro teams this season. In one sense he has been vindicated for his consistent selection by Gala going top of the table on Saturday. On the other hand, 4 Glasgow pros got much needed game time here, without exercising undue influence, and another 6 Glasgow pros were watching from the stand supporting the club game, including Jon Welsh who has played twice for County this season, and who therefore came in match fit to Glasgow’s team on Friday to play Leinster.
Drug Misuse The sad story of Sam Chalmers, has been followed up this week by anonymous claims by another young player of widespread steroid misuse. Those claims have been strongly contested by club coaches and the SRU, and looking at this game I could see no sign of ‘unusual’ muscle development. In fact I would suggest the game still had place for slight young players like Robert Beattie, who started his first game for Hawks on the wing, and did a sterling shift as at scrum half for 30 minutes, and Sean MacDonald, the fast paced but slightly built County flanker. Other promising youngsters showed clear signs of steady development, year on year, not least James Bhatti, the County loosehead who had some aggressive runs in the loose, and Ross Murray, the former Dollar Academy Scotland U18 player, who stepped up to 1st XV level for Stirling and acquitted himself well.