DAVID BARNES @ Mansfield Park
THIS typically tense Border tussle produced very few magical moments, but was keenly enough contested to be an absorbing spectacle. Home advantage and Premiership experience edged it for Hawick in the end, but full credit to Kelso for really rattling their opponents in the first half, and for fighting back at the end to score a try in the 79th minute which set up a nail-biting final passage of play.
To the victor the spoils, however, and Hawick head coach Matty Douglas expressed his satisfaction that his young team had managed to pick up some silverware at the end of a season of steady progress, although he also stressed that he sees this as a stepping-stone rather than an end in itself.
“That was a typical, really tight Border derby,” he said. “To be brutally honest, I think we were miles off where we have been. In the first half we were our own worst enemy, we just kept giving away penalties and our line-out didn’t really function, but when we lifted the tempo we were pretty good.
“We started the second half well but fair play to Kelso, they threw everything at it, and I think it summed up our season the way we held on at the end to claim the silverware. Regardless of whether you win by a point or by 40 points, it is great for the club to claim the Border League for the 50th time.
“Corey Tait has joined Boroughmuir Bears, and Rory Smith is retiring, but nobody else is moving on, so this is a great building block and hopefully we can add to it.”
He signed off with a few words about the value of the Border League. “The crowd here tonight, that tops anything you see in the Premiership,” he said. “The Border League is key and they just have to find a way to make it work through the season, either as double-headers or pre-season games. It is crucial for younger players to give them a taste of senior rugby.”
Hawick really struggled to live up to their favourites tag early on, with a dropped pass, an overthrown line-out and a careless offside inside in quick succession all conspiring to hand Kelso the initiative, and it looked like visiting full-back Mark Wilson was headed over for the opening try on the right with six minutes played and he couldn’t quite hold on to the final pass.
The hosts won the resultant scrum penalty but then failed to control line-out possession, which kind of summed up their opening half hour. The one time Hawick did look like they might build some pressure, it was off yet more scrappy line-out ball, and they were then turned over on the Kelso line, and Bruce McNeil cleared the danger with a barnstorming burst from a No8 pick-up, followed by a fine clearance by Fraser Hastie.
The one area Hawick did truly dominate was the scrum, and not even the introduction of Colin Arthur – on loan from Musselburgh – could redress that imbalance. It was from a set-piece penalty that Kirk Ford finally broke the deadlock with a cleanly struck 35-metre effort on 22 minutes, only for Kelso bounce back with a fine effort by Dwain Patterson from even further out just two minutes later.
Finally, Hawick clicked into gear, and after several powerful phases, Stuart Graham rumbled over for the game’s opening try, and Ford fired home the conversion, with exactly half an hour played.
Kelso took it on the chin, and came back hard, winning another penalty when their scrum-half was obstructed at the base of a ruck right in front of Hawick’s posts, and Patterson stepped up to fire home the points. The hosts were still ahead, but the increasingly vocal visiting support and the steady stream of errors by the home side highlighted that the visitors were in much the better fettle.
When Hawick winger Ronan McKean found himself in acres of space on the left just before half-time, he made good ground before eventually being brought down by Wilson 15 yards from glory: there was five Kelso players there in quick order to salvage the situation and not a green jersey in sight.
Kelso started the second half brightly, but Ford cleared the danger a with goal-line interception and 50-yard clearance upfield, and the Hawick stand-off returned his team’s advantage to seven points a few minutes later with a long-range scrum penalty, only for Kelso to strike right right back yet again with three more points from the boot of Patterson.
That proved, however, to be Kelso’s last roll of the dice. Hawick immediately set up camp in their opponents’ 22, and turned down a couple of kickable penalty opportunities to eventually squeeze out a try through Shawn Muir, which finally put the Premiership side in the driving seat with 20 minutes to go.
Without really finding their attacking groove, Hawick dominated the possession and territory during the final quarter, until the the last three minutes when Kelso roused themselves for a late salvo, culminating in Arthur eventually diving over in the corner – but Patterson couldn’t manage the conversion, leaving it a four point game, meaning Kelso needed another try.
Kelso gathered the restart cleanly, earned a penalty which allowed them to kick to Hawick’s 22, and it looked for a minute like they were going to walk the maul all the way to the try-line, but Hawick manage to halt momentum and then won a holding-on penalty which finally killed off their plucky rivals.
“Overall, we’re proud of the boys,” said Kelso director of rugby Eck Hinigan. “It was a huge shift and in the second half we just had to stay in the game as long as we could and see if we could find a way to steal it, and we just about did it at the end, so I am really proud of the boys.
“But we’ve got things to work on. We’re not just accepting that. We’ve come a long way this season and that’s another step along learning curve for us.
“It wasn’t a classic tonight. It was blood and thunder, and full of mistakes from both sides, as you often find in Border derbies at any stage of the season. But it was something that the Borders as a whole should be proud of because it was two teams going hammer and tong in front of a big crowd,” he concluded. “This trophy still means a lot to some people, and both these teams showed that tonight.
Hawick: B Donaldson; M Tait (J Delaney 64), A Mitchell, Glen Welsh, R McKean (E Stanger, 75); K Ford, G Welsh; S Muir, M Carryer (R Linton 59), R MacLeod (T Hope 59), R Smith, S Frizzell (T Huggan 67), R Graham, C Sutherland, S Graham.
Kelso: M Wilson; R Combe, D Patterson , F Robson (B Lyall 39-40), A Roberts; M Hastie , A Tait; R Wight (C Arthur 19-80), E Knox (M Thompson 64), A Frame, A Common, K Melbourne, G Cessford (C Thompson 39), K Dryden, B McNeil.
Referee: Michael Todd
Hawick: Try: S Graham, Muir; Con: Ford; Pen: Ford 2.
Kelso: Try: Arthur; Pen: Patterson 3.
Scoring sequence (Hawick first): 3-0; 3-3; 8-3; 10-3; 10-6 (h-t) 13-6; 13-9; 18-9; 18-14.