DAVID BARNES @ Old Anniesland
AS much as Hawks were the architects of their own downfall, the excellence of Melrose in capitalising on the opportunities presented should be given all due credit. The third try for the visitors just after half-time was the decisive blow and it pretty neatly summed up the pattern of this match.
Hawks collected the restart cleanly enough but a mix-up at the back of the ensuing ruck gifted possession to Melrose, and some slick handling carved open a gaping hole in the home team’s defensive line which George Taylor shot through to score under the shadow of the posts.
Jason Baggott’s conversion left Hawks 24 points adrift and it says a lot about the spirit of this young team that they rallied from this seemingly hopeless position to make the remaining 40 minutes something resembling a proper contest – even if the final outcome was never really in doubt.
“I am just a wee bit disappointed for the guys. We talked about being really ambitious in this game and we’ve probably been a victim of me giving them the license to have a go from around our own 22. That cost us at least two tries in terms of dropped balls, and they were really clinical as Melrose always are,” said Hawks coach Finlay Gillies.
Opposite number Robert Chrystie had a fair amount of sympathy for his rival.
“Hawks are a decent side. Defensively they are tough and very hard to break down and they’ve got some great young guys there who really stuck at it. I don’t really think the score-line reflects the game – when we got opportunities we took them but we didn’t really get that many opportunities,” he said.
“There were a few things we didn’t get right, like our exiting – in the first half we made five mistakes coming out our own 22. We know we can be a lot better, and I think Hawks can be a lot better as well, so I’m pretty sure they can still have a big say in what happens in this campaign.”
Melrose grabbed the lead after only five minutes when a penalty was kicked to the corner and Murdo McAndrew sent Austin Lockington scampering over with a straight feed off the back of the driven line-out.
Peter Horne kicked a penalty for Hawks, Baggott responded with two successful shots at goal of his own, before Melrose extended their advantage to 17 points on the stroke of half-time with a sweeping attack off the back of a scrum deep inside their own half, which was magical in its simplicity and immaculate in execution.
Crisp hands transferred the ball to the right wing, where Lockington was waiting to inject some serious pace, before effortlessly feeding back inside to Fraser Thomson without breaking stride. The full-back then sent a beautifully weighted chip kick ahead, which Taylor plucked out of the air as he cruised unchallenged towards the scoring zone.
Half-time brought a brief respite for Hawks, but the start of the second half hit them like a runaway train – and after Taylor’s second score in as many game minutes, the four try bonus point was well within Melrose’s grasp. But the Borderers were in no rush, with captain Grant Runciman instructing Baggott to go for the sticks rather than the corner when they were awarded a penalty a few minutes later.
The idea was to continue cranking up the pressure by keeping the score-board ticking over, but Hawks were not ready to skulk off home with their tails between their legs yet.
The loss of captain Tommy Spinks with a knee injury midway through the first half had not helped the home team’s cause, and it is no great coincidence that their revival during the second half coincided with the big number-eight’s return to the fray.
“Tommy is a really tough guy and I just made it his decision. I said: If you want to go back on you need to let me know. And I think he saw the way things were going, and when he came back on during the second half he galvanised us. He’s a cracking guy – a big, unselfish character – the way he goes about his business has been excellent for us,” said Gillies.
The fightback started when Hawks kicked a penalty in midfield into the corner, and rumbled the line-out drive over for Grant Stewart to touch-down and Horne to convert.
Then Matt Fagerson was taken out whilst chasing a kick ahead and Hawks opted for the corner again – prompting a siege on the Melrose line which witnessed Nick Beavon being sent to the sin-bin for pulling a maul down, Stewart being held up over the whitewash, Spinks getting to within inches of scoring with a number eight pick-up, and Fagerson being bundled into touch as he stretched for the corner. Eventually a penalty try was awarded against McAndrew for interfering with the ball at the base of a dominant Hawks scrum.
Rather surprisingly, Gillies was slightly subdued about these two scores.
“It’s good that we came back into it but it was disappointing the manner we did it. We pride ourselves on trying to play a real high tempo game, and we reverted back to going from maul, to scrum, to pick-and-go. It is great that we can do it because that’s a really important part of the game, but I want us to keep that ambition, to keep being that young, swaggering, cocky squad that we were last week,” he explained.
“This was probably the first time in five weeks that we have faced a team that can stop us at source, and we need to get used to that,” he added.
That was as close as Hawks got. With the Melrose pack restored to full strength, they wrestled control back and secured the bonus point at the death when Ross McCann streaked clear to touch down beneath the posts.
Hawks: J Steele; R Beattie, P Kelly, D Milne, E Oag; J Henderson, G Horne; S Findlay, G Stewart, G Strain, K McDonald, A Kirkland, A Hill, M Fagerson, T Spinks©. Subs: S Rodgers, B Cullinane, S Thomson, S Yacoubian, H Schulte.
Melrose: F Thompson; A Lockington, G Taylor, R Taylor, R McCann; J Baggott, M McAndrew; J Bhatti, R Anderson, N Beavon, J Head, L Carmichael, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: D Elkington, R Knott, B Colvine.
Hawks: Try: Stewart, Penalty Try; Con: Horne 2; Pen: Horne.
Melrose: Try: Lockington, Taylor 2, McCann; Con: Baggott 4; Pen: Baggott 3.
Referee: G Ormiston
Man-of-the-Match: Melrose have a highly potent back three and Austin Lockington drew first blood, but Fraser Thomson is the character who pulls the strings and he rarely makes a bad decision.
Talking point: Should Hawks persist with their high tempo, attack-from-deep game-plan or take cognisance from the fact that they scored three tries when keeping it tight in this match?
Scoring sequence (Hawks first): 0-5, 0-7, 3-7, 3-10, 3-13, 3-20 (h-t) 3-25, 3-27, 3-30, 8-30, 10-30, 15-30, 17-30, 17-35, 17-37.
Image: Craig Watson Pix