Glasgow Hawks 17
STUART BATHGATE @ Scotstoun
AS the league table shows, Melrose have been a model of consistency so far this season – and one of the distinguishing features of a consistent team is the ability to win in a variety of ways. Robert Chrystie’s team can overpower opponents with relentless running rugby, but against Glasgow Hawks in one of the only two Premiership games to survive the bad weather it was their dominance in the maul that gave them their 12th bonus-point win from 12 outings.
Russell Anderson scored three of their five tries that way, with Grant Runciman getting another. Nyle Godsmark’s opener was an indication that the backs were not exactly inactive, but there was no denying the fact that superiority up front was their major advantage over opponents who competed well but lacked a cutting edge.
“I thought Hawks were excellent and defended really well,” head coach Chrystie said. “I thought we played some really nice stuff.
“I’d like to think that we can play in a few different ways, and we showed that again today. Great credit to Glasgow Warriors too for getting the game on – it’s good to see the co-operation between Hawks and the pro club.”
Melrose asserted themselves from the off, and twice wasted a chance to score in the opening couple of minutes as players drove for the line themselves instead of using an overlap on the right. The opening score was only delayed, however, and came after eight minutes when Nyle Godsmark all too easily powered his way through a tackle and over the line.
Craig Jackson was wide with the conversion attempt, but Melrose were soon back on the attack, thanks in part to a misfiring Hawks lineout. The home team lost vice-captain Stephen Leckey to injury midway through the half, and looked sure to lose a second try shortly thereafter when Ruaridh Knott bulldozed his way over the line – only to be held up by a superb defensive effort.
At least Melrose were creating those chances, however, whereas Hawks had not even got close to the opposition line. A second try for the Borderers thus looked like being only a matter of time, and it duly arrived with half an hour on the clock. A penalty for holding on was sent to touch deep in the Glasgow 22, and from the lineout ended with Russell Anderson crashing over for a score which this time was converted.
The pattern of play changed in the minutes before half-time, as Melrose lock Angus Runciman was sinbinned for a high tackle, and then Hawks opened their account in a carbon copy of the try they had just conceded. The penalty kicked to touch followed by the lineout drive is one of the most predictable moves in rugby, but also one of the most successful, and with a man advantage and a good impetus to their drive, Hawks made it count through Grant Stewart.
Ross Thompson missed the conversion and was also wide with a long-distance penalty attempt a couple of minutes later, but Hawks kept up the pressure and were rewarded with a second try in time added on with another push over from a lineout. Gary Strain got the ball down, and Thompson was again off target, to leave Melrose 12-10 ahead at the interval.
Restored to their full complement of 15, Melrose resumed their domination in the second half, and another pushover score by Anderson, converted off the post by Jackson, extended their lead after 45 minutes.
With play beginning to open up as a result of the relentlessly high tempo, Melrose’s loose forwards and outside backs were increasingly able to punch holes in the first defensive line. In the end, though, they had Anderson to thank for claiming their fourth try, as the hooker completed his hat-trick with another drive-over just as the game entered its final quarter.
The bonus point was won, but the game was not quite over, as Hawks proved when they got a score back. Thompson’s kick to the left corner was weighted perfectly, and Kyle Rowe collected to run in a score to which the stand-off added the two points.
It was still going to be a tall order for Hawks to claw back the nine-point deficit that remained, but they had a try bonus of their own to aim for, and more than 10 minutes in which to get it. Melrose, however, had different ideas, and soon made the game safe with, inevitably, another drive-over try, this time scored by Grant Runciman. The try went unconverted, and that 12th bonus-point win out of 12 was in the bag. Jackson added a penalty with the last kick of the game to take Melrose’s final tally to double that of Hawks. Finlay Gillies’ team have now lost their last four games and seen their hopes of a play-off place fade, but the Hawks head coach was rightly encouraged by quite a few aspects of his team’s play.
“I’m disappointed for the boys – they put a lot into it, but we’ve just been beaten by England 2003,” he said. “Melrose were a metronome of discipline and consistency and it’s really difficult to beat them.
“I’m not saying don’t do it. Well done, Melrose – that’s the reason they’re top of the league. We stayed in the fight and counter-mauled to the best of our abilities, but they’re very hard to stop and very well organised. If you’ve got that firepower, why not use it?”
Four defeats in a row have damaged Hawks’ hopes of making the play-offs, but Gillies is not giving up just yet. “We’re still trying,” he insisted. “We’re absolutely still trying. It was much better today, but we need to start turning results our way.”
Glasgow Hawks: S Peffers; K Rowe, B McGroarty, R Beattie, S Yawayawa; R Thompson, P Boyer; S Findlay, G Stewart, G Strain, A Kirkland, F Hastie, S Leckey, C Kerr, K Eaglesham. Substitutes: P Cairncross, L Skinner, C Brodie, J Steele, J Couper.
Melrose: F Thomson; G Taylor, N Godsmark, C Jackson, R McCann; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiels, R Anderson, N Beavon, A Runciman, I Moody, R Knott, G Runciman, A Miller. Substitutes: R Ferguson, D Elkington, A Grieve, B Colvine, P Anderson.
Glasgow Hawks: Tries: Stewart, Strain, Rowe. Con: Thompson.
Melrose: Tries: Godsmark, Anderson 3, G Runciman. Cons: Jackson 3. Pen: Jackson.
Scoring sequence (Hawks first): 0-5, 0-10, 0-12, 5-12, 10-12 half-time, 10-17, 10-19, 10-24, 10-26, 15-26, 17-26, 17-31, 17-34.
Yellow card –
Melrose: A Runciman
Referee: G Wells.
Man-of-the-match: Drive-over scores are team efforts, but you still need some to finish them off, and that’s what Melrose hooker Russell Anderson did three times – a crucial contribution to another win for his team.
Talking point: It’s not often that hookers slug it out in a try-scoring contest, but that’s what Russell Anderson and Grant Stewart did here, with the Melrose man winning the duel 3-2.