Match Report from: Gary “Tag” Coupland
On Saturday 5th March, Annan 1st XV travelled to Greenlaw, Castle Douglas to take on high flying local rivals Stewartry in their latest Tennent’s West Region Division 1 league match. With both league points and the Chisholm Cup up for grabs, the fixture had the backdrop of beautiful clear blue sky and sunshine giving ideal conditions for the game.
Annan had yet another changed line up using their 38th player in the 1st XV in 11 league games, with a number of players unavailable due to Covid, injury and work commitments. That said it gave the coaching team the chance to try some different combinations and give some of the younger squad members a taste of highly competitive derby rugby.
From Kick off, the Annan boys took the game to Stewartry and had several minutes of pressure on the home line, retaining the ball for a number of phases, before the ball was turned over out wide right, which Stewartry exploited ruthlessly to go the length of the pitch and score a converted try. Adding a further in similar fashion a few minutes later.
Annan were then forced into a double substitution when two of their players, Calum Taylor and Fraser Hope, were injured in the same incident, being replaced by Ryan Armstrong and Ewan Campbell respectively.
The home side then exploited the disruption in the Annan ranks to score again. Annan were further disrupted when centre Ryan Hetherington sustained a knee injury and had to be replaced by flanker Wullie Gray with the Annan backline having to re-adjust with Elliot Haley moving into the centre position and Gray to the wing.
Stewartry again made the most of the disruption putting the game beyond doubt by scoring a further 3 tries before half time.
Half time: Stewartry 1st XV 42 v Annan 1st XV 0
Annan started the 2nd half again with some gusto and pressured the home side with sustained pressure inside the Stewartry half. Captain on the day Sean Haren was then replaced by Calum Smith, due to a neck injury and this seemed to spur the boys on with hooker Kieron Warrick scoring following a tap penalty 5 metres out from the Stewartry line. Josh Whiteside adding the conversion.
However the revival was shorted lived with Stewartry able to utilise their bench to great effect and Annan being reduced to 13 when Elliot Haley was yellow carded for a high tackle the home side turned the screw and the style on the tiring Annan defence to score a further 5 tries 4 of which were converted.
Final Score: Stewartry 1st XV 68 Annan 1st XV 7.
Congrats to Stewartry on a well deserved league and Chisholm Cup double win, accomplished with some sparkling rugby at times. Due to other results this now puts the Greenlaw men top of the league, with them having still to play the other title contenders. Good luck for the rest of the season and thanks for the usual warm welcome and hospitality.
From an Annan perspective, yes it was a heavy defeat, but when taking into account several players made their first outings in the team, were playing out of position and the disruptions caused by the first half injuries in particular impacted in terms of initial cohesiveness and match experience, all the boys who played stuck in well over the piece. They were always going to struggle against a settled experience Stewartry team who are deservedly riding high at present.
The injury list lengthens but this also gives opportunity for some of the younger and 2nd team lads to step up and compete for those positions with others who were unavailable or have to return from injury.
The 1st XV now have league fixtures every week until the 14th May. We currently sit in 6th position in the league so there is plenty of opportunity for the whole senior squad to step up both at training and on game days to get a bit of momentum back before the season ends and hopefully finish in the top half of the table.
Best for Annan on the day were Michael Thompson and Harry Houldey in the forwards and Aaron Carmichael and Josh Whiteside in the backs.
Annan Team: R Glass, K Warrick, K Watret, M Thompson, F Hope, C Taylor, H Houldey, S Haren (C), A Carmichael, J Whiteside, E Haley, R Hetherington, A Torbett, M Thorburn, J Kirby. Subs: (All used) W Gray, R Armstrong, E Campbell, C Smith.