CURRIE CHIEFTAINS 29
GLASGOW HAWKS 27
STUART BATHGATE @ Malleny Park
HOW DID that happen? No matter if you were a Currie Chieftains supporter, a Glasgow Hawks fan, or a neutral, you were surely left scratching your head in delight, dismay or disbelief at the end of a game which culminated in the most improbable of comebacks by the home side.
Hawks were 27-0 up with around half an hour played, and 27-5 ahead at half-time. They should have had the game in the bag, but in the second half simply lacked the spirit or the sense to deal with a rousing recovery by the Chieftains.
Of course, while Hawks head coach Finlay Gillies will rightly concentrate on his own club’s shortcomings, the turnaround was at least as much to do with Currie’s indomitable attitude. They steadily built momentum with the wind at their backs in the second half, until a reversal of fortunes that had been highly implausible at one point came to appear all but inevitable.
The result was enough to take the home team above the Hawks and back into the top four of the BT Premiership, although for Ben Cairns the important thing now is not the league position his team are in at present, but how they learn from this performance. “Did we want to be 27-5 down at half-time?” the Chieftains coach asked rhetorically. “No.
“To turn that round after the way the first half went is testament to the character in our squad. That’s what makes successful teams, really, is that character. It’s now about kicking on from there.
“I just felt there was that attitude we were going to win that game regardless. If Hawks had scored [in the second half] I would have backed us to score another one, to be honest.
“We’ve come from behind and won games like that before. A lot of these boys have experienced that and know how quickly it can turn for us.”
One player who has not experienced that, but had a vital role to play here nonetheless, was Adam Hastings, the Currie stand-off. Making his return from injury and still with a bandage on the cut on his right leg, the Glasgow Warriors professional saw a lot of ball in the early stages as the Chieftains tried to build attacks. But it was Hawks who made better use of their possession, and heavy pressure from their forwards put Bobby Beattie in on the right for a ninth-minute lead. George Horne converted, and soon added a penalty to put Hawks firmly in the driving seat.
The same pattern repeated itself early in the second quarter: Currie tried to get things going only to be penalised for a forward pass, then Hawks again showed them how to do it. First the forwards and centres ploughed deep through the middle, then the ball was spread wide for the coup de grace, applied this time by Sam Yawayawa.
Currie came close to breaking their duck when a Jamie Forbes kick ahead landed threateningly near to the Hawks goal line with the home backs in pursuit, but Kyle Rowe did an excellent job of clearing the danger. That was the briefest of respites, as the visitors went on to claim the bonus point after a little more than half an hour.
Try three came from a David Milne break down the left and was finished off for the last 15 metres by Horne. Try four came a couple of minutes later, with Brendan McGroarty this time making the initial impact, and Rowe completing the score.
Horne, who had missed his previous two conversion attempts, fared better this time to put his team 27-0 up. Currie did get off the mark just before the break, Ruaraidh Smith scoring from a Harvey Elms break, but that looked like being no more than a mild riposte to Hawks’ domination.
More was needed early in the second half if the home team were to have a chance of staging an implausible fightback, and it came five minutes after the restart, when a five-metre lineout went long and was gratefully gathered by openside flanker Thomas Gordon, who dived over from just a metre or two out. Hastings’ conversion made it 12-27, and that glimmer of hope grew brighter.
It promised to get brighter still when Hastings and Forbes combined to put Robbie Nelson into space, but the centre was halted illegally just short of the goal line by Stephen Leckey, who was yellow-carded for his offside intervention. Currie continued to press while a man up, and came close to cutting the deficit further on several occasions before eventually grabbing their third try after 63 minutes.
The Hawks defence had held up well while defending at close quarters, but simply ran out of men in the end, allowing Forbes to finish off a multi-phase attack. Hastings’ addition of two points left his side still more than a full score behind.
With nine minutes to go Currie claimed their own fourth try, Smith crossing in the corner after Rhys Davies had done the spadework. Hastings missed the conversion, but the gap was now a mere three points, and Currie could scent victory.
Beattie was sin-binned with five minutes to go as the Hawks defended desperately. That penalty went to touch, a second went the same way, and this time the forwards got it right. The drive from the lineout was well directed, and John Cox was credited with the touchdown.
Another miss by Hastings meant Hawks had two minutes in which to get the match-winning score, but their brains were scrambled by then and there was little cohesion to their final attempt to get back on top – just one of many defects in their game that Gillies will work hard on in the coming weeks.
“That was probably the hardest-to-take defeat in my limited coaching career,” the visitors’ head coach said. “We were good for 40 minutes.
“Discipline was the difference. We gave away one penalty in the first half, two yellow cards and a million penalties in the second. There you go: there’s your game.
“This is a habit we need to get out of. Currie looked like they wanted it more in the second half. They had a bit of fire in their belly.”
Fire in their belly, yes, but also ice in their brain as they maintained their composure first in adversity and then as the excitement mounted all around them. It was the sort of win which could well inspire them to go on to higher things this season.
Currie: B Robbins; R Smith, H Elms, R Nelson, C Gray; A Hastings, J Forbes; J Cox, C Mackintosh, D Ferguson, V Wright, M Vernel, S Ainslie, T Gordon, S McGinley. Subs used: M O’Neil, G Carson, K Burney, R Davies, C Wilson.
Glasgow Hawks: R Beattie; K Rowe, B McGroarty, J Steele, S Yawayawa; R Thompson, G Horne; S Findlay, C Fenton, L Skinner, A Kirkland, K McDonald, S Leckey, M Fagerson, J Eaglesham. Subs used: D Milne, G Strain, P Boyer, C Kerr, C Brodie.
Scorers: Currie Chieftains: Tries: Smith 2, Gordon, Forbes, Cox. Cons: Hastings 2.
Glasgow Hawks: Tries: Beattie, Yawayawa, Horne, Rowe. Cons: Horne 2. Pen: Horne.
Scoring sequence (Currie first): 0-5, 0-7, 0-10, 0-15, 0-20, 0-25, 0-27, 5-27, half-time, 10-27, 12-27, 17-27, 19-27, 24-27, 29-27.
Yellow cards: Glasgow Hawks: Leckey, Beattie.
Referee: G Wells.
Man of the match: Such a massive fightback was a team effort, of course, but Adam Hastings’ orchestration of the Chieftains attack was the catalyst for the home team’s triumph.
Talking point: That comeback, of course. Currie were so far off the pace at one point that there might have been fears about precisely how bad things were going to get for them. Then the recovery began.