Glasgow Hawks 32
Currie Chieftains 37
DAVID BARNES @ Balgray
WHILE both sides will recognise that there were some fairly significant flaws in their respective output during this match, they will also feel pretty encouraged by the general tenor of their overall performance.
Hawks had given away 20 points in as any minutes before firing a shot in anger, but came roaring back into contention during the final quarter, and had a real chance of winning it at the death. Given the trials and tribulations endured by Fin Gillies’ men in recent months, such fighting spirit must be applauded.
“That is full credit to the players,” said the Hawks coach. “If we can cut out a few wee errors, soft penalties and so on, then that is going to make all the difference – but we’re running out of weeks. I’ve said to the players that our point of difference can be to just do the basics better than we did in 2018 – we can pass better, we can tackle better, we can win one or two more collisions, we can give away one or two less penalties, and that really will make a real difference.”
So obvious and understandable frustration, but it was two valuable bonus-points gained which moves Hawks just that little bit further away from Edinburgh Accies at the foot of the table. And when you are at the bottom looking up, every little moral victory really does count.
Chieftains, meanwhile, showed why they are genuine play-off contenders with an exhibition of clinical finishing in the first half, and a fair bit of grit to not only hold on, but also win back the initiative, during a frantic finale.
“We played some really good stuff with the ball,” reflected Mark Cairns, who took over as Chieftains head coach at the turn of the year from his Super 6-bound brother Ben. “I think in matches where you are ahead you can get a bit indisciplined in defence – whether that’s poor individual decisions which leave holes, or penalties which are given away – so, we got ourselves into a bit of a rut and the boys really had to fight it out in the end. I’m really happy that they managed to do that.
“January is huge for us,” he added. “If we win all our games then we’ll be in the play-offs, with an opportunity to get a home semi when we play our last league match against Accies in March. So, even though I would rather have played this game before the Christmas break, to have already had a game in January has allowed us to prep really well and I’m really confident now going onto three massive games against Melrose, Watsonians and Heriot’s.”
Gregor Hunter gave the visitors an early lead when Thomas Gordon charged down Liam Brims’ rather too casual clearance and Scott Peffers was penalised for holding on after flopping on the loose ball; and the Chieftains stand-off doubled his and his team’s account before the game was seven minutes old with another easy three points from in front of the posts when Hawks were penalised for tackling a player without the ball.
The away team’s lead was extended to 13 points when Hawks’ midfield defence opened up like the Red Sea to allow Gordon to stroll home unchallenged from first receiver after a line-out win at the tail; and there was another easy score five minutes later when Matt Hooks found himself in acres of space in the outside centre channel for a 25-yard run-in.
Finally, Hawks woke up. Brims pulled three points back with a 22nd minute penalty, then Fraser Hastie’s excellently delayed pass set second-row partner Andrew Kirkland galloping up field, but the home team were just a little bit too frenetic when they got into the red zone and had to make do with another three points from their stand-off’s boot after Chieftains were called for hands in the ruck.
That seemed to settle Hawks’ nerves, and all of a sudden they were right back in it when a huge tackle by Bruce Flockhart in the middle of the park turned the ball over, Angus Fraser made good ground with a bustling run and, after a quick recycle, Mark New stepped inside his man to finish the score off. Brims added the conversion from near the right touch-line for good measure, while Chieftains winger Steven Hamilton was yellow-carded for blatantly coming around the side of a ruck during the build-up to that score.
Despite being a man down, it was Chieftains who struck next, with Robbie Nelson powering home and Hunter adding yet another conversion; and the visitors had the bonus point wrapped up just before half-time when Vince Wright got the score from a line-out drive.
Hawks’ inability to keep hold of the ball at the start of the second half gifted Chieftains winger Ben Robbins an opportunity to squeeze over on the left and extend his team’s lead, which he gratefully accepted.
Both sides were reduced to 14-men when Hawks openside Charlie Thompson took out Chieftains scrum-half Roan Frostwick with an off-the-ball shoulder charge, and Robbins retaliated with needless dunt from behind on Thompson as he got back to his feet.
Replacment scrum-half Kaleem Baretto appeared to have sent James Couper over on the left a few minutes later but there was a foot in touch. Unperturbed, the hosts kept plugging away and, after a good spell of continuity play, they got their reward when Baretto eventually sent number eight Gary Adams over.
Creator became finisher when Baretto scrambled in from close range with about five minutes to go, and the race was on for the fourth try which would also secure the losing bonus-point. Hawks set about their task with admirable gusto – New burst out of the 22, Couper probed menacingly on the right wing, Baretto kept momentum high and Brims pulled the strings – but it was the pack who eventually made the breakthrough, when a ruck penalty was kicked to the corner and the line-out was driven over for hooker Angus Fraser to score.
With Gillies exhorting his troops from the touchline to summon themselves for one last cavalry charge, Hawks came again and had Chieftains stretched – before the ball was turned over and the visitors charged to the other end of the park.
Hawks ended up conceding a tricky but kickable penalty which would have meant the losing bonus point evaporating if Hunter had gone for the sticks, but Chieftains were happy at the end of an exhausting contest by kicking the ball dead. Which meant that both teams got what they deserved out of this game.
Glasgow Hawks: S Peffers; J McCready, M New, L Mesaga, J Couper; L Brims, P Boyer; G Strain, A Fraser, L Skinner, F Hastie, A Kirkland, B Flockhart,C Thompson, G Adams. Subs: J Gemmell, P Henderson, C Crozier, K Baretto, C Symes.
Currie Chieftains: J Forbes; B Robbins, M Hooks, R Nelson, S Hamilton; G Hunter, R Frostwick; A McWilliam, F Scott, M Argiro, V Wright, M Kelly, S McGinley, T Gordon, T Tameilau. Subs: G Carson, R Patterson, F Watt, R Davies, C Davies.
Referee: D Sutherland
Glasgow Hawks: Try: New, Adams, Baretto, Fraser; Con: Brims 3; Pen: Brims 2.
Currie Chieftains: Try: Gordon, Hooks, Nelson, Wright, Robbins; Con: Hunter 3; Pen: Hunter 2.
Scoring sequence (Glasgow Hawks first): 0-3; 0-6; 0-11; 0-13; 0-18; 0-20; 3-20; 6-20; 11-20; 13-20; 13-25; 13-27; 13-32 (h-t) 13-37; 18-37; 23-37; 25-37; 30-37; 32-37.
Yellow cards –
Man-of-the-Match: Currie Chieftains openside flanker Thomas Gordon is consistently excellent. He is on a partnership contract with Glasgow Warriors and will hopefully get a chance to test himself at that level at some point soon – although there is an awful lot of competition in Dave Rennie’s back-row.
Talking point: As Mark Cairns pointed out afterwards, Currie Chieftains face three huge games during the remainder of this month, against Heriot’s at home, then both Watsonians and Melrose away – after which we will know if they are serious contenders to be the last ever Premiership champions.