DAVID BARNES @ Braidholm
THE BILL MCLAREN SHIELD will spend Christmas back at its spiritual home after Hawick battled out a well-deserved victory on the road at GHA, with a bonus-point securing penalty-try deep into injury time adding extra gloss to the result for George Graham’s men.
This result keeps the Mansfield side on track for a play-off appearance at the end of the season and, with Currie Chieftains slipping up at Philiphaugh, they are now only six points away (with a game in hand0 from a home semi-final, with six games of the regular season to go. A huge match away to league-leaders Marr straight after the festive break now beckons.
“That was a massive bonus-point for us, but we made hard work of it,” said Graham afterwards. “Anyone who watches us knows we are a much better team than we showed today. We’re disappointed with how we failed to keep hold of the ball and with our general game management in the first half, then in the second half we came out well but took off our foot off the gas and let them back in. We came back and got there in the end, but at one point we had a five man overlap and we stick with pick-and-go when we should be getting the ball away for the easy walk-in. So, we need to be a bit smarter in that situation.
“Having said all that, it is five points on the road, we’re six wins on the bounce and it is Christmas time, so I am happy,” he continued. “I’d like to have been playing Marr next week because we’ve got a bit of momentum, but it is what it is. I think we’re a better team than we were when they beat us at Mansfield earlier in the season.
“The boys are confident and we’re doing some really good things. Our scrum is going really well, and we’ve got a couple of really powerful centres who will wreak havoc if we can get them running onto the ball, and if we can get a bit better at holding onto the ball then we’ll be a real handful.”
It was a frustrating outcome for GHA who were holding onto a losing point for dear life deep into injury time before their scrum crumbled one time too many and referee Graeme Ormiston signalled the penalty try. However, head coach Trevor Carmichael was not too despondent.
“We were happy with the way we were playing at half-time and felt the game was there for the taking, but they scored early in the second half, and after that our patience, discipline and control was lacking,” he said. “From our first game against Hawick [a 45-7 defeat at Mansfield in mid-September] to where we are now, we have made huge progress.
“What we’ve got to understand is that we’ve got a really young team. All of our backline is under 21, apart from Andrew Gillman at scrum-half, so the future is bright. It would have been nice to get a bonus-point but it wasn’t to be and we move on. We’ve played the top three teams now, so we’ve got five games left to push for the play-offs.”
Both sides had early try-scoring opportunities. Hawick’s came in the opening minute when Ali Weir jinked inside his man to break from his own 22 before angling an excellent kick towards the right touchline for Lewis Ferguson to run onto, but the bouncing ball did not quite sit up for the winger so he had to hack ahead, and GHA full-back Andrew Lamb did well to get back a snuff out the threat.
GHA then engineered a three man overlap which was crying out to be exploited on the right but were ponderous through the hands. However, they kept the pressure on and got their reward a few minutes later when Aaron Purewal came off his wing to burst from the tail of a line-out which established the field position from which Jamie MacKinnon kicked a ruck penalty.
Hawick bounced right back, and although they squandered one promising attacking line-out, they were bang on the money when they got a second bite at the cherry, with debutant James Rowley – not for the first or last time – rising well to collect middle ball and then feeding scrum-half Gareth Welsh cutting back against the grain, who then sent Matty Carryer umbling over in the corner.
It was fast and furious stuff. On a crisp winter afternoon in the south of Glasgow, both sides were keen to attack with ball in hand, and each carved out a handful of promising opportunities only to be frustrated be clumsy hands in the red zone. Most noteworthy was GHA flanker Elliot Hardie’s powerful break after a Hawick fumble in the middle of the park, while both visiting centres Wiann Griebenow and Andrew Mitchell looked dangerous on the ball.
Despite all this, it was only 3-5 to Hawick at half-time, but that soon changed when Hawick’s set-piece domination took them deep into GHA territory from where they launched a scything backline move, which saw Griebenow fix the defence and Ferguson sweep round to release Logan Gordon-Wooley for an unchallenged run to the line.
GHA responded with an excellently taken try from Robbie McCallum, who hit a great line straight off scrum ball to go under the posts, which was a delivery of justice because the home team had looked odds-on to score just a few seconds earlier only for Kirk Ford to sacrifice himself to a yellow-card by taking out a GHA player who was winning the race to a free ball in the in-goal area.
With the scores now tied, GHA looked the likelier winner for most of the third quarter, but lacked penetration, and once Hawick got back on the front foot they turned the screw. Mitchell showed great pace, balance and power to scuttle in for a try on the right with just over 10 minutes to go, and the visitors now had the bonus point in their sights.
Bailey Donaldson, on for Weir at stand-off, angled a couple of excellent grubbers into the left hand corner, and GHA couldn’t find an escape route. Hawick were held up over the line once and had several other close calls, before their dominant scrum finally made the all-important difference.
GHA: A Lamb; J Craig, A Hughes, R McCallum, A Purewal; J MacKinnon, A Gillman; T Brogan, D Ewing, M Fox, A Barnett, J McCarthy, A Kerr, E Hardie, L McCutcheon. Subs: K Chernick, S Fisher, M Marinkovic, G Baird, C King.
Hawick: K Ford; L Gordon-Wooley, A Mitchell, W Griebenow, L Ferguson; A Weir, G Welsh; S Muir, M Carryer, D Johnstone, J Rowley, D Suddon, J Linton, S Graham, S Fairbairn. Subs: C Renwick, R Macleod, B McNeil, B Donaldson, R McKean.
Referee: G Ormiston.
GHA: Tries: McCallum; Con: MacKinnon; Pen: MacKinnon
Hawick: Tries: Carryer, Gordon-Wooley, Mitchell, Penalty Try; Con: Ford.
Scoring sequence (GHA first): 3-0; 3-5 (h-t) 3-10; 8-10; 10-10; 10-15; 10-17; 10-24.
Yellow cards –
Man-of-the-Match: Hawick centre Andrew Mitchell scored one good try and was a threat every time he was on the ball.
Talking point: Hawick are on a roll but can they keep their focus over the next three weeks before their showdown with Marr?