Selkirk 3, Stirling County 7

Stirling County hang tough to deny spirited Selkirk side a famous victory


SO NEAR YET SO FAR. Selkirk wing Lee Jones just fails to ground the ball in the corner as Stirling County's players arrive on the scene in numbers, during Saturday's thrilling Premier 2 match at Philiphaugh. (Picture: Grant Kinghorn)

SELKIRK came within a whisker of pulling off a shock Premier 2 result at Philiphaugh on Saturday, when they had leaders Stirling County pinned on the ropes for the final 20 minutes of a bruising match, but were unable to deliver the killer punch.
The intensity of this gripping, no-holds-barred encounter was reflected in referee James Bell's yellow-carding of five players during the 80 minutes. Although disappointed by the result, home supporters must have been relieved to see Selkirk finally get up a full head of steam, after a string of less-than-convincing displays in recent weeks.
Trailing 7-3, it looked as though Selkirk had grabbed the lead in dramatic style early in the second half. Teenage wing Lee Jones made a scorching 80-metre break down the grandstand touchline, only to be denied a try in the corner by a brilliant last-ditch tackle from Stirling full-back Dave Adam.
Ultimately it was the visitors' rock-solid defence which proved the difference between the two sides, although the Selkirk players' frustrating tendency to give away penalties in crucial positions, and at wildly inopportune moments, also played a part in deciding the match's outcome.
Selkirk had the chance to take the lead after four minutes when the visitors strayed offside at a line-out, but David Cassidy's penalty kick drifted wide. At this juncture Stirling centre Sam Parlane left the field to have six stitches inserted in a cut his left eye.
Soon afterwards Scott Hendrie saved a certain score, after visiting scrum-half Graham Lindsay had fly-hacked the ball over the try line from a wheeled scrum, while a clever steal by Alan McDowall at the next ruck further relieved pressure on the home side.
Selkirk hit back when Hendrie was stopped near the corner flag following Cassidy's inside break, before Michal Adamczewski made good ground but was prevented from getting his pass away thanks to the attention of two visiting defenders.
Successive turnovers allowed Stirling to penetrate deep into Selkirk territory, and the home team only managed to keep the score-sheet blank thanks to two penalty misses by Brian Archibald in the 20th and 25th minutes.
Having been penalised minutes earlier for illegally taking down a rolling maul, Selkirk number eight Alister Heatlie received a yellow card for not retreating 10 yards, after Stirling had taken a quick tap penalty within spitting distance of the home try line.
Stirling's Justin Matheson then dropped the ball in the act of scoring, but the Kiwi number eight redeemed himself moments later by burrowing over for a try, after two missed tackles by Selkirk had allowed the visitors to pressurise the home line. Archibald's conversion put Stirling 7-0 ahead.
Next it was the visitors' turn to have a man yellow-carded, when scrum-half Lindsay received his marching orders for injudicious use of the boot at a ruck, and while he languished on the sidelines, Cassidy and Gavin Craig engineered a clever switch move to take play to the visitors' 22.
Just before halftime Adam had the chance to put Stirling further ahead, but his penalty attempt bounced off the left-hand post.
Three minutes into the second half Selkirk cut the deficit to 7-3 thanks to a well-struck penalty from Cassidy. This was the signal for the home players to grow in confidence and take the game to their opponents at every opportunity.
Despite launching a series of attacks, in which the centre pairing of Cassidy and Alistair Lyall played central roles, Stirling soaked up everything Selkirk could throw at them, aided by turnovers and yet more penalties being conceded by the home side.
After coming to within inches of scoring thanks to Jones' thrilling touchline run, Selkirk continued to turn the screw as the game entered its final quarter. An off-the-ball incident involving Neil Darling and Craig Deacons saw both men sin-binned, while another County player saw yellow soon afterwards following a late challenge on home skipper Darren Hoggan.
With the seconds ticking away, a clever break by Craig was carried on by Rob Taylor at full tilt, but the Kiwi prop was hauled down just short of the visitors' try line.
Selkirk's final chance to snatch victory came deep in injury time, at a line-out just five metres from Stirling's try line. Although taking cleanly, Rory Aglen and his fellow forwards were unable to control the ball, and a knock-on allowed the league leaders to clinch a hard-fought victory as the referee blew for no-side.

Next week Selkirk will travel to face Cartha Queen's Park in Glasgow, no doubt boosted by Saturday's greatly improved performance.

SELKIRK - G. Blair, S. Hendrie, D. Cassidy, A. Lyall, L. Jones, G. Craig, M. McVie, R. Taylor, D. Hoggan, A. McDowall, M. Adamczewski, R. Aglen, N. Darling, D. Rumney, A. Heatlie. Replacements - I. Walling, M. Murray, G. Patterson, R. Nixon.

Referee - J. Bell (Edinburgh Ref. Soc.).