Aberdeen Grammar 27
Glasgow Hawks 32
IAIN HAY @ Rubislaw
THE curse has ended. After last week’s match at Balgray it had been suggested that I was a jinx on Glasgow Hawks, but following a tricky opening period, the visiting side brought physicality and flair to prevail on a chilly afternoon up north.
The platform for victory was set by a phenomenal performance from the Hawks back row, who were a constant nuisance at the breakdown. Ryan Sweeney and Rory Jackson carried like men possessed, and Fraser Christie put in a couple of tackles which could rattle the fillings out of a man’s head.
“The back row’s a big difference-maker compared to the start of the season,” Hawks head coach Andy Hill said. “We’ve got guys back fit and getting us front-foot ball. In terms of the attack, last week when we reviewed the footage, we played within ourselves. Instead today we played some real rugby.
“We were really, really good. Disappointing to give away the losing bonus at the end, hopefully that won’t come back to bite us, but we need to make sure we win the next game, get a couple of wins on the bounce rather than one win then one loss.”
As the stand at Rubislaw had prevented the sun from thawing part of the main pitch, the match took place on the seconds’ turf, meaning the Bears v Highlands 2 match was called off, but those who braved the chill were eventually treated to a score-fest. The start of the match was mainly played in midfield, with the forward packs knocking lumps out of each other. Grammar’s Ben Inglis took a sore one early doors which would eventually force him off the field midway through the first half.
Hawks were first to threaten when scrum-half Harvey Bullock, in for the injured Paddy Boyer – whose injury is not as serious as first feared and could return before Christmas – took possession from the back of a maul and sprinted for the line, but he knocked on in the tackle just short of the line.
Grammar started to find their feet, and after Andrew Cook’s line-break put them into Hawks territory, more hard carrying put them up towards the Hawks’ 22. The combo of Sweeney and Jackson thought they had held their man up to form a maul, but referee Ian Kenny had called the tackle complete and penalised Jackson for not releasing.
Tom Aplin skewed his penalty wide, but when Will Alton won his side another penalty, from further out but dead central, the big centre made no mistake.
When Grammar then got their maul rolling in midfield, Hawks’ Jackson was penalised for collapsing, and although Hawks legally sacked their next maul attempt from inside the 22, Grammar kept possession tight. Dominic Wallen, an early replacement for the stricken Inglis, was the man to pick and go over the line. Aplin’s conversion made it a 10-0 lead.
Liam Brims’ restart was claimed with relative ease by Max Priestly to set Hawks on their way, and after a surge from Lyall Archer, again playing in the second row this week, gained extra yardage, Grammar were reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes when Robin Cessford was penalised for sticking his boot into a ruck.
Brims missed the penalty, but shortly afterwards he was involved as Hawks’ fightback began. He first kicked a penalty towards the Grammar 22, then when in possession slipped as he tried to weave through a gap in the defence. Team-mate Kerr Gossman was at hand to take his pass, carried through the first tackle, and soon Archer was at hand to supply the finishing touches for his second try in as many weeks.
Cessford returned from the naughty step for Grammar, but his engine room comrade Jordan Robertson knocked on the restart to hand Hawks a final chance before the end of the half. Hawks had started to show the upper hand at the scrum, and once Gossman had made the initial yards, strong carries by flankers Jackson and Christie set up Max Priestly for a score under the sticks. Brims’ conversion was the last act of the half, with Hawks now 14-10 up.
The pattern of turnover after turnover continued into the second, as did Hawks’ superior scrumming. A powerful drive from their front row forced Nat Coe to spill the pill as he went to pick up while travelling backwards, and Hawks then won a penalty from their own put-in which Brims scored.
Grammar levelled through Thomas Ryan’s short-range try and Aplin’s conversion, but Hawks’ scrumming prowess was again to the fore as they shoved Grammar off their own ball, and in their own 22. The Hawks couldn’t quite find their way to the try-line, but Grammar were penalised for offside and Brims nudged Hawks back in front.
Aplin levelled matters at 20-20 when Gary Strain was this time adjudged to have popped up in the scrum, but with just under 15 minutes remaining Sweeney thumped his way over the line, following a nice inside ball from Brims to replacement Matthew Stewart.
Grammar full-back Sean Mills had barely had the opportunity to fire up his jets, but two searing carries had Hawks in a fluster, until they were pinged for side entry. An easy three-pointer was on offer, but they went for touch.
Hawks’ captain for the day Callum Harrison was then caught offside as Grammar tried to spread the play wide from the line-out, but the home side made a hash of things with an attempt at a quickly taken tap from right in front of the Hawks’ sticks was dropped by Aplin.
Sweeney picked up from that scrum and bulldozed his way out of the 22, Brims’ lengthy clearance was returned by Mills to Yousuf Alagilly, who made serious inroads down the left wing. Play went from left to right and back again, until Alagilly and Priestly found themselves in a two-on-one, and Priestly scored his second of the day.
Fantastic footwork by Murray Mitchell almost got him a solo score, and although he was hauled down by Andy Kirkland just shy of the line, Andrew Cook did manage to secure the losing bonus point. Mills converted to narrow the gap further, but it was to be the last play of the game.
“They were really strong over the ball, they won a few turnovers just with their speed to the breakdown”, was Grammar coach Ali O’Connor’s thoughts on the Hawks’ back-row performance. “The 10 minutes before half-time we kind of went to sleep. Second half there were a lot of scores each way, but unfortunately, we didn’t play the big moments well. We felt we could have won that game, but credit to Glasgow Hawks, they took their chances and squeezed the game out well.”
Aberdeen Grammar: S Mills; M Sommerville, M Mitchell, T Aplin, D Russell; S Knudson©, T Morrison; C Reddish, A Cook, T Ryan, J Robertson, R Cessford, B Inglis, W Alton, N Coe. Subs: D Wallen, A Robertson, C Robertson, J Troup, F Snedden.
Glasgow Hawks: J Strain; K Gossman, E Oag, C Harrison©, M Priestly; L Brims, H Bullock; G Strain, T McTeir, E Rintoul, A Kirkland, L Archer, R Jackson, F Christie, R Sweeney. Subs: P Cairncross, D Irvine M Stewart, Y Alagilly, N Moffat.
Referee: I Kenny.
Scorers: Aberdeen Grammar: Tries: Wallen, Ryan, Cook. Cons: Aplin 2, Mills. Pens: Aplin 2.
Glasgow Hawks: Tries: Priestly 2, Archer, Sweeney. Cons: Brims 3. Pens: Brims 2.
Scoring sequence (Aberdeen Grammar first): 3-0, 10-0, 10-7, 10-14 half-time, 10-17, 17-17, 17-20, 20-20, 20-27, 20-32, 27-32.
Yellow card: Aberdeen Grammar: Cessford.
Man of the match: It could have been any of the Hawks 6-8, but Ryan Sweeney gets the award for safe hands under the restarts, powerful running
Talking Point: For a game that started off so slowly, it turned into a ding-dong battle. All that early physicality made for tired bodies, but Hawks were just that bit more clinical and scrum ready than Aberdeen.