Stirling County 29, Selkirk 30

Injury time heartache for Stirling, but Selkirk do enough to ensure bonus point win

STRETCHING A POINT. Gavin Craig throws himself over Stirling's line for his second try of the game, following a textbook scrum pick-up by number eight Scott Tomlinson (partly obscured).

THE width of a goalpost ultimately proved the difference between victory and defeat at Bridgehaugh on Sunday, with Stirling County and Selkirk serving up a pulsating Premier One contest in which the lead changed hands no fewer than four times.

Having successfully kicked four penalties and a conversion, Stirling centre Brian Archibald lined up an injury time penalty attempt which would have given the league's bottom-placed club its second win of the season. With both sets of supporters holding their breath, Archibald's well-struck kick looked to be heading inside the left-hand post, only to drift wide at the final moment.

Even so, more drama awaited. Selkirk's 22 drop-out was fielded by Stirling and run straight back at the visitors. From the next ruck the ball was moved to the right, and fly-half Robbie McGowan attempted a snap drop-goal which flew wide right. Selkirk's next 22 drop-out kick was again returned with interest, but instead of keeping possession Stirling opted for a grubber kick, allowing Fraser Harkness to gather the ball and hoof it gratefully into touch. Game over.

Afterwards Selkirk coach Kevin Barrie praised his players for a gutsy display. "Bridgehaugh is never the easiest of places to visit, and we knew how much was riding for the home club on this match. The boys didn't help themselves by conceding two tries in the first 10 minutes, but they got back into the game straight away and worked hard from then on.

"It could have gone either way at the end, but scoring four tries away from home is no mean feat, and I thought we deserved the win. Sitting third in Division One at the league's halfway stage is a great achievement, and all credit to the boys for working so hard over the past three months. I still think there's more to come from the side, so no-one's going to be resting on any laurels in the second half of the campaign."

Making his first senior start of the season for Selkirk was fly-half Michael Rutherford. The former Scotland under-19 threequarter turned in a typically steady performance, and his 100 per cent goal-kicking record was a huge plus-mark in such a closely-contested encounter.

The man he replaced at stand-off, Gavin Craig, demonstrated his versatility by slotting seamlessly into the inside centre berth, with his eye for the gap and quick acceleration bagging the 22-year-old a first ever hat-trick of tries. Full-back Fraser Harkness was in equally positive form, scoring a try and launching a series of counter-attacks from deep to keep the home defences on red alert.

Despite making a bright start, Selkirk found themselves 7-0 down after eight minutes when a Ross Aitken break led to a try by Chris Faill, converted by Archibald. Shortly afterwards County went further ahead when Craig Deacon's touchline run was finished off by Graham Lindsay, the try putting Stirling 12-0 in front.

On the 20-minute mark a dangerously high tackle on Lee Jones by Mark Hunter earned the Stirling prop a yellow card, and the visitors made their superior numbers count during his absence with a brace of scores from Gavin Craig.

The first came from a turnover which saw Ross Nixon provide the scoring pass, while the second followed a well controlled scrum on the home try line which ended with Scott Tomlinson picking up and offloading to Craig, who dived over near the posts.

An Archibald penalty put Stirling 15-10 ahead, but the visitors hit back immediately. Craig's thumping tackle on Paul Wilson (later voted Stirling's Man of the Match) set up a ruck just outside Selkirk's 22, where Eddie Gauché forced a turnover. Rutherford chipped behind the Stirling defence, and the ball was hacked upfield by the chasing Fraser Harkness. The full-back kept his cool to dribble the ball over the line, before falling on it for the visitors' third try. Rutherford's conversion put Selkirk ahead for the first time.

Soon afterwards the second yellow card of the match was shown to lock Eddie Gauché for retaliation, and during the South African's absence a second Archibald penalty and a try from number eight Deacons handed the initiative back to Stirling. On the stroke of halftime Rutherford's well struck penalty saw the teams change ends with County ahead 23-20.

Selkirk made the more positive start to the second period, McVie's well judged kick pinning Stirling back on their own 5-metre line. At this juncture a leg injury saw Rory Aglen replaced by Simon Willet, with Rutherford levelling the scores from another finely judged penalty soon afterwards.

More Selkirk pressure followed, culminating in the visitors' fourth try of the afternoon. The ball was fed left to number eight Scott Tomlinson, whose delicate chip over the home defenders saw Gavin Craig race forward to pick up the bouncing ball and sprint home for his third try. Rutherford's conversion sailed over to put the visitors 30-23 ahead.

Selkirk prop Alan McDowall was then forced to retire to the sidelines after sustaining an accidental head knock, necessitating Gordon Patterson's swift return to the field. This was the signal for Stirling to throw everything into attack, and two more penalties from the boot of Brian Archibald took them to within a point of the visitors.

With both sets of supporters yelling themselves hoarse, and with the tension cranking up relentlessly, the match's defining moment came when Stirling's Brian Archibald lined up his injury time penalty attempt. The pressure on the goal-kicker was immense, and there was an audible groan from the stand as the centre's kick drifted agonisingly wide.

This Saturday Selkirk play their third consecutive away match against Currie at Malleny Park, with an early kick-off time of 12.15pm.

TEAM EFFORT. Selkirk's players and coaches line up for an impromptu photo call after Sunday's dramatic victory at Bridgehaugh. (Photos: Grant Kinghorn)

SELKIRK - F. Harkness, S. Hendrie, R. Nixon, G. Craig, L. Jones, M. Rutherford, M. McVie, G. Patterson, S. Forrest, R. Taylor, R. Aglen, E. Gauché, N. Darling, C. Johnston, S. Tomlinson. Replacements: A. McDowall, M. Murray, R. Crockatt, S. Willet, G. Blair.

Referee - Ted Coutts.