COLIN RENTON @ Stoneyhill
HAWICK were the first club to win the original league title and the inaugural winners of the Scottish Cup. And, on this showing, George Graham certainly has his men in decent shape to be serious challengers to become the first name etched on the silverware in this new era of the Tennent’s Premiership.
Graham has built a strong squad around several older heads and added the youthful exuberance of several promising youngsters, with stand-off Bailey Donaldson looking a real prospect while a wily front row provided much of the grunt and weighed in with three of the eight tries. However, while his men ended the afternoon with a substantial winning margin, it took a late flurry of tries to finally break the resistance of a gutsy Musselburgh side.
The hosts also have a nice balance of youth and experience, and showed enough to suggest they will be a big asset to top-flight club rugby. In full-back Nathan Sweeney, who is dual registered with Southern Knights, they have a dangerous runner, while skipper Michael Maltman brings a wealth of knowledge and the flawless boot of Danny Owenson should act as a deterrent to any opponents with a penchant for flouting the laws.
Hawick looked fit and strong, and they appeared set for a routine win as they caught the home side cold and bagged two early tries. Craig Bachurzewski opened the scoring when he picked up at a ruck and showed impressive pace to race over. Ali Weir converted, and although the full-back was off the mark with his next effort after Logan Gordon-Wooley had shown a fine turn of pace to sprint down the wing for try number two in 12 minutes, the Greens were looking good.
However, the lead changed hands through a penalty try for the home side when a driven lineout was halted illegally and a self-converted touchdown for Danny Owenson after a quickly taken penalty. Hawick’s task was made tougher by a yellow card for Daniel Suddon closely followed by the same punishment for Bruce McNeil.
Despite being shorthanded, Hawick retook the lead when Bachurzewski claimed his second try and by the interval they were 29-14 ahead after Shawn Muir powered over and Gordon-Wooley finished off a slick handling move.
Hawick restarted well but their sustained pressure failed to yield points, and it was Musselburgh who were next on the scoreboard when Paul Cunningham intercepted deep in his own half and raced clear before freeing Tom Foley for a converted score that left the deficit at eight points.
That was as close as they would get and, although a determined defensive effort repelled wave after wave of Hawick attacks, a solo effort by Donaldson in 65 minutes finally broke the home resistance before Stuart Graham found a way through and Andrew Mitchell claimed try number eight with a determined run. Weir converted all three to complete the half-century of points.
Musselburgh had a final fling and came close to cinching a four-try bonus with a move that foundered on a handling error, leaving the Stoneyhill men empty handed.
Premiership MatchReports 07/09/19:
Despite the result, Hawick coach George Graham was not impressed. “I’m disappointed with the performance. We are way better than we are playing”, he said. “We need to make sure the organisation is a lot better. Defensively we are not where we need to be – 21 points against Musselburgh for me is not on. They were easy tries.
“We need to tighten up our discipline and we need to make sure we get our attack working a bit better.”
Of the impressive fitness levels of his men, he added: “We have had a really tough pre-season. They look fit, they’ve got it there, but I don’t think they are working as hard as they can.”
In the home camp, the strength of the Hawick squad was one of the points noted by Graham’s counterpart Graeme Paterson. “The level of physicality, the speed of the game, the type of game teams will bring – that’s shown us what we will face every week”, he acknowledged. “We kind of knew that, but physically facing it is a different matter for the players. Most of them have not played at this level before so it’s a steep learning curve.”
And he saw reasons to be positive, adding, “For 60 minutes of that game, we were there or thereabouts. The depth showed when we had to make personnel changes with injuries and shuffling things about a wee bit. They were able to maintain that physicality. We just couldn’t get out of our own half in the second half.”
Paterson is determined that his men will enjoy the season, but is equally adamant that top-flight rugby is important for Musselburgh. “The only target we have set is that we want to be a Premiership club. We don’t want to say mid-table or fighting to avoid relegation. We just want to say that we are here and we want to stay here.”
Musselburgh: N Sweeney; J Ferguson, R Smith, R Watt, T Foley; P Cunningham, D Owenson; C Owenson, E Bonthron, C Arthur, W Fleming, J Haynes, M Maltman©, C Pryde, L Hutson. Subs: P Brown, D Grant, E O’Brien, A Reddick, G Tait.
Hawick: A Weir; R McKean, A Mitchell, G Johnstone, L Gordon-Wooley; B Donaldson, G Welsh; S Muir, M Carryer, C Bachurzewski, D Suddon, K McNeil, S Graham, W McNeil, B McNeil. Subs: C Renwick, D Johnstone, S Fairbairn, J Linton, M Bannerman.
Referee: F Brown.
Musselburgh: Tries: Penalty Try, D Owenson, Foley. Con: D Owenson 2.
Hawick: Tries: Bachurzewski 2, Gordon-Wooley 2, Muir, Donaldson, Graham, Mitchell. Cons: Weir 5.
Scoring sequence (Musselburgh first): 0-5, 0-7, 0-12, 7-12, 12-12, 14-12, 14-17, 14-22, 14-24, 14-29 half-time, 19-29, 21-29, 21-34, 21-36, 21-41, 21-43, 21-48, 21-50.
Yellow cards –
Hawick: Suddon, B McNeil.
Man of the match: It wasn’t flawless, but Hawick stand-off Bailey Donaldson’s performance showed enough glimpses of his flair and awareness to mark the youngster as a player to watch.
Talking point: Hawick have lost fewer players than other Premiership clubs. That continuity means they have been able to hit the ground running and look capable of challenging for the title.