COLIN RENTON @ Goldenacre
ANOTHER Saturday, another semi-final and another win that secures a trophy showdown with Ayr. However, while Heriot’s had turned on the style to see off Currie Chieftains the previous week, this was an entirely different experience. They were pushed all the way by a Hawick side that came within the thickness of a goal post of taking the game into extra time.
“I am gutted that we got beat but I am so proud of what we’ve achieved,” said Hawick coach George Graham. “We got beat but we played some really good rugby. We have to learn from that. We worked really hard. The boys were blowing out their backsides in the first half. But that’s what happens at this level of rugby.”
Graham will remain at the club next season and is delighted with the attitude of the players – almost exclusively from Hawick – he will be working alongside.
“You have to be leaving everything on the field. My boys did that but just didn’t quite make it over the line. And, as I say, I’m very proud of them.”
Graham’s side also earned plaudits from the home camp for their approach to the game.
“I thought they were brilliant in the way they put us under pressure,” admitted Heriot’s coach Phil Smith. “I thought they were excellent. The positive is that there are some games when you have to dog it out and we showed a bit of dog.
“The error count was high and that doesn’t help. That was the disappointing part because I thought ball in hand we looked pretty threatening.”
Smith had offered several men a chance to stake a claim to be involved in the big games that lie ahead, and he was happy with the way several of them grasped that opportunity. “We have about 25 boys who are all in the mix”, he said.
And, he is relishing the first of those clashes at Millbrae on Saturday, insisting that there were plenty of good aspects in the performance to take into that encounter. “We have had a couple of poor moments. Let’s just wind it in a bit. We just need to be a bit more clinical and lose the errors”, he added.
The Borderers made a sprightly start without threatening the home line and it was the hosts who took control with a quickfire double.
The first try came with 12 minutes on the clock. Alex Ball collected at a scrum on the home 10 metre line and was untouched as he raced deep into Hawick territory and went past two defenders before offloading to Rob Kay who completed the job. Ross Jones converted and did so again three minutes later after Jack Blain had sprinted over.
However, in many years of tussles with the Greens, Heriot’s have learned never to write off Hawick when it comes to the cut and thrust of knock-out rugby.
And they were reminded of that fact as the visitors struck three times in ten minutes to take the lead. The first try was down to the persistence of Matty Carryer, who looked to have been stopped a few metres short, but blasted his way through the final tackle to dot down. Lee Armstrong converted and his kick squared matters when he was on target again shortly afterwards, having delivered a perfectly weighted pass for Andrew Mitchell to score. And Hawick snatched the lead when Keith Davies crossed with 27 minutes played. This time Armstrong’s kick from wide on the left struck a post – ultimately that was the difference between the teams.
Heriot’s were stung into action and retaliated with a second solo score by Blain, who darted round behind the sticks, leaving Jones a simple conversion.
By half time, the Greens had regained the initiative through a penalty by Armstrong that saw his side into a one-point lead.
While Graham delivered his team-talk on the pitch, Smith preferred to keep his words behind closed doors. And whatever he said appeared to have worked. The hosts edged in front four minutes after the restart when Jones banged over a penalty that might have been out of range had the referee not advanced it ten metres when Shawn Muir offered him some unsolicited advice.
The Hawick response was to spend the next ten minutes camped in the home half. The Greens battered away at a solid Heriot’s defence and finally found a way through when Dalton Redpath fired a pass out to Carryer, who squeezed in at the corner. Armstrong added the extras with a sweetly struck kick.
Smith rang the changes and back came Heriot’s. They grabbed the lead in 66 minutes when Stuart Edwards kicked a penalty into touch, Michael Liness found Iain Wilson with the throw, and Josh Scott applied the final touch to a powerful drive. That squared matters and the conversion by Jones gave the home side the lead once more.
Hawick had no intention of going quietly. Redpath plunged over after a spell of pressure from the Greens, but they were penalised for an offence in the build up. Armstrong then had a penalty effort that shaved the upright. And, as they continued to press, a crucial turnover by Wilson gave the hosts some respite and booked them a place at Murrayfield for finals day.
Heriot’s: J Blain; R McMichael, R Jones, R Kay, C Robertson; R Carmichael, A Ball; J Scott, A Johnstone, S Cessford, R Leishman, A Sinclair, M Hughes, I Wilson©, J Hill. Subs: A Johnstone, S Mustard, C Marshall, S Dewar, A Simmers, S Edwards, C Simpson.
Hawick: A Weir; K Ford, A Mitchell, K Davies, L Gordon-Wooley; L Armstrong, G Welsh; S Muir©, M Carryer, D Johnston, D Suddon, D Redpath, D Lowrie, S Graham, B McNeil. Subs: C Renwick, N Little, J Linton, D Lightfoot, A Redpath, G Welsh, R McKean.
Referee: Ben Blain
Heriot’s: Tries: Kay, Blain 2, Scott; Cons: Jones 4; Pen: Jones
Hawick: Tries: Carryer 2, Mitchell, Davies; Cons: Armstrong 3; Pens: Armstrong
Scoring sequence: (Heriot’s first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0; 14-5; 14-7; 14-12; 14-14; 14-19; 19-19; 21-19; 21-22 (h-t) 24-22; 24-27; 24-29; 29-29; 31-29.
Man-of-the-match: Heriot’s winger Jack Blain was back in the fold after his Scotland Under-20s duty and the youngster oozed class – ‘like a Ferrari’ said Phil Smith – and few in the crowd would argue.
Talking point: Hawick have a record of being the first ever winners of both the Scottish League and the Scottish Cup. Could George Graham’s side replicate that achievement in the new league set up next season?