ALAN LORIMER @ Mansfield Park
HAWICK achieved the victory they sought to secure their place in the BT Premiership next season after defeating a below-strength Melrose.
Having suffered from a paucity of professionals released to them over the past few seasons, Hawick were handed what could be counted as compensatory fortune of facing a Melrose side missing their Club International players. Melrose, however, have a solid reserve base and showed this with a competitive display in the first half before Hawick found their form to dominate proceedings after the break.
“We secured what we wanted to do, and I’m very pleased about that, but I thought we made it tough for ourselves in the first half.” said the Hawick coach, George Graham. “It doesn’t make any difference what kind of side Melrose put out, they’re always going to be tough opponents.
“We were perhaps a wee bit nervous in the first half. We couldn’t get any real phases together. But we managed the game much better in the second half.”
Hawick were expected to be the stronger of the two sides in the bizarre circumstances of playing against a Melrose team so palpably understrength. But in the first quarter Melrose took the game to Hawick and were the dominant side. Their forwards, with second-rows Aaron Welsh and Angus Runciman working hard in the boiler room and back-row Ruaridh Campbell prominent in the loose, produced some choice ball that tested the Hawick defence.
Melrose’s pressure resulted in an early score, a penalty goal by stand-off Jason Baggott. Hawick, however, playing into the Baltic wind that brought with it frequent snow showers, gradually worked their way into the Melrose half and were rewarded four minutes before half time with a try from a driven line-out by Allan Dell. The visitors came close to matching the Hawick effort when Patrick Anderson was put into space by Baggott’s deft pass and only a timely tackle by Hawick’s hard-working flanker Stuart Graham prevented a score, leaving the Greens with a slender 5-3 half time lead.
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Playing with the elements in the second half, Hawick were quickly into the stride with a close-range try by scrum-half Greg Cottrell and the conversion by Lee Armstrong. Then, from another driven lineout, prop Nicky Little was at the foot of a pile of bodies for try number three. All that Hawick needed now was the bonus point and it came courtesy of a dashing run by Graham and the finish by Dell. Armstrong converted and added the extras to a Bruce McNeil try.
In a final assault Dom Buckley benefitted from an Armstrong kick and a kind rebound off the base of the upright to score Hawick’s sixth try. The conversion attempt was given to retiring prop Matt Landels, whose successful kick brought warm and deserved applause from the Hawick supporters on a day that will be remembered and celebrated in the Borders town.
Hawick: D Graham; G Munro, K Davies, D Buckley, R Combe; L Armstrong, G Cottrell; A Dell, M Carryer, N Little, C Hamilton, D Redpath, R Gibson, S Graham, B McNeil. Substitutes: F Renwick, M Landels, S Muir, S Fairbairn, A Weir
Melrose: A Lockington; T Klein, P Anderson, G Wood, R McCann; J Baggott, B Colvine; D Elkington, R Ferguson, R McLeod, A Welsh, A Runciman, A Grieve, R Knott, R Campbell. Substitutes: B McLean, J Dobbie, T Brown, S Hutchison, A Hall.
Scorers: Hawick: Tries: Dell 2, McNeil, Little, Cottrell, Buckley. Cons: Armstrong 3, Landels.
Melrose: Pen: Baggott.
Scoring sequence (Hawick first): 0-3, 5-3 half-time, 10-3, 12-3, 17-3, 22-3, 24-3, 29-3, 31-3, 36-3, 38-3.
Referee: G Ormiston.
Man of the Match: Matt Carryer lived up to his name. The burly Hawick hooker carried ball effectively to create holes in the Melrose defence
Talking point: At the stage in the season when Hawick had a record of played 10, lost 10, it looked certain that the Greens would be relegated without even so much as a play-off. But the turn-around under George Graham has been remarkable and should not go unnoticed in higher echelons of Scottish rugby.
Hawick have had ill luck with their allocation of professionals over the past two seasons and were perhaps due to be dealt a kind hand at some stage. It certainly came in the shape of an understrength Melrose side and the release by Edinburgh of Darcy Graham and Alan Dell.