BT National League Three



IRVINE's recovery from relegation trouble is in danger of being choked off after they let another winning position slip at Torrance House.

Victory for Irvine would have put them right back in the mix at the bottom of BT National Three, with East Kilbride going into Saturday’s match occupying the lowest safe spot – and this looked very much on the cards when the visitors opened up a 19-6 lead after 23 minutes – but defeat leaves them 12 points adrift of safety with nine games to go.

Irvine’s chances of beating the drop now depend on their home form, with six of those remaining games at Marress – including the visits of relegation rivals RHC, Dalziel and Livingston.

New signing Ryan Elliston made his debut partnering fellow New Zealander Jake Cresswell in the centres, and showed up well in attack – as well as scoring Irvine’s third try, converted by player-coach Blair Skipper – on those occasions the tourists were able to get him on the ball, which became fewer and further between as the match went on and the hosts took increasing control in the forwards.

Indeed, the only surprise in a largely one-sided second half was that it took as long as it did for the hosts to capitalise on their dominance, the winning tries eventually arriving in the last 10 minutes.

The first came from a cross-field kick from a quickly-taken penalty in the Irvine 22, which fell kindly for centre Dylan Hamilton to claim the touchdown on the left. It was a cruel way for Irvine to concede after holding out for so long, but nobody present could say it was undeserved on the balance of play.

Calum Blackwood’s conversion edged the hosts in front at 20-19 and he was soon lining up another, after Chris O’Neill was ruled to have scored despite the suspicion of a double movement. Blackwood failed to convert on this occasion, leaving the door open for Irvine to try to respond, which they duly did when presented with a series of penalties following the kick-off – but the tone was now irrevocably set, and Blackwood atoned for the miss at the death by slotting a penalty from in front to finally make the game, which had begun so promisingly for the visitors, safe.

Despite the concession of two early penalties, goaled by Blackwood, Irvine were largely in the ascendancy in the first quarter – and clinically scored a quickfire brace of their own.

After captain and leading try scorer Ruchin Filander had scored from a trademark peel off a close-range scrum to give Blair Skipper a textbook conversion, winger Nathan Murray finished off a slick backs move from an Ian Kerr kick-off return. Those, plus Elliston’s try after good work down the left by Craig Lang, looked to have put Irvine on course for a bonus-point win – until home scrum-half Richie Murray’s opportunist try four minutes later, converted by Blackwood, began the hosts’ comeback.

Irvine’s next two games are at home, starting with the visit of Perthshire on Saturday.

IRVINE: I Kerr; N Murray, J Cresswell, R Elliston, C Lang; B Skipper, C Turnbull; S Docherty, D Kirkwood, E Callaghan, J Doolan, T McHarg, K Lang, A Lang, R Filander. Reps: L Ferguson, A Robertson, J Carson, N McMillan.

Marress, meanwhile, only had a Craig Williams penalty to show for their efforts as they lost only their second competitive match since October 30-3 to local rivals Carrick. They next travel to Laigh Bent to take on Hamilton 3rds.