Glasgow Hawks 0
STUART BATHGATE @ Myreside
THROUGHOUT most of the autumn, these two clubs were pretty much on a par, bobbing along safely in mid-table. Now, as we approach the business end of the season, the contrast could hardly be any starker, with Watsonians still firmly on course for the top-four play-offs, and Glasgow Hawks increasingly in danger of getting involved in a play-off at the wrong end of the table.
Hawks, without some of their familiar complement of Scotland Under-20 and Glasgow Warriors players, put tons of endeavour into this match, and could not be faulted for their attitude, but two factors consigned them to six-try defeat. One was their own poor ball-retention, a failing perhaps born of a lack of confidence; and the other was the composure of their opponents.
Watsonians, for whom this was a fifth consecutive win in the BT Premiership, are now a well-balanced side. They defend patiently and with real composure, trusting in their own ability to protect their own line. And they can switch from defence to attack in an instant, punishing opponents with some excellent interpassing moves from deep.
Stevie Lawrie’s team lie fourth after this bonus-point win, and are now two points clear of Heriot’s. With games against Hawick, Boroughmuir and third-placed Ayr still to come there is still a lot of rugby to be played before they can be guaranteed a play-off place, but there is a lot of momentum behind them.
“It was a funny game,” the Watsonians head coach said. “The wind didn’t help. It wasn’t a spectacle by any stretch, but they got it done.
“We’ve gained a point on Heriot’s, because they didn’t get a bonus point, and Ayr lost. We’ve just got to focus on ourselves.”
Watsonians have requested a 4pm kick-off for their home game against Hawick next week in the hope of attracting a crowd to watch Wales v Scotland in their clubhouse first – the international kicks off at 2.15. Hawks are at home to Currie Chieftains, and whatever the outcome of that game they will be particularly eager to hear the result from Myreside, as Hawick, once apparently doomed to relegation, are now just a point behind them in eighth place.
Playing with that swirling wind largely in their advantage in the first half, Hawks began brightly enough, using the blunt instrument of Jack Steele to gain ground in midfield. But while the burly centre made inroads at times, his team-mates were too often held up by the well-drilled home defence, and for all their possession in the opening 10 minutes they only breached the 22 once.
Watsonians were not seen as an attacking force until the end of the first quarter, but they swiftly made up for lost time by opening the scoring. An initial counter-attack was halted on the first right, but a blindside break caught Hawks on the hop, and Andrew Chalmers was on hand to finish off the move. Ali Harris converted.
Hawks came close to a quick response, but were held up on the Watsonians line then in their next attack lost the ball forward. While the wind made it hard for the home side to clear their lines, Hawks did not help themselves with some poor decision-making, and when next in good position again coughed up the ball.
By contrast, Watsonians kept a pattern to their attack, and reaped the reward with a a second try a few minutes before the break. Mark Bertram came close on the right, and when the forwards took it on, Hawks had to commit almost all their forces to the breakdown. That allowed a massive overlap on the left, and when the ball came back Michael Fedo had little trouble in going over for an unconverted try.
The last couple of minutes of the half summed up the whole 40 in miniature. Hawks ventured forward but too easily lost the ball, and then a quick hack upfield bounced kindly for Watsonians, allowing Fedo to score again from close range. Harris converted, bringing an end to a half in which Lawrie’s team had been in the Hawks 22 three times and emerged with three tries.
Six minutes into the second half and it was four tries from four forays into the 22. Michael Allen and half-time substitute Rory Drummond had made threatening breaks which pinpointed Hawks’ weak spots, and when DJ Innes got the ball he had the extra speed to elude the defence. Harris’ conversion attempt was on the right trajectory, but a strong gust blew it back from right in front of the posts.
Try No 5 came before the hour was up. Originating in a quick tapped penalty, the move went right before traversing the field all the way to the left corner, where Fedo was on hand to complete his hat-trick. The wind again denied the conversion.
Hawks fought until the end in search of a consolation score, yet to no avail. Watsonians were determined not only to keep a clean sheet, but to have the last word, and they got it when, following a five-metre scrum, replacement scrum-half Willie Thomson dashed over the line for a try converted by Chalmers.
“I think that’s the first time I’ve ever been nilled,” Hawks coach Finlay Gillies said. “In the first half I actually thought we were really good, the better team, and coming in at 19-0 I wasn’t too panicked – I thought ‘We’ve got points in us’. And they just never came.
“It’s about stopping the rot now and that’s a really hard thing to do. We’ve got a tough fixture next week against Currie, and hopefully we’ll get some of the 20s guys and Warriors guys back for that. We need a win, and we’ll go for that win next week.”
Watsonians: A Chalmers; M Bertram, M Allen, D Innes, R Steele; R Hutton, A Harris; F Hobbis, R Graham, M Christie, E Dods, C Borthwick, J Miller, G Nelson, M Fedo. Subs: D Miller, J Gibson, R Drummond, E Miller, W Thomson.
Glasgow Hawks: R Houliston; E Oag, B McGroarty, J Steele, J Couper; L Brims, P Boyer; G Strain, P Cairncross, L Skinner, S Leckey, F Hastie, J Spence, C Kerr, G Adams. Subs: S Findlay, J Gemmell, S Dow, D Milne, P Steele.
Scorers: Watsonians: Tries: Chalmers, Fedo 3, Innes, Thomson. Cons: Harris 2, Chalmers.
Scoring sequence: 5-0, 7-0, 12-0, 17-0, 19-0 half-time, 24-0, 29-0, 34-0, 36-0.
Referee: J Lewars (England).
Man of the match: Watsonians No 8 Michael Fedo scored a hat-trick and his sharp finishing epitomised the difference between the teams.
Talking point: The conditions made running rugby difficult, but both teams did their best to play positively, with some of Watsonians’ breaks from deep being particularly entertaining.