The 1st XV finished 2023 with a stunning victory over Stirling County at Bridgehaugh, scoring 7 tries in the process.

Conditions were significantly better than they had been at Kirkcaldy the week before, with a bit of drizzle in the air and the pitch soft but eminently playable.

We kicked off playing towards the Wallace Monument (WM) corner and were 0-5 in the lead after only a few minutes, Curtis scoring out wide after a driven lineout close in. County missed a penalty shortly afterwards but made amends immediately, the home backs engineering a try in the corner at the Castle end of the ground. Kyle then missed a long range penalty before we embarked on a scoring spree in that same WM corner with further tries from Curtis, Hamez and George. Kyle added fine conversions to the first and third of those to put us 0-24 up.

A County back row scored a try near the posts on the 35 minute mark but that still left us 12-24 up at the interval. We had actually nearly claimed a fifth try just before the break but Mike Jamieson was stripped of the ball just short of the line in that same WM corner.

The Stew Mel supporters heading in for half time drinks looked a bit dazed – a try bonus point before the interval certainly wasn’t in the script! No chickens were being counted with regard to the final score, though – if we can score that many tries in 40 minutes, so can County!

Kyle extended our lead with a penalty not long after the restart, home flanker JC Brough seeing yellow at the same time. The hefty County pack weren’t daunted by this, though, nearly scoring under the posts on the 47 minute mark while enjoying a penalty advantage. We held them up on that occasion but didn’t manage to keep the home pack out after a tap penalty just a minute later. That trimmed our lead to 19-27. This was followed by a yellow to Hamez for a high tackle, albeit Mr Ferguson later made the bold claim that this was all George’s fault!

We rang the changes in the front row at this point, Danny Morrison replacing Rory and Mason Moir coming on for Morgan Thompson. Morgan assumed touch judge duties on the stand side thereafter and enjoyed some lively banter with the home fans after ruling that a fine touch finder had gone out on the full.

Just as Stew Mel bums on the sidelines were starting to squeak, our forwards embarked on another scoring spree that stretched our lead to 19-39. The first score came after the pack drove over at the Castle corner, Danny touching down, and the second after what Kyle later described as an ‘intricate’ lineout put Hayden in at the corner. Adam Fraser converted Danny’s try with a fine kick from near the grandstand.

It is to County’s credit that they didn’t let their heads down after this deluge of tries and they scored from another tap penalty with 5 minutes left to play. That made it 26-39 – surely we were home and hosed?

We were, as it turned out, the icing on the cake coming in the last minute when the pack drove over and Hamez claimed his second try of the match. Adam’s conversion made the final score 26-46.

What a performance this was from the boys! We were focussed in defence and ruthless in attack, our rock solid lineout providing the forwards with plenty of ball to work with. Our set piece was generally pretty solid while our back row put in a powerhouse performance that saw them claim four tries. Kyle called the shots well at 10 while Eubo remains our most creative back and a real threat at 15.

As captain Swordy reminded the boys in the post-match huddle, we had taken a bit of a doing the last time we played County at Bridgehaugh, going down 35-19 in November 2022. He recalled how the County players had been snapping selfies in front of the scoreboard after that game – it was definitely our turn for selfies today!

This victory leaves us sixth in the National 2 table with 25 points. That’s only two points ahead of Kirkcaldy, albeit we have a game in hand over the Fifers, and five points ahead of County. Berwick and Aberdeen Grammar prop up the table with 15 points apiece, Berwick’s points difference keeping them off the bottom. County and Berwick both have games in hand over us, though, so it’s important that we hit the ground running after the Christmas break and maintain our recent upturn in form. Our next game, against Falkirk at Inverleith on 13th January, will be an interesting yardstick after that 52-10 schooling at Sunnyside at the end of November – I have every confidence that we will be able to give Bill Faulds’s boys a game this time around.

I’ll end by congratulating our players and coaches for all the hard work they have put in during the season so far. Things weren’t looking great for while but the fact that we’ve recorded two fine away wins on the bounce shows you how far we have come. The 2nd XV have also had a fine end to the year, their 0-38 win away to Penicuik on Saturday meaning that we have claimed 20 league points across the two teams in December.

Rest up, boys (and girls) – we go again in January!

Bill McNie

Photography courtesy of Jax Mackenzie Photography