Currie Chieftains 29
DAVID BARNES @ Malleny Park
THIS was one hell of a contest. With a furious wind howling through the trees around Malleny, the grey autumnal sky casting long shadows across the turf, and two bands of warriors throwing everything they have at each other, it felt more like a battle scene from ‘Game of Thrones’ than a rugby match at times.
The result is probably a fair reflection of how the game played out, but it could very easily have gone the other way, and the visitors absolutely deserved the two bonus-points they take back down the road to Hawick. Questions have been asked about whether the Borderers can recreate their Mansfield form on the road in order to become serious contenders to finish top of the table, and this performance delivered an emphatic yes to that query.
However, the Chieftains are top of the table for good reason, having recovered from their opening weekend upset against these same opponents to conquer all who have since crossed their path. They are tough, well-drilled and full of self-belief. They are the team to beat in this league.
“What a game!” exclaimed victorious head coach Mark Cairns afterwards. “I was disappointed with how easily we let them score when they were playing into the wind in the first half – we let them in with a couple of breaks that really we shouldn’t have – but the try we scored just before half-time lifted the boys.
“I thought our defence, on the whole, was good, but we did have a few moments when we were caught out by them doing something unexpected, like picking up and going again when they hadn’t been held in the tackle. So, there is always things to work on,” he added.
“It was an important win because it keeps our noses in front and it is now just about carrying on to the end of the season. We’ve still got about six boys to come back before the turn of the year, so selection is going to be hard, but is is great to have that strength in depth.”
For Hawick head coach Matty Douglas, it was a mixture of pride and frustration. “I thought we stayed in there pretty well into the wind in the first half and scored a couple of good tries, but their try just before half-time – which was a soft one to give away – killed us a little bit,” he reflected.
“We played the areas well in the second half, but sometimes a strong wind like that doesn’t benefit you a lot because it is hard to control the ball. We were the better side in the second half but a couple of inaccuracies cost us. The boys are gutted and I’m gutted.”
“At the end of the day, Currie are the top side in the league, and Mark has got them well drilled, so the positive is that we have taken six points from the two top teams in the league in the last week, so we have to take some satisfaction from that.”
Hawick took a fourth minute lead when Chieftains fumbled just outside the Hawick 22 and Andrew Mitchell then Ronan McKean both hacked ahead, before Jae Linton galloped onto the scene to provide the finishing touch, setting up an easy conversion for Kirk Ford.
Hawick’s hits were coming in fast and hard – and late, if you listened to some of the voices on the Malleny touchline – with Linton leading the way with two thunderous tackles inside one passage of play. The No8 had his internal SatNav zoned in on the influential Gregor Hunter all afternoon, and the Chieftains stand-off will doubtless be nursing a few aches and pains tomorrow morning.
The penalties started to rack up against the Borderers, but their approach seemed to be having the desired effect because Chieftains dominated possession during that early period but lacked their usual composure, and Hunter pushed a penalty opportunity wide which he would normally have gobbled up to the left of the posts.
He was, however, on target a few minutes later, to get Chieftains off the mark, before DJ Innes broke clear and sent Cammy Gray home for the try which edged the hosts into the lead.
Momentum was now firmly with the hosts and they forged further ahead when Rhys Davies muscled over after a long spell of pressure, and Hunter added the extras.
But Hawick struck back around the half-hour mark when the lively Gareth Welsh escaped down the side of a ruck then timed his pass brilliantly for McKean to score.
Hawick second-r0w Rudi Brown did well to get back to his feet when he wasn’t held in a tackle in the middle of the park and then rampaged into the Chieftains 22, but he was penalised after being brought a second time for holding on.
Then came that moment which both coaches agreed had been crucial just before the break. Hawick’s scrum had Chieftains under serious pressure inside their own half, but Wallace Nelson managed to pick up and get possession recycled, allowing captain Fergus Scott to launch a break-out which was carried on by James McCague, and then finished off by Scott, who had done well to keep pace with the flying winger.
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Wind-assisted, Hawick dominated the opening 10 minutes of the second half, and the pressure finally paid off for the Borderers when Ford bustled over and converting himself to make it a five-point game.
That provoked an almost immediate response from Currie, and Cairns was left furious when a penalty try was not awarded for a line-out maul being collapsed as it swept towards the Hawick line, but the players kept their eye on the prize, with Greame Carson picks up and dived over, although there was no conversion.
Within minutes, Shawn Muir struck back in a similar style, meaning that, if nothing else, both teams now knew that they would take a try-bonus from the match.
It was nip and tuck, but Currie’s defence appeared the more resolute, soaking up wave upon wave of green attacks, and winning penalties and turnovers over the tackle at crucial moments.
With the game edging into injury-time, Hawick had one final shot at glory. They opted to scrum a penalty 15 yards from the Chieftains line and almost directly front of the posts, then battled through about a dozen phases. But there was no let up in the home defence, and eventually a loose pass bounced forward as Mitchell tries to gather at ankle level, bringing the curtain down on this epic encounter.
The celebrations of the Currie players on the pitch at the end, and of their supporters in the stand, told the story of how hard-earned and important this win was for the league leaders.
Currie Chieftains: C Brett (A Hall 50); J McCaig, R Southern, D Innes, C Gray; G Hunter, P Boyer; G Carson, R Stewart (S Fisher 41-69), G Scougall (C Ramsay 31-50), R Davies, H Ferguson, G Nelson, F Scott, W Nelson.
Hawick: B Donaldson; M Tait, L Gordon-Woolley, A Mitchell, R McKean; K Ford, G Welsh; S Muir, M Carryer (R Graham 50), R Macleod (D Gamble 29), R Brown (R Smith 55), S Fairbairn, C Renwick, S Graham (C Sutherland 4), J Linton.
Currie Chieftains: Try: Gray, Davies, Scott, Carson; Con: Hunter 3; Pen: Hunter.
Hawick: Tries: Linton, McKean, Ford, Muir; Con: Ford 2.
Scoring sequence (Currie Chieftains first): 0-5; 0-7; 3-7; 8-7; 10-7; 15-7; 17-7; 17-12; 22-12; 24-12 (h-t) 44-17; 24-19 29-19; 29-24.
Man-of-the-Match: Plenty of candidates on both sides, but home loose-head prop Graeme Carson played the full 80 minutes, most of that against the highly-rated Dan Gamble who has had game time with Edinburgh, and although scrum creaked it didn’t crack. He also scored the bonus-point securing try for the Chieftains.
Talking point: We’ve heard a lot about how the likes of Ross Thomson have gone on to play professional and international rugby off the back of their time in Super6. Can we assume that the valuable game-time the Premiership is now giving to youngsters such as Dan Gamble and Rudi Brown will also merit congratulatory tweets from Murrayfield if they make the big-time at some point in the future?