Currie Chieftains 3
DAVID BARNES @ Mansfield Park
THIS represents a remarkable turnaround for Hawick from the start of the season when they were on the sore end of a 42-7 scoreline at Malleny Park, with a combination of organisation, discipline and good old-fashioned grit being more than enough for a well-deserved victory.
“What an amount of character the boys showed out there,” said elated home coach George Graham. “To be under the cosh for that last ten minutes and have the discipline and fortitude to say: ‘You’re not scoring today, I don’t care who you are’ – was brilliant.
“If I’m being honest, I’m pretty disappointed they got those three points at the end because it would have been a really nice to have nil-led them. But I’m taking nothing away from what the boys achieved today. It just goes to show what we are capable of doing if we look after the ball and execute our plays. There was a lot of good rugby played there.
“Shawn Muir was mammoth today in terms of his scrummaging, and I think we could have got a lot more penalties because their tight-head was going down onto his knee all the time and the ref was resetting which gave them another chance.
“The back-row played well. Bruce McNeil was, as usual, a pain in the arse – but you want that pain of the arse to be in your team. Stuart Graham was excellent, too; but my man-of-the-match was Drew Davison, who was outstanding – he put their ten under a lot of pressure and got through a lot of good tackling.”
Discipline is key
The losing team may feel hard done by, but ultimately know that they have only themselves to blame. They coughed up too much possession and were on the wrong side of a 17-7 penalty count.
Chieftains made the early running, with Robbie Nelson bursting through McNeil and Lee Armstrong in midfield to take play to within five metres of the Hawick line, but then lost possession to a knock-on. A few minutes later, the visitors threatened again when Joe Reynolds shot out of his 22 on an outside break and fed Ben Robbins for what looked like being a routine run-in from halfway, but youngster Andrew Mitchell showed phenomenal pace to get back for the last-gasp tackle with just a few feet to spare.
This was the start of a sustained period of pressure deep in Hawick territory, and while the hosts showed plenty of resilience, they did not help themselves by surrendering two cheap penalties for the off-the-ball niggles during this period. Rather than take three points, Chieftains went for seven on both occasions, which they will now regret. They were held up over the line once but generally lacked accuracy at key moments.
Hawick weathered storm and worked their way out of the danger zone, and when a Chieftains player conceded a penalty by diving through the middle of a ruck on halfway, Armstrong despatched a pin-point accurate kick to the corner. The line-out and next few phases were pretty scrappy but Hawick retained possession, and ultimately earned another ruck penalty which Armstrong sent through the posts to open the scoring with 25-minutes played.
Hawick stretch clear
The Hawick stand-off edged his team further ahead six minutes later with an offside penalty in front of the posts; and on the stroke of half-time he hit the post with a long-range pop at goal after some great broken-field play from Matt Carryer, Dalton Redpath (twice involved) and Graham. Hawick were first to react to the rebound, with Davison pouncing on the ball and Redpath rampaging for the whitewash, but Chieftains managed to keep them out.
Armstrong missed another long-range penalty attempt at the start of the second half after a collapsed scrum. Chieftains immediately invited pressure back onto themselves by going offside and this time Armstrong’s effort didn’t quite have the legs.
The visitors then shot themselves in the foot again when they were awarded a scrum on the Hawick ten metre line only to see the decision reversed into a Hawick penalty for niggling after the whistle.
The home scrum was now well on top and Muir squeezed a penalty out of Currie’s Argentinean tight-head Matias Sonzogni Matias. Full-back Ali Weir took over kicking duties and drilled home the three points.
Chieftains surrendered penalties at a shocking rate during this third quarter, but they managed to get their act together during the final 15 minutes and laid siege to the Hawick line, but found themselves up against a committed and well-organised green wall.
There was a slight panic in home ranks when another scrum penalty gave them the chance to ease the pressure, but Armstrong couldn’t hold onto McNeil’s pass from the subsequent line-out and the stand-off ended up hacking the loose ball out of play on his own line.
A few minutes later, Chieftains rumbled over the line, but after careful consideration from referee Ross Mabon it was ruled that the ball had not been grounded.
Eventually, Chieftains had to make do with a Gregor Hunter penalty from in-front of the posts, which meant that they at least travelled back to Balerno with a losing bonus point, which provided very little solace to Ben Cairns, their highly frustrated coach.
“It was the right decision to take the points and then try to get the win so that’s one good decision we’ve made in the game – but that’s all,” he reflected.
“We lacked any kind of control in terms of just making good decisions on the ball,” he added. ‘We’ve allowed the way they go about their business to put us off and frustrate us. Certainly, the penalty count frustrated us, we felt like we were hard done by there. And we felt hard done by that we were over the line three times and the ref has missed the grounding or been at the wrong side to see whether it was held up.
“We talked about trying to get a bit of composure and control back at half-time – particularly about discipline and keeping the ball for more phases – and we went out in the second half and gave away five penalties in the first six minutes. It’s not rocket science!
“The responsibility lies with us. Even if some of them aren’t penalties, it is still a 50-50 when we have given the referee a decision to make. We can take that decision away from him.”
Hawick: A Weir; R McKean, A Mitchell, G Walker, D Lightfoot; L Armstrong, G Welsh; S Muir, M Carryer, N Little, D Lowrie, D Redpath, S Graham, D Davison, B McNeil. Subs: C Renwick, D Johnstone, S Fairbairn.
Currie Chieftains: J Forbes; B Robbins, J Reynolds, R Nelson, S Hamilton; G Hunter, R Frostwick; A McWilliam, F Scott, M Argiro, V Wright, M Vernel, M Kelly, T Gordon, S McGinley. Subs: G Carson,R Patterson, R Davies, G Christie, A Hall.
Referee: R Mabon
Hawick: Pen: Armstrong 2, Weir.
Currie Chieftains: Pen: Hunter
Scoring sequence (Hawick first): 3-0; 6-0 (h-t) 9-0; 9-3
Man-of-the-Match: A lot of big performances in the home ranks, but openside flanker Drew Davison was immense – scrapping for everything all over the park.
Talking point: Hawick are like lions at Mansfield Park and are like pussycats outside the Borders. The next step in their development needs to be a big performance against one of the city teams. The Chieftains didn’t become a bad team overnight, but they need to use this experience as a lesson about the importance of playing the conditions, the opposition and the referee.