ALAN LORIMER @ Philiphaugh
THIS was rugby in the raw played under a top drop of snow, sleet and wind, driven heavy rain, in temperatures that stayed just above zero, making for conditions that could charitably be described as inhospitable. And the sight of wingers constantly trying to keep themselves warm merely confirmed just how bad it was for the players involved or, in the case of the aforementioned pace men, uninvolved.
At the end of a non-spectacle it was Hawick who took the spoils to maintain their winning sequence, a run of successes that is taking the Greens ever closer to a top four finishing place in the Tennent’s Premiership.
Few could argue with Hawick’s win such was the dynamism of their forwards in the face of a solid Selkirk defence that refused to submit, and the visitors’ solidity at scrum time. Only the terrible conditions prevented Hawick from translating possession into attacking back-orientated rugby.
Ultimately, the visitors won out of sheer desire to achieve victory as their coach Matty Douglas confirmed when he stated: “I said at half time it’s about the team that wants it more. I thought we were dominant at set-piece but at scrum time I thought we didn’t get the penalties we should have. But the boys have to be happy about getting a win”.
For their part, Selkirk, fielding a makeshift backline after injuries to stand-off Calum Anderson and centres Josh Welsh and Ross Nixon, showed huge determination in stopping Hawick from converting power-play into points, a defensive effort that pleased coach Scott Wight.
He said: “We asked for a wee bit more energy and a wee bit more desire after our performance at Musselburgh last week and I think the boys gave that in abundance today. I thought in defence we were pretty strong but the try before half-time was a bit of killer blow. We came out in the second half and gave as good as we got. Obviously weather conditions were far from ideal today for both teams but to take a bonus point from this game is a positive”.
It was always going to be the case that tries would be difficult to score in conditions that made handling a rugby ball treacherous, and so it proved to be in the first half. Selkirk made an initial contribution to the scoreboard with a fourth minute penalty by full-back Kieran Clark but for the next 34 minutes the two sides engaged in trench warfare redolent of rugby in days gone by.
Selkirk had the better share of territory and coupled with staunch defence gave Hawick few chances to play the kind of rugby that has brought them success in recent weeks. But the question in the big first 40 minutes was always: how long could Selkirk hold out before Hawick breached their defence?
The answer came a couple of minutes before half time. Scrum-half Ethan McVicar missed touch with a kick from the Selkirk 22 area allowing Hawick to move the ball to Ronan McKean, who made ground before being felled to the mud. But it was enough to trigger a sustained assault on the Selkirk line with multiple phases of pick-and-drive play each time stopped by the home side’s defence.
But when Hawick decided to move the ball wide, stand-off Kirk Ford spotted a gap and raced over for a try which he then converted to give his side a 7-3 interval advantage.
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Selkirk started the second half with renewed determination to come back into the match and were rewarded with a second penalty strike from full-back Clark. Hawick responded in predictable fashion with a series of scrums in the five metre zone, extracting a penalty from each before referee Michael Todd bowed to the inevitable and awarded a penalty try.
Selkirk, however, refused to lay down their arms and after Clark had made a defence-splitting run Selkirk won a penalty which the full-back converted into points. Hawick tried desperately to add to their second half points tally – their best effort coming from a piercing run by replacement flanker Callum Renwick – but on a bitterly cold day they looked happy to collect four championship points and head for a hot, hot shower.
Selkirk: K Clark; A Bulman, R Chalmers, A Grant-Suttie, C McNeill; B Pickles, E McVicar; L Pettie, J Bett, B Riddell, T Brown, A Renwick, A McColm, S McClymont, E MacDougall. Subs: R Reilly, R McFadzen, R Cook, J Hamilton, F Anderson.
Hawick: B Donaldson; L Gordon-Woolley, B Evans, A Mitchell, R McKean; K Ford, D Lightfoot; S Muir, M Carryer, D Gamble, R Smith, S Fairbairn, S Graham, C Sutherland, R Brown. Subs: R Graham, R Macleod, C Renwick, S Frizzel, A Redpath.
Referee: M Todd
Selkirk: Pens: Clark 3.
Hawick: Tries: Ford, Penalty Try; Con: Ford.
Scoring Sequence (Selkirk first): 3-0; 3-5; 3-7 (h-t) 6-7; 6-14; 9-14.
Man-of-the-Match: All 30 starting players plus the replacements deserve huge plaudits for enduring the conditions in the name of sport. So from today’s game at Philiphaugh a collective award is the most appropriate decision.
Talking point: One of the reasons that players and spectators enjoyed Super6 was the time of year during which the competition was played. It started on the last weekend of July and finished mid October: in other words it was played at a time of year when the weather in Scotland is, shall we say, kinder. So why is the Premiership played throughout the months of December and January (and even February)?
‘Summer’ rugby is a worrying term for many rugby fans but were it to be replaced by ‘non-winter’, might that not be nearer what could be the right time of year to play our sport. Moreover, with the physical demands of rugby becoming ever greater a winter break would surely benefit players.