ALAN LORIMER @ Mansfield Park
BOTH sides had targeted this game as a must-win match to elevate them from their lowly positions in the BT Premiership. In the event, what had been an evenly contested match was decided by the sin-binning in quick succession of key Hawick players Lee Armstrong and Bruce McNeil, with County scoring three tries in their absence.
The other factor working in Stirling’s favour was their heavier forwards, who produced two tries from driven line-outs, and which had Hawick under pressure throughout in the set-piece. Outstanding for County in the their hard working pack were second-row Calum Hunter-Hill, and replacements David Montgomery and Matt Emmison – both of whom made massive impacts off the bench.
Stirling also played their part in producing an open contest that generated nine tries.
“We were perceived at the beginning of the season as a forward orientated side but we’ve got some exciting backs and we want to use them, particularly in the better weather,” said David Adamson, the Stirling coach .
Without a genuine second-row, Hawick were forced to keep ball in hand as much as possible, an approach that had its reward in two top drawer tries in the first half and two late scores in the final quarter when the Greens were chasing the game.
The reality for Hawick after this result is that they will have precious few chances to add to their championship points tally making the talk at Mansfield Park all about the near certainty of relegation.
A powerful start to the match by Stirling brought an early reward, a penalty goal by their full-back Johnny Hope, but after a bout of skilful handling Hawick replied in kind with a successful kick off the tee by Ali Weir.
Stirling’s heavier pack were looking threatening in the set piece and when they drove a penalty-created line-out they were unstoppable, resulting in a try for hooker Reyner Kennedy. This time Hope was unable to find target with his goal kick.
The ebb and flow of the match continued as Hawick struck back decisively, John Coutts coming off his blind side wing before making an emphatic break that created a try for flanker Stuart Graham. Weir missed the conversion which would have levelled the scores.
Hawick were under pressure from another kick to the corner but this time they resisted the pile-driver shove from County’s beefy forwards to prevent a try. However,minutes later Stiriling profited from another raid into Hawick’s 22m area with a second penalty goal by Hope.
The lead soon changed as Hawick worked a move from a scrum, Keith Davies breaking before feeding Greg Cottrell whose long pass gave Weir a route to the line, the full back converting his own try to give his side a 15-11 interval advantage.
Hope and Weir exchanged penalties but after Lee Armstrong was yellow carded for ‘slapping down’ the ball when Stirling threatened the Hawick line, powerful prop Adam Nicol scored County’s second try from the driven line-out, Hope converting.
Then, with Bruce McNeil joining Armstrong in the bin, Hawick lost a line-out on their own throw. Stirling attacked the Greens line with short drives ending with David Montgomery barrelling over.
Stirling’s third dividend from the sin-bin episodes came from a clean break by stand-off Ross Jones that gave his half back partner Matt Donaldson a try under the posts, leaving Hope with a simple conversion.
Hawick reacted to the increasing points gap by playing impressive handling rugby and when County’s Alex Black was binned for preventing Hawick taking a quick tap penalty, the home team moved the ball quickly for Cottrell to dive over for a try converted by Weir.
The Greens continued their late fightback by moving the ball from the restart, creating an overlap that gave wing Wesley Hamilton his side’s bonus point try.
But Hawick’s hopes of claiming a second bonus point were thwarted just before full-time when Hunter-Hill crashed over for County’s fifth try, Hope adding the extras to seal an important win for the Bridgehaugh men.
Hawick: A Weir; J Coutts, G Johnstone, K Brunton, W Hamilton; L Armstrong, G Cottrell; S Muir, F Renwick, C Mackintosh, D Lowrie, B McNeil, R Gibson,S Graham, K Davies. Subs: M Landels, G Douglas, D Harlen, B Campbell, N Renwick
Stirling County: J Hope; S MacDonald, C Pringle, A Black, L Trotter; R Jones, M Donaldson; M MacDonald, R Kennedy, A Nicol, H Burr, C Hunter-Hill, R Leishman, A Taylor, H Henderson. Subs: M Emmison, F Bradbury, D Montgomery, C Turnbull , O Jarvie.
Referee: R Mabon
Hawick: Tries: Graham, Weir, Cottrell, Hamilton; Cons: Weir 2; Pens: Weir 2.
Stirling: Tries: Kennedy, Nicol, Montgomery, Donaldson, Hunter-Hill; Pens: Hope 4; Cons: Hope 3.
Score sequence (Hawick first): 0-3, 3-3, 3-8, 8-8, 8-11, 13-11, 15-11 (h-t) 15-14, 18-14, 18-19, 18-21, 18-24, 18-29, 18-34, 18-36, 23-36, 25-36, 30-36, 30-41, 30-43
Yellow Cards –
Hawick: Armstrong (48), McNeil (54)
Stirling: Black (72)
Man-of-the-match: Replacement prop David Montgomery. The burly front row made a massive impact when he came off the bench. The former Newton Stewart player, who has also played in England, made a stunning 40m break that gave Stirling a penalty goal and then scored a crucial try for his side.
Talking point: Yellow cards in the second half killed Hawick’s hopes of winning what was one of their ‘target’ games and despite a late fightback, victory was always going to be difficult.
Image courtesy: Kenny Baillie