DAVID BARNES @ Old Anniesland
A HARD match to fathom. In scoring eight tries on their way to a 24-point win, Glasgow Hawks got the job done in fairly comfortable style – but they never really looked like finding their groove as an attacking force and some of their defensive work was woeful.
They won the game because they are the better side, but from a commanding position you would hope that they could show more of the vitality which made them such a joy to behold earlier in the season. A deluge of second half substitutions undoubtedly hindered their rhythm, but it is hard to shake the feeling that they are under-performing at the point in the season when they really need to be hitting their stride.
The fact that seven of the home team’s touch-downs were claimed by forwards (and the other one was straight from an interception by stand-off Hagan Schulte) gives an indication of how things panned out. Hawks ground out the victory because they were stronger and fitter, but they will have to play far better than this in their semi-final away to Ayr to get a positive result.
Meanwhile, all four of Gala’s tries were down to the opportunism of their backs, and if they had managed anything approaching parity upfront they might have made their hosts sweat a little for their victory.
As it was, Finlay Gillies was able to make full use of the seven substitutes he is allowed access to at this stage in the Cup in order to keep as many of his key men as possible fresh for Wednesday night’s clash against the Royal Navy.
“We didn’t disrespect Gala at all, we put a lot into this game to make sure we didn’t get it wrong, but once we got in front we had to start looking towards Wednesday and making some tough decisions. We can’t put a pub team out against the Navy so we ended up taking guys off around the 45 minute mark which I wouldn’t normally have done,” he explained.
“We ended up with one hooker [Grant Stewart] at scrum-half, another hooker [Cammy Fenton] at flanker, and Brendan McGroarty played on the wing even though he wasn’t feeling well. So we achieved our first objective by getting the win, but we didn’t really give ourselves a chance to achieve the second objective of playing well.”
The hosts dominated the opening exchanges but fell behind to a well-worked Gala try in the tenth minute, when visiting scrum-half George Lott caught Hawks napping with a blindside break and then fed Graham Speirs, who calmly weighed up his options before releasing Ross Combe for the try.
Hawks bounced back almost immediately, narrowing the gap with a Schulte penalty, and then utilising forward power to get over the chalk twice, the first time through Tommy Spinks at the base of a scrum, the second through Stewart peeling off the tail of a close-range line-out.
But then there was the sort of slip-up which Hawks need rot eradicate from their game, when Brendan McGroarty was caught napping as he shepherded a bouncing ball back over his own try-line and Lott pounced for the score.
Gala repaid that favour with interest added by first gifting Schulte his interception try, and then over-throwing a line-out just before half-time, for Stewart to scamper in for his second and his team’s fourth score of the afternoon.
Tight-head prop Gary Strain and Fenton rumbled over at the start of the second half – the second of those after a rare sweeping attack from the hosts – to take the match out of Gala’s reach, but visiting skipper Speirs was not ready to roll over and have his tummy tickled just yet, and he scored after an arching run through a statuesque Hawks defence.
The same man then launched a counter-attack from inside his own 22 which looked like it might go the length when he released Dwayne Burrows up the left touchline – but the winger didn’t have the legs to make it, and Speirs was injured during that move meaning he had to retire from the match.
Strain picked up his second try, but Gala came back again, with Edinburgh pro Sasa Tofilau bustling over; and then second-row Rob Louw lit up the match with a moment of real magic when he broke from at least 40 yards and demonstrated plenty of pace and balance, plus a wicked dummy, on his way to the line.
Hawks had the last word when their dominant scrum marched Gala backwards for Ross Miller to pick up and flop over.
“I don’t want to be too negative, because we did actually play some good stuff at times, but as I keep saying to the boys: we are leaving ourselves one or two phases from scoring a try every time. We are doing silly things like reaching for the line when we don’t need to, or trying an offload when we don’t need to, whereas if we just hold onto the ball then the next phase we will score,” concluded Gillies.
Hawks: J Steele; B McGroarty, P Kelly, D Milne, K Gossman; H Schulte, A Lowrie; S Findlay, G Stewart, G Strain, G Peterson, A Kirkland, S Leckey, M Smith, T Spinks©. Subs: S Rogers, C Fenton, C Barnes, T Uainivi, R Miller, R Houliston, P Steele.
Gala: G Speirs©; R Combe, S Tofilau, P Henry, D Burrows; G Mein, G Lott; C Keen, D Brooker, T Skeet, S Johnstone, R Louw, G Adams, F Hunter, S Cairns. Subs: C Reynolds, R Tod, J Watson, S Fairbairn, A Emond, C Robertson, R Irwin.
Referee: Finlay Brown
Hawks: Tries: Spinks, Stewart 2, Schulte, Strain 2, Fenton, Miller; Cons: Schulte 4; Pen: Schulte
Gala: Try: Combe, Lott, Spiers, Tofilau, Louw; Con: Mein 2.
Scoring Sequence (Hawks First): 0-5; 0-7; 3-7; 8-7; 10-7; 15-7; 17-7; 17-12; 22-12; 27-12; 29-12 (h-t) 34-12; 36-12; 41-12; 41-17; 46-17; 48-22; 48-24; 48-29; 53-29.
Yellow Cards –
Man-of-the-Match: Any unsung hero at tight-head prop who scores two tries should be allowed to bask in the warm glow of that moment, so take a bow Gary Strain.
Talking Point: It wasn’t a classic performance but they got the job done, meaning Hawks are still very much in contention in both the league and cup. They have shown that they are able to dig out results when not at their best, but can they get to the level they need to be at in order to get a result against the big two [Ayr and Melrose] this season?
Image: Craig Watson – www.craigwatson.co.uk