Currie Chieftains 20
DAVID BARNES @ Mansfield Park
A PERFORMANCE and a result which serves notice that Hawick have every intention of being up there challenging for the play-offs at the end of the season. It was a home display packed with commitment, courage and a canny understanding of what the team needed to do to get the outcome they were after. The victory also sees the Bill McLaren Shield return to Mansfield Park.
Currie Chieftains will have been fully aware that coming to Mansfield Park on the opening weekend of this Premiership season to take on a youthful Hawick side with a point to prove was packed with jeopardy, but being forewarned does not necessarily translate into being forearmed, and they were helpless in the face of the intensity exhibited by their opponents.
The big question from a Hawick perspective is whether they can recreate this unrelenting commitment to competing for absolutely everything on a weekly basis this season, both home and away? They have shown that they have the ability to be there or thereabouts in the final shakedown, but can this inexperienced team produce the consistency required?
“I spoke through the week about how our attitude and mind-set would be the key to this game, and I think that showed,” said victorious head coach Matty Douglas. “We are a young team but there was 15 Hawick players out there who put their body on the line for the jersey, and it showed at the end when we defended for about 15 minutes to keep them out and get the result.”
“We’ve had a disrupted build-up. We’ve played only 60 minutes of 1st XV rugby, and we felt good at half-time, but it was when we got to 60 minutes that the character of these boys really started to show.
“It didn’t help that Shawn Muir got an ankle injury six minutes in but the front-row put in a shift. We basically put Currie to the sword in the scrum so it was a massive effort by two 20 or 21-year-old props in there with Matty Carryer at hooker.”
Ally Donaldson is standing in as head coach for Chieftains at the moment while Mark Cairns is out the country. He’s been around the block enough times to know that sometimes you just have to put your hands up and pay tribute to an opponent who has got the better of you on the day.
“Full credit to Hawick, they had a game-plan for the day which they stuck to really well – a good set-piece, a really good kicking game and their defence was outstanding,” he said. “We had chances to win it at the end but we made too many errors over the whole game, some forced and some unforced, and we probably tried to chase things too early when things weren’t going our way.
“The effort Hawick put in was incredible, but we knew that would be the case. We just have to take it on the chin and move on because we’ve got Marr next week.”
The visitors fired out the traps but Hawick’s resolute defence mopped up the early pressure and the hosts then drew first blood on six minutes when Shaun Fairbairn somehow emerged from a ruck directly in front of Chieftains posts, holding the ball and with not a soul blocking his charge to the line, setting up an easy conversion for Kirk Ford.
The bad news for Hawick was that the talismanic Muir picked up an ankle injury during the build-up to that score and had to be replaced two minutes later. Douglas said afterwards that he hopes the loose-head will be back within the next few weeks.
Gregor Hunter narrowed the gap to two points with a penalty, and Chieftains then took the lead when Hawick were called for playing the ball on the deck five yards from their own line and Wallace Nelson wriggled over following a quick tap from Paddy Boyer.
Hawick got their noses back in front, briefly, when Ford sent home a scrum penalty, only for Chieftains to respond almost immediately with an excellently executed try which involved Hunter angling an inch-perfect diagonal into the in-goal area for right wing Ryan Daley to run onto and score. This came after some good link play involving those wily veterans Fergus Scott and Boyer.
It was entertaining stuff – played at a break-neck speed – and it was Hawick who ended the half on a high when Ronan McKean powered over Charlie Brett, then carried another tackler over the try-line with him. Kirk couldn’t add the touchline conversion meaning that the game was tantalisingly balanced at 15-13 at the break.
Hawick had an opportunity to extend it to a five-point game five minutes into the second half when Chieftains were guilty of collapsing a rolling maul which was gathering serious momentum, but Ford’s effort hit the post.
There was a moment of brilliance from Fairbairn when he dived full-stretch to pick-pocket possession from Boyer’s grasp as he ran cross-field looking to bring a runner onto the ball, then recycled to a team-mate in the same fluid movement.
Hawick claimed their third try just past the hour mark when replacement scrum-half Declan Lightfoot made to go left but had the peripheral vision to spot an opportunity on the right and fed Connor Sutherland, who in turn released Jae Linton. The No8 still had plenty to do, but made light work of shrugging off at least two challenges on his way to the line, with Kirk nailing the conversion for good measure.
Chieftains weren’t quite finished yet and after kicking a penalty to the corner, they rumbled over for Gregor Nelson to get the ball down, and by the time Hunter added the extras the gap was back to just two points.
A dominant Hawick scrum squeezed the life and, more importantly, a penalty out of Chieftains with just over five minutes to go, and Ford split the posts. but the home side were clearly tiring. There was a hold-up at the end of the next passage of play while two players – youngsters Sutherland and Bailey Donaldson – were treated for what appeared to be cramp.
It looked ominous for the hosts when Hunter fired a maul penalty into the corner, but they dug-deep to repel the inevitable onslaught, and then won a holding-on penalty under the shadow of their own posts.
Chieftains came again and, after a flurry of penalties conceded by Hawick, the city side found themselves camped again under their opponents’ posts. Ruaridh McLeod was sent to the bin, but still the Borderers wouldn’t break, and finally there was a fumble in contact, which allowed Hawick to clear the danger and celebrate a superb win.
Hawick: K Ford; R McKean (M Tait 54), L Gordon-Woolley, A Redpath, J Delaney (R Hartedgan 80); B Donaldson, G Welsh ( D Lighthoot 54); S Muir (R McLeod 9), M Carryer, T Hope, R Smith, S Fairbairn, S Frizzel (R Linton 63), C Sutherland, J Linton.
Currie Chieftains: C Brett (A Hall 64); R Daley, A Hall (R Southern 46), D Innes, M Bradshaw; G Hunter, P Boyer; G Carson (A McWilliam 40), R Stewart (S Fisher 46), A McWilliam (C Ramsey 26, G Carson 59), J O’Brien (G Nelson 46), H Ferguson, W Nelson, F Scott, R Davies.
Referee: R Campbell
Hawick: Tries: Fairbairn, McKean, Linton; Con: Ford 2; Pen: Ford 2
Currie Chieftains: Tries: W Nelson, Daley, G Nelson; Con: Hunter; Pen: Hunter.
Scoring sequence (Hawick first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-3; 7-8; 10-8; 10-13; 15-13 (h-t) 20-13; 22-13; 22-18; 22-20; 25-20.
Yellow cards –
Hawick: McLeod (80mins)
Man-of-the-Match: Hawick’s open-side flanker Connor Sutherland, playing his first competitive game of senior rugby after his final year at under-18 level was wiped out by Covid, was immense both sides of the ball.
Talking Point: As excellent as Hawick were at executing there game-plan and refusing to take a backward step, this was a troublingly disjointed performance from the Chieftains, who will need to get their act together when Marr come calling at Malleny next week.