A SPIRITED Helensburgh side fell at the first hurdle in this year’s West Regional Shield after a 23-3 loss to Strathendrick on Saturday – but the Grizzlies showed signs that the shoots of recovery have well and truly taken root.

A formidable Fintry outfit dominated both possession and territory at Ardencaple, but resolute defending, and a never-say-die attitude will bear well for the Burgh this season.

Burgh vice-captain Ali Rogers said after the game: “We put in a strong performance until midway through the second half when our outside defence let us down, as we started to gamble a bit too much against a team that scored more than a thousand points last season.

“It’s a matter of confidence and I think we’ve got the stuff in our locker to start winning games.

“It’s about mentality, and I would say that rather than consolidation this season, we’ve got to be looking at being up there come the end of the campaign.

“We need a good tight five, a good platform off first-phase ball which we didn’t have today, then we need to stop the negativity of loss, loss, loss.

“And I think if we can keep the guys fit, we’ll have a good season.”

In front of a large home crowd, the early exchanges of Helensburgh's first competitive match of the season were tight, but Endrick had total scrum dominance, and were limpet-like over any ball Burgh had, turning them over early and often.

After just 12 minutes, Burgh had a narrow escape when a missed pass in the Greens’ midfield was hacked on by a visiting back, and only quick-thinking athleticism by Rettie denied the opening score.

Burgh bravely withstood this opening salvo, with Calderwood, Fraser and scrum-half Kinsella to the fore in defensive duties.

A promising midfield break allowed Burgh a rare foray into Endrick’s half but with numbers wide, the ball was knocked on.

Resolute defending – and lenient application of the forward pass rule by the referee – kept the visitors out, and indeed, Burgh had the opportunity to open the scoring after 24 minutes when Endrick were penalised for crossing. Unfortunately, Court’s attempt sailed wide.

He redeemed himself just two minutes later when Endrick were pinged for offside, and the successful penalty gave the Greens a 3-0 lead, somewhat against the run of play.

Strathendrick were stung into action and took play deep into Burgh’s 22, with wave after wave of attack only repelled by some desperate defending by the home side.

After half an hour Burgh buckled and Endrick levelled the scores from a penalty in front of the posts.

And straight from the restart, a series of breenges up the Burgh midfield saw the ball moved left and the Endrick number 14 went over for an unconverted try.

Howell and Rogers were linking well and one 40 metre gain took Burgh into opposition territory, only for the visiting loosehead to turn-over what had been a promising opportunity.

Insult was added to injury when Ramsay received lengthy treatment for a head knock.

At half-time, Burgh trailed 8-3 – but Endrick increased their lead just five minutes into the second period, when some strong-running in the centres cut holes in Burgh’s rather lacklustre defence, and the Fintry men crossed for another unconverted try to open up a 13-3 lead.

With veteran Oli Curtis on at nine, Burgh benefitted from his tactical kicking nous, as the Greens sought territory at least.

But the visitors scored again after 55 minutes after pinching a Burgh lineout – in truth, a disaster area for the Greens all day – and rampaging up the right wing to touch down.

Tiredness crept in and players started dropping off tackles as Strathendrick’s superior fitness told, and a fourth try followed inside the closing 10 minutes, a carbon copy of the third apart from the fact a dozen players were swapping handbags on the half-way line as the winger romped over.

But in spite of the result, Burgh can be proud of their efforts against a powerful visiting side whose dander is obviously up, having gained successive promotions since being relegated to West League 3 in 2016.

As a barometer for the season ahead, it should provide the Burgh with the self-belief that that winning feeling in competitive rugby is just around the corner.

Burgh: Howell, Rettie, Rogers (c), Welch, Court, Bowman, Kinsella, Ramsay, Feltham, Ard, Higgins, Calderwood, Simmons, Green, Fraser. Subs: Alton, M.Kinsman, Wain, Fletcher, Serafini, Curtis.

Helensburgh’s first team have no game this Saturday; their next fixture is the club’s opening match in West League 2 on September 1, when Bishopton are the visitors to Ardencaple.

* Report by Calum McNicol; pics by Mike Bastock.