Despite being reduced to 13 men for the final five minutes of this match, Ayrshire Bulls managed to withstand a ferocious late onslaught from Southern Knights to secure the win which makes them the first ever champions of Super6.
"We started well and put ourselves in a good position, but there is always swings in momentum and one of the things we are trying to teach this team is how to control what you can control,” said victorious head coach Pat MacArthur.
"So, that's about the ability to keep to your systems and keep your shape, especially in defence, and we saw at the end there that the effort the boys put in to keep the Knights out was second to none. We were down to 13 men and under pressure but not one man took a knee."
The Bulls pushed themselves into a 13-0 lead in the opening half hour thanks to a well-taken try by winger Elias Cavan, and eight points from the boot of man-of-the-match Tom Jordan, but the Knights were never going to lie down without a fight, and two Jason Baggott penalties got them back into the contest by half-time.
Then, five minutes into the second half, the Borderers squared it, with their powerful line-out maul setting the platform from which Baggott sent Jacob Henry under the posts for an easily converted try.
The next 20 minutes was a game of cat and mouse, with Jordan kicking two more penalties for the Bulls against one from Baggott for the Knights, and it was all getting a bit tetchy.
Somebody needed to grab the game by the scruff of the neck, and it was Bulls loose-head prop George Thornton who took on that role, with a run-in from the 22 which featured some silky footwork to get past Murdo MacAndrew and some good, old-fashioned raw power to keep motoring for the line despite Angus Runciman’s last-gasp tackle.
But there was still 10 minutes to go, and Knights threw everything they had at getting back into the game.
Bulls first lost Jordan Lenac to a yellow-card for an off-the-ball challenge, then Tom Everard to a red-card for a high, swinging-arm tackle on Henry – who had to be treated for several minutes before being stretchered from the field, but thankfully did not need to taken to hospital.
“He is alert, sitting up and speaking with his mother who is with medical staff,” said a Scottish Rugby statement after the game.
When play resumed Knights redoubled their efforts but couldn’t find a way through.
“We could have, maybe, just about got there,” reflected beaten head coach Rob Chrystie afterwards. “There was a big moment when we got level, they kicked-off and we spun the dice a little bit when we perhaps didn’t need to.
“We gave ourselves a lot to climb after the first 20 minutes, when we were just really ill-disciplined, which is not really like us. The penalty count was definitely in their favour and rightly so.
“We had our chances but I think Ayrshire Bulls were a little bit more clinical and defended a little bit better than us as well.”
Southern Knights: J Henry (S Pecqueur 76); P Anderson, N Godsmark, B Wara (C Scott 55), S Pecqueur (A Mitchell. 70); J Baggott, M McAndrew (C Jones 70); G Shiells (S Gunn 49), F Renwick (R Anderson 49), E McLaren, D Suddon, A Runciman, H Borthwick, R Knott (A Ferrie 70), I Moody (D Redpath 25).
Ayrshire Bulls: M Davidson; A Tait (H Warr 710, R Beattie, T Williams, E Cavan (G Lowe. 63); T Jordan, J Lenac; G Thornton, A McGuire (R Tanner 59), M Scott (C Henderson 76), E Bloodworth, T Everard, R Sweeney Y Fantini, B MacPherson.
Referee: Keith Allen