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County's Indiscipline proves costly in the Snow


British & Irish Cup - Pool 2

Neath 35 - Stirling County 22

Kevin Robertson reports from The Gnoll

Stirling County completed their eventful debut season in the British & Irish Cup, finishing as credible runners-up in Pool 2, following a tough assignment at Welsh Premiership side Neath.

County endured an arduous journey to South Wales, reaching Cardiff at 3am on the morning of the match, after their travel plans were disrupted by the weather causing their Friday evening flight to be delayed by 7 hours. County arrived in the wintry Welsh Valleys keen to build on last week's strong performance against Bedford Blues. The visitors travelled without a number of regular players due to Heineken Cup duties for Sean Kennedy and Byron McGuigan and Scotland Under-20 involvement of Adam Ashe, Jamie Bhatti and Mark Bennett, along with unavailability of winger Rory Hughes. County brought back Johnny Hope, Matt Lamb and Ross Aitken in the back line, with Edinburgh elite development player Alex Black returning at scrum half. Jon Welsh replaced Mike McDonald at prop, with Jon's Glasgow Warriors colleague Ed Kalman on the bench. Ruaridh Leishman was drafted in to the second row as a late replacement for Rob McAlpine who was called-in to the Edinburgh squad on Friday afternoon.

The pitch at The Gnoll was covered with an inch of snow, but the ground was soft underneath and playable, and the Neath groundstaff did a good job of clearing the lines.

County started strongly, and from a penalty line-out take the forwards drove the Neath pack back a full 25 yards, allowing Alex Moffat to touchdown, with the try converted by Brian Archibald, giving the visitors a 7-0 lead after 3 minutes.

Danny Gilmour then had a chance to increase the visitor's lead, but the centre couldn't hold the scoring pass with the try-line beckoning. Following another penalty line-out catch and drive, prop Jon Welsh grounded the ball for County's second try, with Archibald adding the extras, to extend County's advantage to 14-0 after 14 minutes. Neath prop Owain Ford was yellow carded for deliberately pulling down a maul in the lead-up to the score.

County immediately let their hosts back into the match, and Neath winger Kevin James charged down a slack clearance kick and followed up to score an opportunist try, converted by Dean Cummins, making the score 7-14 on 19 minutes.

County continued to press forward, and Tim Clarke looked to have broken through

The Welsh All-Blacks defence but was tackled just short of the try line and was penalised for holding-on.

On 34 minutes, Bengy Barsanti was sin-binned for persistent infringement by County, and Cummins kicked the resultant penalty from 20 yards out to further reduce County's lead to 10-14. Four minutes later Neath were also reduced to 14-men after Rhys Jones was yellow-carded for a high-tackle within the hosts' 22, which allowed Archibald to re-establish County's 7 point lead. However a minute later Neath struck back with a long-range Cummins' penalty after County had strayed off-side.

Half-time: Neath 13 - Stirling County 17.

County brought on prop Ed Kalman for Garry Mountford at the break.

One minute into the second-half came the key turning point in the match, when Alex Black found himself in an off-the-ball tussle with an opponent, and after the pair squared-up the County scrum-half was sent off for allegedly throwing a punch. Surprisingly the Welsh referee didn't even speak to the Neath player, who was immediately substituted. With County reduced to 14-men for the remainder of the match, Jonny Hope moved to cover scrum-half. Neath immediately exploited the gaps in County's stretched defence, and following a quick-tap penalty, scrum-half Luc Jones ran 40 metres unchallenged to score a try, which Cummins converted to put the home side in the lead for the first time at 20-17 after 46 minutes.

Struan Robertson came on for Ruiriadh Leishman in the second row, with Robbie Boswell and Reyner Kennedy replacing Tim Clarke and Alex Moffat respectively. Steve Swindall took over the captaincy. Neath continued to make full use of their numerical advantage, and slack field kicking by County gifted the home side possession and territory, as they continued to keep the visitors pinned back in their own 22.

Cummins increased Neath's lead to 23-17 with a 66th minute penalty after County were adjudged offside.

Colin Hutton came on for Jon Welsh, Robbie Hogg for Matt Lamb and Colin Turnbull replaced Jonny Hope at scrum-half.

With 8 minutes remaining a clever cross-kick by Cummins caught out the visitors' defence napping, and Neath left-winger Chris Morgans scored in the left corner, converted by Cummins to extend the homeside's lead to 30-17.

Worse was to follow for the tiring County defence when they failed to kick the ball dead and inadvertently set up an opportunist try for Lloyd Philips who touched down in the right corner with 4 minutes remaining, gifting Neath a 4-try-bonus point win.

County's Stevie Swindall scored a last-minute consulation try for County, after another 20 yard drive by the forwards over the opposition line.

Final score: Neath 35 - Stirling County 22.

Scorers: Neath - Tries: James, L Jones, Morgans, Phillips. Conv.: Cummins (3). Pens.: Cummins (3).

Stirling County - Tries: Moffat, Welsh, Swindall. Conv.: Archibald (2). Pen.: Archibald.

Neath: K Davies, James, Phillips, Cummins, Morgans, Langdon, L Jones; Ford, A Davies, C Jones, R Jones, Griffiths, Evans (capt.), Collier. Replacements: R Davies, Clancy, Williams, Ward, Rees, M Jones, B Jones.

Stirling County: Hope, Lamb, Gilmour, Archibald, Aitken, Edwards, Black; Welsh, Moffat (capt.), Mountford, Leishman, Deacons, Swindall, Clarke, Barsanti. Replacements: Kalman, Kennedy, Hutton, Robertson, Boswell, Hogg, Turnbull.

Referee: A. Davies (WRU)

This was a useful work-out for County who dominated most of the first half but couldn't convert their superiority into points on the board. The second half was difficult playing with a man less against a mobile Neath side who moved the ball well in the wintry conditions. The experience of playing in the cross-border competition against top sides from England and Wales has undoubtedly benefitted the players and coaches, who will be looking to feature in the British & Irish Cup in the future.

Next Saturday (26 January) its back to domestic action when County entertain Boroughmuir in a vital match in the RBS Premiership - kick-off at Bridgehaugh is 3pm.

Thanks to County's main sponsor Ondeo Industrial Solutions and all others who continue to support the Club.

Rugby Round-up:

County's 2nd XV lost ground in National Reserve League One with a 19 - 37 defeat by Glasgow Hawks at Bridgehaugh. County's tries were scored by Ross Murray, Chris Faill and Craig Robertson, who also kicked one conversion, with the other conversion by Martin Hall.

County's 3rd XV / Bridgehaugh match against Panmure was off as was the Under-18s match at Strathallan School.

On Sunday, County's Under-16s defeated Gala 26 - 18 to progress to the quarter-finals of the Scottish Cup.

Next Saturday (26 January) County's 2ndXV are at home to Boroughmuir and the 3rd XV / Bridgehaugh are away to Carnoustie - both matches kick-off at 2pm. On the same day County's Under-18s entertain Hamilton in the National Youth Cup quarter-final. On Sunday (27th January) County's Women host Broughton in Premier 2 - kick-off at Bridgehaugh is 2pm.

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

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

Looking ahead, the next Members (and Guests) Social Evening is on Friday 1 February at 7:30pm - all welcome. A Family Ceilidh to raise funds for the Mini Rugby Easter Tour to Wales is on Saturday 2 February at 7:30pm - tickets from Peter Baxter / Rob Morris. The annual Sportsman's Dinner is being held on Friday 1 March - tickets available from Ally Logan. See website for details of all club events.

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