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  British & Irish Cup – Pool 2

 Stirling County 21 - Bedford Blues 24    

 Kevin Robertson reports from Bridgehaugh

 Stirling County came close to beating Bedford Blues, with a late comeback, in another enthralling match at Bridgehaugh.

County were keen to build on last week’s Premiership win in Aberdeen and were bolstered by props Ed Kalman and Jon Welsh from Glasgow Warriors, with Kalman starting; and Scotland Sevens flying winger Rory Hughes returned from injury to give more attacking options.  Bengy Barsanti returned at No.8.

 Bedford Blues, who are currently joint-second in the English Championship, came into this match having taken maximum points from their previous four British & Irish Cup - Pool 2 matches, and had convincingly won the earlier match between the two clubs at Goldington Road in October.   

 Bedford played with pace from the first whistle, and after attacks down both flanks, centre Ollie Dodge found a gap in the stretched home defence before putting supporting open-side flanker Tom Arnes in for  the visitor’s opening try under the posts on 7 minutes, converted by James Pritchard.  County responded, and from a penalty-line out inside the Blues half, the ball found Mark Bennett (below right) who broke through the centre but couldn’t find the final pass to supporting winger Rory Hughes.  However from the resultant Blues line-out five-yards out from their try-line, Robbie Boswell stole the loose throw to the tail and scored a try unchallenged, converted by Brian Archibald to tie the scores at 7 – 7 after 10 minutes.

 Bedford continued to press forward with their fast open running style of rugby, and regained the lead on 21 minutes when the visitors forwards drove County back over their own try line from 10 yards out, and hooker Chris Locke was at the back to touchdown, giving the Blues a 12 – 7 advantage, with the conversion missed.

 County defended well and weathered the Blues attacking play for the remainder of the first half with resolute, if at times unorthodox, defence.

 Half-time score:  Stirling County 7 - Bedford Blues 12.

 County brought on props Jon Welsh and Colin Hutton for Ed Kalmam and Mike McDonald at the start of the second half.  Bedford extended their lead on 48 minutes when the Blues pack gathered a line-out and drove forward before releasing the ball out to winger James Stephenson who sped over the try line to score, converted by Pritchard.  Three minutes later and the Blues secured the bonus point and qualification to the quarter-finals of the competition with their fourth try scored by Mark Atkinson, following a length of the field move finished off by the inside centre in the right corner, making the score 24 – 7 in the visitors’ favour.

County brought on Reyner Kennedy for Alex Moffat at hooker and Danny Gilmour for Johnny Hope in the backs, and to the homeside’s credit they came straight back at Bedford, and scored a try on 56 minutes when a break by Bennett following a scrum on half-way, carved open the Blues defence and the centre drew the cover before precisely off-loading to winger Byron McGuigan who scored, with the conversion by Archibald (below left) reducing the leeway to 14 – 24.

 Tim Clarke replaced Steve Swindall, and Struan Robertson came on for Bengy Barsanti.  The Blues were reduced to 14 men when Darren Fearn was sin-binned for blatant offside.  County exploited the numerical advantage and McGuigan sprinted down the right side-line to score his second try which Archibald converted to make the score 21 -24 with twelve minutes remaining.  This set up a grandstand finish to excite the large crowd, and County threw everything at Bedford, and only a last ditch tackle in the final play prevented County scoring in the left-corner. The Blues held-out to narrowly win the match and maintain their 100% record in securing top spot in Pool 2, County remain in second place.

 Final score:  Stirling County 21 - Bedford Blues 24.

 Scorers: Stirling County – Tries: Boswell, McGuigan (2). Conv.: Archibald (3).   

Bedford Blues – Tries: Armes, Locke, Stephenson, Atkinson.  Conv.: Pritchard (2).

 Stirling County:  Hope, McGuigan, Bennett, Archibald, Hughes, Edwards, S Kennedy; MacDonald, Moffat (capt.), Kalman, Leishman, Deacons, Swindall, Barsanti, Boswell. Replacements:  Welsh, R Kennedy, Hutton, Robertson, Clarke, Gilmour, Turnbull.

 Bedford Blues: Pritchard (capt.), Stephenson, Dodge, Atkinson, Kohler, Vass, Baldwin; Reeves, Locke, Cooper, Howard, Rae, Gillanders, Barrell, Armes.  Replacements: Cochrane, Boulton, Fearn, Gulliver, Vandermolen, Price, Burke.

 Referee:  N. Correll (IRFU).

 This was an encouraging result for County, and Head Coach Graeme Young will be looking to take the positives from this match into the crucial forthcoming RBS Premiership encounters

 Next Saturday (19 January) County visit Welsh Premiership side Neath in their final British & Irish Cup – Pool 2 match – kick-off at The Gnoll is 2pm.

 Thanks to County’s British & Irish Cup match sponsors United Auctions and Anderson Strathern, club sponsor Ondeo Industrial Solutions and all others who continue to support the Club.

 Rugby Round-up:

 County’s 2nd XV beat Dundee 29 – 18 in a bonus-point win to continue their upward progress in the National Reserve League One.  County are now third with games in hand on the leaders.

 County’s 3rd XV / Bridgehaugh beat Bannockburn 22 - 5 in Midland Division Four. 

 County’s Under 18s beat Perthshire 20 – 8 to maintain their 100% record and secure the Midland Division One title.  Try scorers were Oliver Westley (2) and Adam Woods. 

 Next Saturday (19th January) County’s 2ndXV are at home to Glasgow Hawks in National Reserve League One, and the 3rd XV / Bridgehaugh are at home to Panmure – both matches kick-off at 2pm at Bridgehaugh.  On Sunday (20th January), County’s Under 16s entertain Gala in the Scottish Cup Quarter-Final – kick-off at Bridgehaugh is 1pm.

 Members are reminded that the next Pre-match lunch is on Saturday 26 January before the next home RBS Premiership match against Boroughmuir. Please contact Alastair Cunningham (07718 922284) or the Club Office on 01786-478866 to book your place.

 Stirling County’s annual fund-raising Race Night is being held on Saturday 26 January at 7:30pm – a few places are still available – please contact Ally Logan for details.



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