Stirling County 15
ALAN LORIMER @ Mansfield Park
THIS was not only a win for Hawick but a win with crowd-pleasing style which will have injected a barrel load of confidence into the younger members of the Greens team, notably teenager Andrew Mitchell in the centre, who at 17 years of age, must now be one of the hottest properties in Scottish club rugby.
Of the other younger players, second-rows Dalton Redpath and Daniel Suddon impressed, as did flanker Drew Davison. But it was veteran Lee Armstrong who stole the show, the stand-off scoring two tries and laying on the scoring passes for a further two. In addition, he was faultless off the kicking tee, succeeding with five conversion kicks for a 100 percent record.
Undeniably, Hawick were helped by the presence of the Edinburgh prop Pietro Ceccarelli, who came on after 30 minutes and immediately shored up a creaking scrum that had already provided Stirling with a succession of penalties.
But overall this was about Hawick raising their game and responding to the forceful exhortations of their coach, George Graham, who admitted: “We had a very honest conversation after the game last Saturday [against Ayr]. I was more brutally honest than I normally am. But they agreed with me. We worked on a lot of things and it paid dividends.
“It’s more about belief. They are a good bunch of boys and they can play good rugby. We just need to take this forward. For me, if these boys produce a performance they’ll get a win. It’s all about the hard work they put in on a Tuesday night. They earned that win today – against a team that’s taken a few good scalps.
“We play well when we’re at Mansfield but we just need to play a lot stronger away from home.”
While Hawick may have benefitted from the inclusion of Edinburgh’s Ceccarelli, Stirling got little from having the Glasgow centre Ratu Tagive in their midst. The Scotstoun centre showed up only twice with a couple of breaks that ultimately came to naught in the face of Hawick’s eager defence.
Tennent’s Premiership match reports:
But that was not the reason for this unexpectedly heavy defeat for County.
“We just made it difficult for ourselves today,” said their coach, Eddie Pollock. “At 30 minutes we were in control and then in a 15 minute period we just didn’t defend. We just downed tools and let in 21 points. It’s just not acceptable for a Stirling County side to play like that.
“Hawick worked hard and deserved to get their win. They played some good rugby – but that was our worst performance by far this season. It was really disappointing because we’ve actually been in every game this year.
“We were dominant in the scrum and in the line-out for the first half hour. We got real go-forward in the middle of the field during that period. But then we just started to offload inaccurately. We turned ball over countless times and made it really easy for them,” concluded Pollock.
Hawick made their intentions clear in the opening salvos when Armstrong, taking advantage of a rebound off a defender of his own chip ahead, collected the ball to touch down for the opening try, which the stand-off converted.
Stirling quickly asserted themselves, however, bossing the scrums and winning the touchline battle. Their initial reward was a penalty goal by stand-off Andrew Goudie, who then added to his points tally with the conversion of his own try following a driving maul.
County almost added a second try when second-row Cameron Henderson broke clear before chipping the defence only to be beaten to the ball by Hawick winger Keith Young.
With Ceccarelli on the field, Hawick stopped the rot in the scrums and returned to attack with a period of what might best be described as instinctive handling rugby that ended with Armstrong throwing out a long pass to Young for the wing to score in the corner. Armstrong succeeded with the difficult conversion kick to give Hawick a 14-10 lead five minutes before the break.
But there was still time for a further Hawick try in the first half and again it was Armstrong who touched down, the stand-off finishing off a training ground move from the line-out involving breaks by Redpath and the lively flanker Stuart Graham, Armstrong’s conversion producing a 21-10 advantage for the Greens.
If that had not been bad enough for Stirling, Hawick scored again just three minutes into the second half, as Armstrong broke through the ragged defence before sending scrum-half Deaglan Lightfoot in under the posts, leaving the Greens’ stand-off with an easy conversion kick.
Stirling tried desperately to get back into the game and almost succeeded after forcing three five-metre scrums, only for Hawick to survive and come away with the ball.
Number eight Alasdair Mackie, however, finally scored the try County had sought, finishing good mauling work and then sensing a gap in the overstretched Hawick defence.
Four minutes from full-time, Hawick were able to celebrate again, the Greens inter-passing cleverly before full-back Kirk Ford put Young in for his second try of the game to seal an important win.
Hawick: K Ford; G Johnston, A Mitchell, G Walker, K Young; L Armstrong, D Lightfoot; S Muir, M Carryer, N Little, D Suddon, D Redpath, S Graham, D Davison, B McNeil. Subs: C Renwick, P Ceccarelli, D Lowrie, K Brunton, K Davies.
Stirling County: C Robertson; A McLean, R Tagive, G Hughes, C Dineen; A Goudie, R Swan; R Chies, K Bryce, G Holborn, J Pow, C Henderson, H Burr, S MacDonald, A Mackie. Subs: R Kennedy, A Wood, G Arnott, H Henderson, J Hope.
Referee: K Allen
Hawick: Tries: Armstrong 2, Young 2, Lightfoot; Cons: Armstrong 5.
Stirling County: Tries: Goudie, Mackie; Con: Goudie; Pen: Goudie.
Scoring Sequence (Hawick first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-3; 7-8; 7-10; 12-10; 14-10; 19-10; 21-10 (h-t) 26-10; 28-10; 28-15; 33-15; 35-15.
Man-of-the-Match: Apart from scoring two tries and kicking five conversions, Hawick stand-off Lee Armstrong was back to the form that won him Scotland Club XV caps two years ago.
Talking point: Hawick needed this win at Mansfield Park and on the day they produced a performance that earned then not just a victory but also a bonus point. More to the point they played some attractive rugby to enthuse the Mansfield fans. As for Stirling, eager to demonstrate that they are a genuine Super Six club, this match was a set-back.