Fijian flair and County composure too much for Hawks

Image: Bryan Robertson

Glasgow Hawks 13

Stirling County 22

DOUGIE ROSS @ Burnsbrae

A strong Stirling County performance was topped off by a sprinkling of Fijian magic as Niko Matawalu helped the visitors record a well deserved victory over Glasgow Hawks.

The first half opened with the two teams feeling each other out cautiously, trading a penalty kick each in the first 10 minutes. Stirling County captain and fly-half Jonny Hope opening the scoring with his young Hawks counterpart Ross Thompson levelling things off soon after.

With no Bobbie Beattie, Brendan McGroarty or George Horne it was fairly green looking Hawks backline which had to contend against a wily Stirling attack featuring Hope, Peter Jercevich and Matawalu (released from Glasgow Warriors for the day).

Once the game came into itself a bit more it was County who seemed to be the stronger side, gaining possession and holding onto it well.

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It was the line-out which caused Hawks their biggest headache, losing three of their own in the first half; while County seemed to ooze more confidence and skill as the game progressed, with their strong set-piece and driving maul making them regular visitors to Hawks’ 22.

Prop Gary Holburn bowled over for the visitors from a training ground catch-and-drive, but they were kept to just the one score in the first half thanks to a dogged display of defending from Hawks, and then the hosts gave themselves to a huge confidence boost when winger Kyle Rowe scored in the corner following a looping cut-out pass to even the the scores.

Hawks started the second half all guns blazing with a run from Sam Yawayawa and a couple of big carries from Jake Eaglesham giving the home side momentum, but then Matawalu appeared from nowhere to intercept a pass and as he touched down you felt an instant change in the atmosphere at Burnsbrae.

Following the try, it was a slog for the Glasgow outfit, and, despite only being seven points to the good, County were the far more composed team – solid in defence and making good use of wingers Matawalu and Kerr Gossman to stretch their opponents when in possession.

After a rare phase of useful Hawks possession, Thompson was given the chance to pull the score back a bit with a penalty in front of the posts, which he easily poked through, to make it a four point game.

Despite this incentive of one try to win it, Hawks still seemed frustrated and out of ideas when it came to breaking down County’s defence.

With seven minutes to go, the game was all but put to bed. Matawalu (again) punched through a dinky wee kick which landed just short of the line. The Fijian then proceeded to smash Ross Thompson over the line for a five metre scrum, and County replacement Hamilton Burr eventually crossed for the score after a barrage of close range drives from the visiting pack.

“We scored 12 tries last three weekends but only earned three league points. This week we spoke about tightening up our defence and that was the really pleasing thing at the end there. They were running really hard at us, they were trying to get something out of the match, and we just held them out,” said Striling County player-coach Peter Jericevich.

Finlay Gillies, Hawks head coach, was not quite as positive.

“I’m disappointed. I thought it was a miracle it was only 10-10 at half time. I think we only had 15 or 20% of the ball, so coming out in the second half we thought we had a chance – but Niko does what Niko does,” he said.

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Teams –

Glasgow Hawks: R Houliston; S Yawayawa, M New, D Milne, K Rowe; R Thompson, P Boyer; S Findlay, G Stewart, G Strain, A Kirkland, A Linton, S Leckey, C Kerr, J Eaglesham. Subs used:  C Brodie, L Skinner, K Beattie, L Brims, B Eynon.

Stirling County: L Trotter; N Matawalu, E MacGarvie, L Bonar, K Grossman; J Hope, P Jericevich; R Chies, R Kennedy, G Holburn, J Beech, H Burr, L Wynne, S MacDonald, R Leishman. Subs used: M Emmison, M MacDonald, J Pow, H Henderson, R Curle.

Scorers –

Hawks: Tries: Rowe. Cons: Thompson 2; Pens: Thompson 2.

Stirling: Tries: Holburn, Matawalu, Burr; Cons: Hope 2; Pen: Hope.

Scoring sequence (Hawks first): 0-3, 3-3, 3-8; 3-10, 7-10; 10-10 (h-t) 10-15; 10-17, 13-17; 13-22.

Referee: Ross Mabon

Man-of-the-Match: Glasgow Warriors’ Fijian livewire Niko Matawalu was involved in the two pieces of play which led to County’s two second half tries and seemed to be everywhere throughout the match.

Talking point: Matawalu’s interception and try early in the second half was crucial up until then the flattering scoreline seemed to be giving Hawks a degree of confidence and they appeared to be in the ascendancy.