Kirkcaldy 24 Garnock 31
Thirteen years after his Murrayfield "debut" - Garnock's scrum-half Paul McCrorie had reason aplenty to celebrate during this afternoon s Scottish Hydro Electric Shield Final. Mascot for Scotland’s international against South Africa when the stadium re-opened in 1994, McCrorie was one of the ‘big boys’ today - and how, with his hat-trick of tries, the last coming four minutes from time, seeing off a gallant Kirkcaldy side. After the opening two games of the day provided both entertainment and excitement the Scottish Hydro Electric Shield final was an eagerly anticipated match.
Garnock and Kirkcaldy both having finished the season well placed in their respective leagues, so the game promised to be a close encounter between two in-form sides.
Kirkcaldy settled into the match early and quickly established a lead. The first points came through a penalty from stand-off Quintan Sanft in only the second minute.
A handling error from Garnock’s big haired number 8, Ross Miller, handed Kirkcaldy possession in the midfield and after a couple of quick phases flanker Stuart Wilson was released down the wing. However Miller redeemed himself with an important tap tackle. Kirkcaldy retained possession from the resulting breakdown though and in their eagerness to defend the Garnock back line strayed offside. Sanft confidently converted from in front of the posts.
Kirkcaldy struck again almost straight from the re-start. The ball was gathered and immediately moved across the field to the opposite wing. Jordan Webster the Kirkcaldy number 11 made a confident break being pulled down just inside the 22. Garnock then repeated their previous offence and were caught offside. Sanft made no mistake with his second attempt in as many minutes.
Kirkcaldy were not allowed to enjoy their lead for long and Garnock struck back with the opening try of the match in the seventh minute. The chance game after a mistake from Sanft showed his kicking from hand wasn t as accurate as his place kicking as he shanked a clearance sideways into touch. Garnock gathered the lineout and the forwards drove on. Paul McCrorie then spotted a gap down the blindside and with an impressive turn off pace exploited it to cross the line.
It was not the Garnock captain and scrum-half’s first taste of glory at Murrayfield having been Scotland’s first ever team mascot in the 1994 test versus South Africa. Fullback Kurt Jacobsen then added the conversion to bring the score to 7 - 6.
The scoring slowed down but the tempo of the match remained high with both sides competing up front and no one dominating play.
It was Garnock who managed to score next. Some good build-up work and strong rucking from the pack gave the backline an attacking position and after some smooth passing number 11 Stuart White cut in from his wing to score under the posts. Jacobsen again added the extras and Garnock had a 14 - 6 lead after 25 minutes.
Garnock were in the ascendance and the forwards were making yardage and recycling the ball well. Half an hour in Garnock again found themselves on the 22 and this time Kirkcaldy’s discipline let them down as they conceded a penalty for killing the ball. Paul McCrorie was on hand to take the three points on offer.
Kirkcaldy then rallied and had two good opportunities to score a try of their own before half- time. First a clever box kick from scrum-half Chris McConnell saw the two opposing number 11s chasing to touch the ball down in the in-goal area. Luckily for Garnock, White just had the edge over Webster.
Kirkcaldy were well situated in Garnock’s 22 though and a few minutes later they fashioned another clear chance. Kirkcaldy’s impressive hooker and captain Greg Wallace burst down the middle and quick handling created the opening only for the ball to be fumbled forward on try line. That was the last significant action of an entertaining half, ending 17 - 6.
Kirkcaldy started the second half in the same way they finished the first and in the 42nd minute got their reward. An infringement at the breakdown giving Sanft another shot at goal which he easily converted.
Kirkcaldy were back in the match but their joy was short-lived. In possession in the centre of the pitch a speculative pass was thrown and Paul McCrorie, who was leading by example, latched on to it for the interception. He still had a fair amount of work to do but his pace and balance allowed him to make the run in from the half-way line look easy. He then converted his own try to give Garnock a 24 - 9 advantage.
Kirkcaldy were in danger of being cast adrift if they didn’t act soon. Act they did, though, and only three minutes after Garnock had scored Kirkcaldy struck back. A tapped penalty in the centre of the pitch was spun wide where flanker Gavin Neilson finished in the corner like a leading winger. Unfortunately, from wide out, Sanft was unable to make the conversion.
The match was closing up and becoming tense. Paul McCrorie who was excellent throughout proved he was fallible by missing a penalty in the 56th minute, though it was from nearly 45 metres out. After this let off Kirkcaldy were able to advance up the field and again close the gap, captain Wallace bursting over from close range to score at the base of the post. It was a deserved score for a player and pack that had continued to fight for the whole game. Sanft converted from in front of the posts to leave Garnock with only a three point lead.
Either side were capable of winning the match at this point and the match was ready for a moment of brilliance. Kirkcaldy’s fullback Willy Berry duly obliged with a magnificent run from his own goal line past several defenders all the way to the opposition 10-metre line. Though he was unable to go all the way his run saw Kirkcaldy back on the attack and soon, just as in the first half, Garnock were caught offside. Sanft’s consistent display continued and he converted the penalty to level the game with only eight minutes remaining.
The drama could not have got much more intense and the possibility of extra time looked very real. However in the 76th minute Paul McCrorie showed once more why last season he won the National 2 Player of the Year award. Picking the ball up from the base of a scrum he again spotted a gap and went for it. His run into the corner completed his hat-trick and confirmed his place as man of the match. He then added the conversion from right on the touchline to put Garnock 31 - 24 up with three minutes to play.
Kirkcaldy didn’t give up and managed to get deep into Garnock territory but were unable to fashion the chance they need. Garnock were able to win the ball and, as it was smashed into touch, last year’s beaten finalists were able to celebrate victory.
Scottish Hydro Electric Shield
Garnock - Kurt Jacobsen; Andrew Lyons, Christopher Neill, Michael Jamieson, Stuart White; Gareth McCrorie, Paul McCrorie (captain); Andy King, Jamie Holmes. Alan Brocket, Jamie Brocket, Ryan O Neil, Stuart Wilson, Fraser Thomson, Ross Miller
Subs (all used) Iain McKinnon, Grant Ruxton, Gary Porter, John Miller, Robbie Hair, Peter J Eadie, Jamie McNab
Kirkcaldy - Willy Berry; Iain Gillies, Colin Harvey, Mark Wallace, Jordan Webster, Quintan Sanft, Chris McConnell; Mark Thomson, Greg Wallace (captain), George Mangalo, Matt Harvey, Kenny Fraser, Ryan Murphy, Gavin Neilson, Craig Wilson
Subs (all used) Gavin McKenzie, Liam Neilson, Jamie Watson, Alan Tasker, Andy Marshall, Willie Gray, Stevie Mitchell
Referee: Andy Ireland (Grangemouth)
Scottish Hydro Electric Man of the Match: - Paul McCrorie (Garnock)