ERIN McRITCHIE @ Mansfield Park
A CRISP afternoon in Hawick set the stage for the home side’s battle for redemption following their crushing defeat at Edinburgh Accies last weekend. The task was a mammoth one, however, as it was league leaders Ayr who were their competition, and ultimately the Borders side were simply over-powered and out-played.
It was a disappointing result for Hawick head coach George Graham, who explained post-match: “It was always going to be a difficult game, but we’re capable of a lot better than that.” His Ayr counterpart Peter Murchie was relatively pleased with his team’s performance, saying: “We did some good stuff, and ultimately to come down here and get five points is a good result as it’s a difficult place to come – it’s caused a number of teams some big issues.
“There’s always stuff to work on, but at times we played some good stuff. And to be fair to Hawick, they stuck in there and had some good possession at the end.”
It took just four minutes for the visitors to put the first points on the board as they rumbled toward the Hawick line looking for the five points. Hooker Pat MacArthur popped up to claim the score, and after referee Steven Turnbull consulted his touch judge the points were given.
Frazier Climo missed the conversion attempt, but Ayr remained on the front foot. The first lineout was won with ease by flanker Tommy Spinks, whilst their scrum and driving maul simply seemed to overpower the Hawick forward pack.
MacArthur was taken off midway through the first half with what appeared to be an arm injury. The severity of the damage was not immediately apparent, but Murchie said he hoped the injury was not too major.
Hawick began to piece some decent attacks together, but a knock-on from scrum-half Gareth Welsh ended one, while some silly mistakes cost them subsequently. The Ayr defence, of course, deserved their share of the credit for ending some of the home team’s forays upfield, in one of which centre Keith Davies fed David Lowrie, only for the lock to be brought down some metres into the visitors’ half.
A Climo penalty after Hawick were caught offside stretched Ayr’s lead, and the home team’s hopes of a fight back before the break were not helped when Lowrie was shown a yellow card after repeated warnings of ill-discipline at the breakdown.
The half closed as it had begun – with an Ayr try. This time it was Paddy Dewhirst who darted through the defensive line to secure the five points and make Hawick pay for their missing man. With Climo’s conversion added, the sides went in at the break with Ayr leading 0-15.
Ayr again looked the more determined of the two sides in the early stages of the second half. Once more, it took them roughly five minutes to find their feet, and replacement Alex McGuire took his moment as the driving maul from a five-metre lineout was simply too strong for the hosts and the Ayr forwards piled over the line.
Climo added the extras and the league leaders were set to maintain their position at the top of the table as just one more score would secure them the bonus point. That score came courtesy of winger Dewhirst, who five minutes later found a gap in the line, nipping through it as the Hawick forwards were still attempting to untangle themselves from the previous maul. To rub salt into the wound, home number eight Bruce McNeil was yellow-carded for his third side entry to a maul.
McGuire soon got his second score of the afternoon as Ayr recycled ball from a fantastic Pete McCallum break, with McGuire finding himself in enough space to crash over the line to further punish Hawick. Climo added the conversion, but shortly afterwards was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on of a Hawick ball in full view of the touch judge.
Hawick finally opened their account with around 10 minutes to play, with their backs working the ball through the phases and replacement Dale Johnstone eventually flying over in the corner. Armstrong missed the conversion, but Hawick had got a taste for scoring, and quickly got their second try in much the same fashion. This time it was the forwards who did the hard work, and the move ended with prop Nicky Little thundering over the line in amongst a pile of bodies. Armstrong was this time able to add the extras, and that proved to be the last score of the game.
The outcome was all but inevitable given how error-strewn Hawick’s performance was, as Graham accepted. “I just said to the players that our accuracy was woeful today,” the head coach said. “We couldn’t complete a huge amount of phases without dropping the ball.
“We were giving away penalties and forward passes. The scrum at the start of the game was getting decimated so we couldn’t get any go-forward ball from that.
“Our lineout didn’t function again today. And our defence I think was very, very passive – all the tackles were made, but completed two or three metres behind the game line. We were always on the back foot, and we were always in our own half. And you can’t win the game if you’re defending.”
This result, taking into consideration Melrose’s loss at home to Heriot’s, means Ayr remain rather comfortable at the top of the Premiership table, although Murchie chose not to concern himself too much with that result. “There’s obviously a couple of big games, and it might sound like a bit of a cliché but it doesn’t really matter to us,” he said. “You can’t affect who wins other games, or connotations. If we deal with our end, we’ll be alright.”
Hawick: A Weir; L Ferguson, K Davies, G Walker, L Gordon-Wooley; L Armstrong, G Welsh; S Muir, C Renwick, N Little, D Lowrie, D Redpath, S Graham, D Davison, B McNeil. Subs: M Carryer, D Suddon, K Ford, D Johnstone, J Linton.
Ayr: G Anderson; P Dewhirst, P Kelly, D McCluskey, R Hughes; F Climo, H Warr; R Sayce, P MacArthur, S Longwell, A North, L Morrice, T Spinks, P McCallum, B Macpherson. Subs: A McGuire, E McLaren, D Corbenici, A Rademaker, R Nairn.
Referee: Steven Turnbull.
Hawick: Tries: Johnstone, Little. Con: Armstrong.
Ayr: Tries: MacArthur, Dewhirst 2, McGuire 2. Cons: Climo 4. Pens: Climo.
Scoring sequence (Hawick first): 0-5; 0-8; 0-13; 0-15 (h-t) 0-20; 0-22; 0-27; 0-29; 0-34; 0-36; 5-36; 10-36; 12-36.
Yellow cards –
Hawick: Lowrie, McNeil
Man of the match: Whilst Alex McGuire also scored two tries, wing Paddy Dewhirst gets the award as his double came from solo breaks. He showed impressively quick thinking when identifying gaps in the defence, and also showed the speed and the elusive running required to break the line and finish off the play.
Talking point: Hawick were overpowered at all features of the set piece throughout the 80 minutes as their forwards seemed unable to organize themselves in a destructive manner much the same way that Ayr were able to. They also lacked the presence of a real threat in attack to make the most of the few scoring opportunities they had.