Hawick v Stirling County: lively start sets up home win

Borderers book semi-final showdown against Heriot's at Goldenacre on 30th March

Bruce McNeil
Hawick number eight Bruce McNeil charges with the ball. Image: Bryan Robertson

Hawick 31

Stirling County 27

DAVID BARNES @ Mansfield Park

THE home team laid the platform for this victory with an excellent 35 minutes playing into the wind at the start of the game, but then switched off just before half-time to hand their opponents a life-line and struggled to recover their mojo after the break. Stirling had their chances and got it back to a single point match midway through the second half, but, ultimately, they lacked the composure to wrestle the win away from George Graham’s men.

“I thought we dominated them in the first half,” said the Hawick head coach. “Our kicking was woeful, but our kick-chase was excellent and made up for that. We struggled in the first couple of scrums but then Shawn Muir and Dale Johnstone got the measure of their opposite numbers, which was really pleasing because we were under the cosh up there a few weeks ago and we got our retribution today.

“We scored three good tries in that first half which was great, but the frustrating thing with this team is that we then didn’t put them away with the wind at our back in the second half. We just didn’t make good use of the elements, their wingers were flat and their full-back was in midfield a lot, so if we’d kicked smart and chased well then we could have hemmed them into the corners and put them under pressure. But we made life hard for ourselves.

“We’ve still not got that 80-minute game where we do everything well at the right times. Our heads still go down too easily, and we let one mistake turn into a chain of events which really hurt us – we just need to be a bit more composed, and if we make a mistake then we forget about it and get our heads up to defend what is coming next.”

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Stirling took a fifth minute lead through the trusty boot of Andrew Goudie when Hawick were penalised for holding onto the ball on the deck just outside their own 22, after Lee Armstrong had tried to trigger an attack from deep with a long miss-two pass – but after that the home team took control of the game.

Bruce McNeil seemed rather harshly penalised for a double-movement as he burrowed over the line, but Hawick kept the pressure on and they got their score a few minutes later when Kirk Ford came in-field to create an overlap on the left, which he didn’t need to use because he bustled his way to the line all by himself.

Hawick continued to impress with the ball in hand, and it was a shame that Dalton Redpath’s flat pass to Armstrong strayed slightly forward because it brought to an end a passage of play which deserved a try.

Frazzled Strling did manage to pull three points back in the 21st minute, with a wind-assisted long-range penalty from Goudie. But Hawick were straight back on the front foot and scored again when scrum-half Gareth Welsh made good headway bursting from the base (not for the first), before feeding Keith Davies, who offloaded brilliantly to send Ali Weir in for a brilliantly worked score.

Hawick extended their lead to 15 points when another period of sustained pressure ended in Shawn Muir rumbling in wide on the left with five minutes left before the break, and Armstrong nailed the tough conversion to keep intact his 100 per cent record from the tee.

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Stirling salvaged something positive in overtime at the end of a half in which they had been generally overrun, when Hawick switched off and Ewan Macgarvie capitalised with an easy run-in from 25 yards off first-phase scrum ball.

And the visitors built on that lifeline when the action recommenced, when Josh King broke through Hawick’s defensive line then sent Macgarvie over for try number two, which Goudie converted to turn it into a one-point game.

It was getting pretty tense. Replacement County lock James Pow literally lost his shirt, ripped apart at the front, when Stuart Graham took offence to a ferocious tackle; and there was fierce words exchanged on the touchline as well, with Hawick coach George Graham and County team manager Stevie Neill ending up nose-to-nose at one point.

An Armstrong penalty after Adam Nicol was penalised for holding onto the ball in the deck seemed to calm home nerves slightly, although they could not recapture the cohesion of purpose which had characterised their first half performance.

There was too many dropped balls, shambolic rucks and silly mistakes for either team to strike any sort of rhythm, but Hawick did manage to pin County back inside their own half during the final 15 minutes, before McNeil burst from a maul and over the line to secure the win and book a semi-final clash against Heriot’s at Goldenacre on 30th March.

There was still time for Hawick to make life harder for themselves than it needed to be, with a collapse in discipline bringing a succession of penalties and a yellow-card for McNeil, before Ali Mackie rumbled over for a County consolation score.

“I said to the boys afterwards that we weren’t in the right place mentally when we turned up here, and that’s just not good enough in a Cup quarter-final,” reflected Stirling head coach Eddie Pollock. “I think we expected the wind to do it for us in the first half and we just put in a really sub-standard half hour, we were lackadaisical, we sat off them defensively, we missed tackles, our set-piece – which is usually a strength – didn’t function.

“We subbed early and I thought the guys who came on did well, they brought energy, but we’d left ourselves too much to do, and we continued to make basic mistakes which cost us.”

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Teams –

Hawick: A Weir; K Ford, A Mitchell, G Walker, L Gordon-Wooley; L Armstrong, G Welsh; S Muir, M Carryer, D Johnston, D Suddon, D Redpath, K Davies, S Graham, B McNeil. Subs used: C Renwick, N Little,J Linton,D Leightfoot,K Brunton,A Redpath, G Huggan.

Stirling County: J Hope; L Trotter, E Macgarvie, C Robertson, B Sorbie; A Goudie, R Swan; G Holborn, A Orr, A Nicol, S Yarrow, L Bruinsma, G Arnott, J King, A Mackie.  Subs used: B Robertson, A Wood, J Pow, A Rutherford, A Shaw, G Hughes, C Dineen.

Referee: D Sutherland

Scorers –

Hawick: Try: Ford, Weir, Muir, McNeil; Con: Armstrong 4; Pen: Armstrong.

Stirling County: Try: Macgarvie 2, Mackie; Con: Goudie 3; Pen: Goudie 2.

Scoring sequence (Hawick first): 0-3; 5-3; 7-3; 7-6; 1-6; 14-6; 19-6; 21-6; 21-11; 21-13 (h-t) 21-18; 21-20; 24-20; 29-20; 31-20; 31-25; 31-27.
Yellow cards –

Hawick: McNeil

Man-of-the-Match: Hawick scrum-half Gareth Welsh was a handful during the first half when the home team were at their most dangerous, with his powerful bursts from the base creating all sorts of problems for Stirling County.

Talking point: Hawick coach George Graham hit the nail on the head when he described his team as having a Jekyll and Hyde personality. They don’t just switch from heroes to villains on week to week basis, that transformation can happen in the blink of an eye. They will need to play somewhere near their best for much longer if they are to have a chance at Goldenacre at the end of March.

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About David Barnes 3668 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including he Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.