BT West One



IRVINE's hopes of a top-half finish in BT West One suffered a setback as they opened 2017 with defeat to Garnock at Lochshore

The visitors outscored the hosts by three tries to one through Ryan Elliston, Siya Moabi and Jama Ntenga, but four penalties and a conversion from the boot of Garnock’s Keir Walker added to Jared Reekie’s try immediately after half-time proved the difference.

Head coach Kris Finneran has overseen a substantial improvement in Irvine’s defence in his five games in charge since succeeding Blair Skipper in October – they have conceded an average of 1.8 tries per game over that period compared to 4-4 in the first nine games of the season – but it scarcely matters how well a team defend in open play if they repeatedly give away penalties in kickable positions.

Fifth-placed Annan moved nine points clear of Irvine with four games remaining courtesy of a 6-3 win at Oban, and with their run-in including the visit of Allan Glen’s – who are on a run of four straight defeats in the league – and back-to-back meetings with Helensburgh – whose upset win at Marress remains their only victory of the season – before Irvine are due to visit, overhauling the Violetbank side now looks a tall order.

Irvine are next due to entertain East Kilbride before travelling to Glens.

There was little indication of what was to come in the first half, with Walker yet to find his range in the tricky conditions and Irvine playing the better of what rugby managed to break out despite the hosts being in the ascendancy for long periods.

And it was the visitors who broke the deadlock on the half hour, Elliston gathering his own chip ahead to dot down under the posts after a needless forward pass by the hosts – as they committed the cardinal sin of trying to play rugby out of defence – had gifted Irvine the ball. He converted his own score for a 7-0 lead.

Garnock’s David R Miller was well marshalled into touch on the stroke of half-time as the home side sought to hit back, but they did not have much longer to wait as right from the kick-off centre Jared Reekie darted down the left flank to get them on the board at last. Walker’s conversion squared it up.

Elliston missed a chance to put Irvine back in front from the kicking tee, but on 52 minutes Siya Moabi crossed on the right to crown another incisive move by the tourists. Elliston was unable to add the conversion, which proved crucial as by the hour Walker had added two penalties to put Garnock back in front at 13-12.

A further penalty put the home side 16-12 up with eight minutes to go after they had produced some good defence of their own to deny Moabi a second try, but it looked like Irvine might just edge it when Ntenga scored their third on 75 minutes. Elliston was again unable to land the goal however, and two minutes later Walker made no mistake with his own penalty to ensure only one point would be going down the road to Irvine.

GARNOCK: Rory Walker; Ally Anderson, Jared Reekie, Jordan Taggart, Callum Harris; Chrissy Neill, Keir Walker; John Miller, Richard O’Neill, Luke Wynn, Lewis McGeachy, Jonny Watson, Stuart Wilson, David R Miller, Matt Shiells (capt). Replacements: Graeme Reid, David Miller, Joe Chapman, Fraser Brocket.

IRVINE: Jama Ntenga; Neil McMillan, Christopher Hobson, Jake Cresswell, Siya Moabi; Ryan Elliston, John Carson; David Kirkwood, Ben Auld (captain). Ewan Callaghan, Allan Thomson, Jonathan Goodlet, Jamie Doolan, Ben Sekgobela, Ruchin Filander. Replacements: Craig Stevenson, Alan Nugent, Scott Cook, Craig Hobson.

Tries: Elliston, Moabi, Ntenga. Con: Elliston.

Meanwhile, there was better news for the 2nd XV, who moved into second place in BT Reserve West Two with a 16-8 away win over their Cumnock counterparts.

They now have a free weekend before entertaining Kilmarnock