ALAN LORIMER @ Mansfield Park
SCOTLAND stand-off Finn Russell returned to rugby action after recovering from the horrendous injury sustained back in April in the semi-final of the Guinness Pro12 against Connacht, to help Ayr achieve a bonus point win over Hawick.
Russell, playing alongside his younger brother, Archie, for the first time, certainly had an influence on the game. The Glasgow Warrior displaying trademark skills of precision passing and calculated kicking to create two of Ayr’s seven tries.
“It was good to get a run-out. It’s the first game I’ve had since recovering. It was good fun getting a run-out with my brother. I felt fine out there and fit. I’d like to be playing for Glasgow as soon as possible,” said Russell, after his fitness test.
To what extent Russell influenced Ayr’s victory is a moot point but he certainly helped to light up a game in which both sides deserve huge credit for their commitment to an attacking style of play.
Arguably Russell had more of an armchair ride than he normally experiences such was Ayr’s power and weight superiority in the frontal battle. The visitors used this advantage repeatedly, deploying their big men to suck in the Hawick defence, before spreading the ball wide to give opportunities for their strike runners.
For Hawick, hurt physically and psychologically from their mauling by Heriot’s at Goldenacre last week, there was the satisfaction of gaining their first championship point in this season’s BT Premiership from scoring four tries in a performance that was all about positivity.
But there was no disguising the difficulty that Hawick are experiencing this season with a lack of depth up front. In this match they were able to have only one front-row on the bench (with skipper Bruce McNeil being deployed in the back-row) and this is a handicap that is affecting the Greens ability to contest for 80 minutes.
Additionally, Hawick have been forced to blood a number of youngsters out of necessity.
“They could either sink or swim – most are swimmers,” suggested McNeil.
Of the new breed emerging in Green colours, replacement stand-off Kirk Ford looks a useful player, as does starting hooker Fraser Renwick.
Hawick’s determination to put the agony of Goldenacre behind them produced a try within three minutes. Lee Armstrong and Darcy Graham cutting holes in the Ayr defence before Neil Renwick finished off with a touchdown under the posts, and the full-back added the conversion for good measure.
Ayr had a try chalked off because of foul play that landed lock Scott Sutherland in the sin-bin but the Millbrae men were not long in atoning, their heavy artillery doing the groundwork before flanker Gregor Henry found space.
The try was converted by Finn Russell, but Hawick soon countered. A long pass to Michael Robertson and support from fellow second-row Dylan Harlen ending with McNeil crossing for his side’s second try, again converted by Renwick.
Ayr’s lengthy encampment in Hawick’s half finally paid dividends as Scotland’s recovering stand-off judged his pass to perfection to give younger brother Archie a try, with the conversion squaring the scores at 14-14 going into the break.
Hawick then conceded a soft try, a missed tackle giving Ross Curle the touchdown, before it was the turn of Finn himself to get in on the act, by looping round Curle for the score.
Ayr number eight Blair MacPherson profited from a well-directed Finn Russell kick, taking the score to 31-14 in favour.
Hawick hit back as McNeil barged over from close range, youngster Kirk Ford making the score a seven pointer; but Ayr pulled away again almost immediately, this time Archie Russell running in for his second try.
Then it was the turn of MacPherson to complete his double, the burly back-row taking a wonderful off-load from David Armstrong, after the scrum-half had made a sniping run. Frazier Climo, who had by now replaced Russell senior, added the conversion.
A losing bonus point was out of the question for Hawick but a try bonus remained a possibility. It became a reality when home pressure produced a break by the admirable Keith Davies and his pass to Wesley Hamilton gave the wing a run to the line. It was nothing less than the Greens deserved for their effort against an Ayr side surely destined to be in the end-of-season play-offs.
Hawick: Tries: McNeil 2, Hamilton, Renwick; Cons: Armstrong 2, Ford 2.
Ayr: Tries: A Russell 2, F Russell, MacPherson 2, Curle, Henry Cons F Russell 3, Climo.
Hawick: N Renwick; D Graham, G Johnstone, G Huggan, W Hamilton; L Armstrong, B Campbell; M Landels, F Renwick, C Mackintosh, D Harlen, M Robertson, B McNeil, S Graham, K Davies. Subs: T Skeet ,R Gibson, N McColm, D Redpath, K Ford.
Ayr: G Anderson; D McCluskey, A Russell, R Curle, C Gossman; F Russell D Armstrong, G Hunter, D Young, S Langwell, R McAlpine, S Sutherland, W Bordill, G Henry, B MacPherson. Subs: R Smith, A Prentice, C Stevenson, C Taylor, F Climo.
Referee: D Sutherland
Man-of-the-Match: Hawick flanker Stuart Graham – got through a massive amount of work to keep Ayr in check
Talking point: International players do add a bit of stardust
Image courtesy: Kenneth Baillie