Stirling County confirmed their status as the top under-18 side in club rugby this season by retaining their National Youth Cup title with victory over Ayr on the international pitch at BT Murrayfield with a performance that combined forward power, strong defence and accurate handling when scoring opportunities arose.
The Bridgehaugh side were winners in both the Conference matches this season but Stirling’s coach Matt McGrandles, pictured, reckoned that the cup final was a much harder victory. “That’s the third time we’ve beaten them this season. But this was not the same as the other two matches,” he said.
“This is a different environment and the match was much more competitive. Ayr stepped up to the challenge and made it a good game.
“We were probably a bit rusty today due to the lack of games since Christmas.”
Outstanding for Stirling were props Lachlan Mackay and Ben Mace, both players strong in the set-piece and formidable in open space. Behind the scrum County’s centres Craig Jardine and Calum Campbell defended trenchantly and when it mattered moved the ball with precision passing.
For their part Ayr put in crucial tackles when it mattered to prevent what intitially looked like a potentially big defeat.
“I thought the guys defended really well for most of the game” said the Ayr coach, Stuart Fenwick. “Their work in the contact area was good. Stirling were clinical when it came to taking their chances, and we probably left a couple of scores out there.”
Man-of-the-match Tommy Johnson opened the scoring for County with a try from a move ignited by Mackay’s surge. Next on the score sheet was Stirling’s livewire scrum-half Adam Shaw whose repeated sidesteps took him to the try line.
Fortunately for the game Ayr recovered from this early set back and looked to have scored when prop Jack Mcdougall crashed over. The referee ruled the ball to be held up but from the ensuing scrum Ayr moved the ball wide for wing Chris Easton to dive in at the corner.
County, looking sharp at the beginning of the second half, extended their lead with a try by Campbell from good ball transfer and following a tackle-breaking run by Mace.
A Mackay try and the conversion by Campbell put County further ahead before No 8 Andrew Rutherford barged over from close range, replacement Jonny Cook’s drop-kick conversion sealing a fine win.