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U18s Match Report

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Newton Stewart U18s 27 – 0 Birkmyre/Garnock U18s.

Today’s U18’s report won’t provide the usual blow-by-blow account of the game – they failed to score so there is little jubilation to confer to committed Garnock supporters; instead, below are some thoughts from the coaches to the players on how they might improve and develop as individuals and as a squad – it should also provide a flavour of the game to those who are interested.

For those who are unaware, Garnock and Birkmyre rugby clubs have elected to pool resources at the U18 level this season providing coaches with the luxury of selecting from nearly 30 players (The Bee Gees U18s). This was a frustrating loss for the B/G’s and the margin of defeat is by no means a fair reflection of the game; it was a very tightly contested affair.  The defeat can be attributed to some poor decision-making, some missing players, and quite a bit of misfortune.  On another day the result could easily have gone the other way – so what can the squad learn?

The Squad:

Forwards: Fergus Young, Aaron Armstrong, Kyle Reid, Jay Hyslop, Manu Clark, Tom Scott, Tom McGuinn, Adam Stevenson,  Alex Shearer. Backs: Per Jacobson , Jamie Muir, Rory Dominy,  Evan Sandford, Ross Adam, Chris Rooney, Matt Richmond.

First, the positives. 

  • Set Pieces.  Generally, these went well. The B/Gs lost a couple – but won a couple – of scrums against the head; there were no problems here but there was a suspicion the front row would have benefited from rolling substitutions and some well-earned rest – Newton Stewart did and looked fresher at the final whistle.  The B/G’s clearly had the ascendency in the lineout; initially this was a closely contest but Jay Hyslop (jumping at 2) and Tom McGinn (at 4) worked out their opponents who gave up competing on our throw, and made only half-hearted attempts on their own (or threw over the top). This was a clear advantage to the B/G’s but perhaps they did not make as much use of it as they should have.
  • The Breakdown. The breakdown was keenly contested by both teams, with neither side gaining a particular advantage – credit to our smaller and less experienced back row. Again, with one or two back row players unavailable, and a few playing out of position, this is an area where with a full bench they hope to excel in the home fixture in November.
  • Defence.    Defensively the B/G’s we generally very good.  There were some tremendous ground-shaking tackles from Ross Adam, Jamie Muir, Rory Dominy and Matt Richmond that set their opponents backwards – but there were others as well.  The defence around the fringe was also generally good denying the bigger NS forwards much gain-line success.
  • Attack.  On two occasions, our two make-shift centres (Jamie Muir and Rory Dominy) worked the only back line overlaps from either side in the game. In both instances the final pass was good, but in both cases the ball was fumbled in the opponents 22 with the undefended line ahead. A seasoned international or two will do this in every game so there’s absolutely no blame here – it’s just unfortunate that in a fixture where there were so few knock-ons from either side, these were the two that counted and 10-14 points went begging.

Second, the ‘Work Ons’

  • Look After the Ball.  The B/G’s crossed the NS try line twice but couldn’t ground the ball due to upright body positions (- another 10-14 points gone!). There were several other occasions when ball carriers were lured into contact too upright, perhaps with a mind-set too intent on physically dominating their opponents and not on recycling the ball – turnover! One of NS tries came from a similar failure of the B/Gs to retain the ball in their own 22; the B/G’s had possession but were under pressure and instead of calmly taking the ball infield and to ground, re-setting, re-cycling and completing a calm exit strategy, they got too excited and elected to fling the ball carelessly away from the contact zone – twice in succession – the outcome was inevitable!  This is a recurring theme in their play and a clear ‘work on’ for the squad; each has to take responsibility to change their mind-set and always remember – retaining possession of the ball is the FIRST priority.  Yes, to some it looks dull, but it will win games (disregard what Sony Bill and Quaid Cooper tell you!).
  • Take Responsibility. Generally, the tacking was very good, but two of NS tries came from their ball carriers starting deep in their half and running at pace straight through the middle of our team to score under the posts (14 points!).  These may have been the only five or six missed tackles from the BG’s in the whole game, but they all came at the same time and were decisive; those who could have made those tackles and didn’t should have a word with their team mates – enough said.
  • Consult and Make Good Decisions.  Some of the decision making was poor at times. On six occasions the BG’s were awarded a penalty in or near their opponent’s 22m line; on each occasion the decision was made to take a slow tap penalty and attempt to crash the ball over the line – on each occasion the NS defence was too good and the B/G’s walked away with no points. These were eminently kickable positions and could have secured 18 points! An intelligent alternative perhaps was to kick for the corner and use their superior lineout – from just 5 metres, maybe 30 points!  There is nothing wrong with a quick or organised tap penalty of course, but at this level teams rarely score by grunt alone, defences are too strong, some guile is usually required as well.  This is another ‘work-on’ – and their coaches will teach them some tap penalty plays. The most important point, however, is they need to assess what is happening during a game and adjust accordingly – play to strengths not weaknesses – I can confirm from experience that continuously banging one’s head against a wall is usually rewarded with nothing more exciting than a severe headache.  The re-starts were not always perfect (the kicks at times were a little too long, to the wrong receiver, and the chase was too feeble) resulting in tackles back on the half way line; with a little consultation and communication this can be fixed.  What was not clear to the coaches on the side-lines was who made the decisions and who – if anyone – was offering advice to help them. No one is advocating the formation of an on-field Committee, but sometimes the front three (sometimes unjustly criticised for their lack of cerebral clarity) none-the-less may have worked out an advantage that the back three is unaware of, and vice-versa.  Such information needs to be conveyed to the decisions makers – talk to each other during the game, offer advice, and collectively reflect on outcomes as the game progresses (what is working and what is not). Ultimately the Captain or Pack Leader will make the decision – but help them.


Overall, the performance was good; 27-0 sounds a heavy defeat but that wasn’t a fair reflection of the game – the boys played well and should take some pride in their performance.  Set play, breakdown, and defence was good – at least as good as Newton Stewart’s.  They encountered some misfortune and made some (easily corrected) errors.  Yes, they are currently bottom of the table, but Oban (at home) are up next Saturday. It is still possible to win this league but a full squad of 22 will be required each week, and some honesty and application is required to learn from individual and collective mistakes. Newton Stewart is likely to be one of the strongest opponents, and from Saturday’s performance the squad should be confident that NS are beatable, but  nothing should be taken for granted.

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