ALAN LORIMER @ Mansfield Park
HAWICK progressed to the first round of the Scottish Cup after defeating Melrose in the preliminary round match at Mansfield Park. However, despite this ultimately being a comfortable win for the Greens, there is still much to do for George Graham’s side if it is to prosper in their Premiership campaign, which kicks-off with a tricky trip to Musselburgh next Saturday.
“It was a poor game and I’m bitterly disappointed that we made so many unforced errors,” said Graham. “Our discipline was terrible at times with silly penalties given away. We played a little bit better in the second half. It will evolve and we’ll get better and we’ll get a lot more competitive. It doesn’t matter what Melrose team you’re facing there always going to be combatative. And given the average age of these boys they were actually pretty good.
“We didn’t control the game because we couldn’t keep hold of the ball for long enough. We scrummaged very well today but I thought Melrose did so as well,” he added.
What Hawick showed was their power up front, albeit this made for less of a rugby spectacle than the fans at Mansfield Park might have hoped for. Indeed for the first ten minutes of the second half Hawick played endless one-pass rugby that kept a lid on the excitement level.
For their part, Melrose will take much from this game, not least their ability to stand up to a very physical Hawick pack which contained three McNeils in the starting team, making you almost believe you were watching Barra in action.
“Both individually and collectively we got the performances we were looking for,” said Stuart Johnson, the Melrose coach. “We were up against a powerful Hawick side and we ran them close. Some of the defensive sets we put together were great. The scoreline didn’t reflect the game. We had a try disallowed and that was a massive turning point in the game.”
Despite dominating territory and possession Hawick took 17 minutes before putting points on the board from a try by flanker Stuart Graham, after the Greens forward pack had shunted the visitors’ eight backwards.
Then, against the run of play, Melrose gained ground from a massive touch-finder from David Colvine. An overthrow by Hawick at the ensuing line-out gave Melrose possession and a chance to attack. Lewis Mallin did the damage before the winger passed inside to the supporting Chris Raymond, allowing the back-row to touch down.
Melrose joy was short-lived, however, as referee Keith Allen disallowed the try on the basis of an earlier infringement, that only the most keen-eyed had spotted.
There was some compensation for Melrose in the form of a penalty goal by Colvine after Hawick were judged to be offside.
But any hopes that this represented a Melrose fightback quickly vanished when Hawick struck again two minutes before the break. A penalty kick to touch by stand-off Bailey Donaldson gave Hawick the perfect attacking platform and allowed the Greens power men to drive at the line, ending with hooker Matt Carryer smashing his way over to score under the posts, leaving aLI Weir with a simple conversion kick.
As they had done in the first half Hawick, took time to strike: 15 minutes, in fact. And again it was their powerful forwards that did the damage with multiple phases of one pass rugby that eventually wore down the Melrose defence allowing Daniel Suddon to exploit space and skipper Shawn Muir to finish the move off with an unconverted try.
Hawick: A Weir; R McKean, A Mitchell, G Johnstone, L Gordon-Woolley; B Donaldson, G Welsh; S Muir, M Carryer, C Bachurzewski, K McNeil, D Suddon, S Graham, Billy McNeil, Bruce McNeil. Subs: C Renwick, D Johnstone, J Rowley, M Renwick, M Bannerman.
Melrose: K Clark; L Mallin, D Colvine, T Klein, J Brown; Donald Crawford, Douglas Crawford; W Owen, R Ferguson, C Crookshank, T Brown, C Wilde, C Raymond, G Runciman, T Andrews. Subs: B McLean, M Wilson, G Lindsay, S Fisher, G Wood.
Referee: K Allen
Hawick: Tries: Graham, Carryer, Muir; Cons Weir 2.
Melrose: Pen: Colvine.
Scoring Sequence (Hawick first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-3; 12-3; 14-3 (h-t) 19-3
Yellow cards –
Man-of-the-Match: Melrose flanker Chris Raymond was a stand-out in the two Kings of the Sevens tournaments at Peebles and Hawick and has brought the same dynamic play into the fifteens game. He should be a huge asset to Melrose in National One this season.
Talking point: Hawick are working with a small squad this season but they still have the core of their forward pack from last year. The power they can generate will be vital for Hawick in the Premiership but the Greens will want to convince themselves that they have a backline game. That was certainly missing yesterday. But with a young stand-off in Bailey Donaldson still feeling his way in senior rugby, Hawick will surely develop a dynamic game behind the scrum.
Full round-ups of both Scottish Cup and National League Cup will be published on The Offside Line tomorrow.