Solid opening performance from Newton Stewart for 2018/19 season
Impressive defence maintains clean sheet against Caithness
Newton Stewart RFC got their 2018/19 league season underway last weekend, welcoming far-travelled Caithness RFC down to Bladnoch Park. Having narrowly missed back-to-back promotions by a single point last year, the Reds must look to finish one better this season. Caithness have been promoted into National 3 this year from the Caledonian leagues, and with a 730 mile round trip to visit Bladnoch, they would arrive looking to make the long journey a worthwhile one.
Newton Stewart kicked off the game in very wet conditions and immediately looked to pressurise their opponents. Pushing forwards they started bearing down on the Caithness try line, but some determined work at the breakdown from the visitors secured them a turnover. Making to clear their lines with a long kick, the Caithness stand off put boot to ball only to find Reds’ centre Fraser Morton directly in the ball’s path. Finding the deflected ball land right in his hands Morton fell on it to claim the opening try. As the conversion kick narrowly missed Newton Stewart led 5-0 with four minutes played.
From the restart the hosts were back in possession and camped out within the Caithness half once again. Some sustained pressure from the Reds brought them very close to the try line several times, but handling errors prevented them crossing it. Determined not to leave with nothing however scrum- half Jack Gaw, making his competitive debut for the 1st XV, scored a penalty in front of the posts to extend the lead to 8-0.
Caithness looked to get into the game now and securing the ball they pushed forwards. A textbook tackle from hooker Thomas MacDonald on the wing took both the opposition player and the ball into touch to secure a line-out with Red throw in. Having collected the ball Newton Stewart went on the attack and looked set to score with numbers out wide. MacDonald made the wrong call however, passing when he should have back himself and the ball was lost forwards, a certain try butchered.
A spell of disjointed play followed with the slippery ball wreaking havoc and resulting in a number of knock-ons. From the chaos however some clean, flowing passes suddenly emerged from Newton Stewart and the backs gathered pace. Fraser Morton broke the gainline before finding winger Liam Brawls outside him. Brawls galloped across the line for another unconverted try.
The last quarter of an hour in the first half was predominantly played in the midfield, with Newton Stewart always looking the more dangerous side. Caithness did enjoy a period of possession, but the Red defensive line was immaculate and no gaps opened up for the visitors. Mark McCornick (capt) at flanker made a great instinctive tackle as his opposite man looked to step him, and when his fellow back row Jason McKie dived over the ball Caithness were pinged for holding on and the Reds took control once more.
Young prop Ross Campbell, also making his 1st XV debut for the Reds, was tasked with the throwing in for the lineout in this match and did well, the set piece reliable and effective in his hands.
Some frenetic play in the dying minutes of the first half saw some massive hits coming in from brothers William and Mark McCornick, and the referee’s whistle for half-time was welcome as tempers started to rise.
A long spell of midfield play opened up the second half, with no-one really threatening the line from either side. After some patient build up play however Newton Stewart made their way up to the right corner. A line out on the 5 metre line gave them an excellent platform from which to attack, and a driving maul was formed. Number eight Jason McKie rumbled over the line for the third try for Newton Stewart. Morton couldn’t make the conversion once again, the slippery ground making the run up tricky, and the score sat at 18-0.
The next twenty minutes saw the visitors most threatening spell of the game. In possession and bearing down on the Red try line, Newton Stewart were forced to work hard in defence. Discipline issue started sneaking in and Caithness were awarded a penalty from ten metres out. Their huge tight-head prop took the ball and attempted to bulldoze his way through the defences. Some spectacular low but powerful tackles came in from WIlliam McCornick and Jason McKie, forcing a knock-on from the visitors and giving themselves an opportunity to clear the lines.
Caithness, to their credit, kept coming back. Newton Stewart full-back Jamie Muir maintained a cool head under pressure when the visitors chased up a long kick to compete for the ball.
With fifteen minutes to play the Reds backs were looking to stretch their legs. Muir, along with the Morton brothers, Fraser and Russell, broke down the left wing and came close to scoring, however another knock-on at the critical moment thwarted their chance of a bonus point try once again.
Newton Stewart continued to play deep in the Caithness half. The visitors collected a loose ball however and made to kick their way out. The wet ground played it’s role once more when the kicker misfired and Fraser Morton monopolised again, collecting the ball and touching it down over the line before scoring the conversion as well. Full-time score 25-0.
Some challenging weather conditions hampered any real fluidity from either side, however Newton Stewart always looked in control in this match. Their defensive structure and commitment was excellent, with the McCornicks, Jason McKie, Ronan McDonald and Thomas MacDonald leading the way with brutal physicality.
There were some excellent performance around the park with the youngsters stepping up well to 1st XV rugby. The combination of Jack Gaw at scrum-half and Robbie McCornick at stand-off looks to be an exciting partnership for the Reds this season.
Man of the Match was Jason McKie. A natural leader on the pitch both verbally and by example, he carried the ball well off the back of the scrum, tackled ferociously and scored a try too.
Next weekend Newton Stewart travel to Haddington RFC and will look to continue this promising start to the league campaign.
Team: Jamie Muir, Robert Service, Calum Gaw, Fraser Morton, Liam Brawls, Robbie McCornick, Jack Gaw, Ross Campbell, Thomas MacDonald, Ronan McDonald, Connal McDonald, William McCornick, Mark Craig, Mark McCornick (capt), Jason McKie. Subs: Gavin Freeland, David Adams, James McMiken, Russell Morton