STEPHEN BRUNSDON @ Braidholm
HAVING fallen to a disappointing opening weekend defeat, GHA kickstarted their Premiership season in fine fashion, edging a thrilling end-to-end encounter. Although outscored five tries to four, the key to GHA’s victory lay largely in Hawick’s inability to collect points from the kicking tee. The visitors failed to kick any conversions, while a crucial final-minute penalty also strayed wide of the uprights.
In contrast, GHA’s Adam Scott kicked 11 points from the tee in a game which had looked like slipping away from the hosts, showing the sort of composure and poise which head coach Trevor Carmichael demanded of his squad.
“I’m delighted with the result, the boys absolutely deserved that today,” Carmichael said. “Their effort, right up until the last minute, I could not have asked for any more than that, it was exceptional.
“We didn’t control the game as well as we would have wanted in the first half, but the self-belief in the squad was there and we knew what we could do. The performance in that second half was spot on and I’m really proud of what I saw.”
GHA hit the ground running on what was their first true competitive outing in more than 18 months at Braidholm. The home side bossed the early exchanges and dominated both possession and territory as Hawick struggled to find their rhythm.
GHA got their chance after 10 minutes, albeit in fortuitous circumstances as Hawick fly-half Bailey Donaldson’s wayward pass was quickly snapped up by Charlie Lonergan on the 10-metre line. The centre nearly made it to the whitewash before being dragged down just short, but scrum-half Rory MacFarlane burrowed over from short-range to grab the opening try, which was converted by Scott.
Like a stunned animal, Hawick sparked into life and got deep into the GHA 22 through some neat backline plays. Despite a missed penalty from full back Kirk Ford, the visitors attacked again through a penalty lineout, from which the thunderous driving maul powered towards the try-line. It was pulled down and referee Michael Todd awarded a penalty try then showed GHA No 8 Jack Bruce a yellow card.
GHA’s second try came via captain Jamie McCarthy who scampered in from long range just before half-time. Scott was again successful with the conversion, handing his side a 14-7 lead at the interval.
Hawick head coach Matty Douglas didn’t divulge exactly what was said during the half-time break but admitted that words were had to try and turn the tide. He got his wish at the start of the second period.
“We were a lot better in the second half because I think some of us maybe forgot to get off the bus in the first,” Douglas said. “I felt we were a little bit lethargic and didn’t look like we wanted to compete. Take nothing away from GHA, I thought they played really well, they were ready for it. But in the second half, we were spot on, our line-out was better.”
Hawick came out of the blocks far better than GHA and wasted no time in fighting back with their second try of the match, which stemmed from rae clean set-piece ball.
Connor Sutherland’s piercing break started the move, before fly-half Donaldson fed Logan Gordon-Woolley, who got to within five yards of the line. With quick ball, flanker Sam Frizzel duly cruised over the line to touch down, although the seemingly straight-forward conversion was missed by Donaldson.
The response from GHA was almost immediate, having secured a lineout just after the restart. From that set-piece, GHA pressed again via McCarthy and Graham before fly-half John Crilly executed a perfect scissor switch with Max MacFarlane who stormed over. Scott’s third successful conversion helped extend the lead to 21-12.
Although they trailed on the scoreboard, it was clear that Hawick were in the ascendancy, particularly in attack. What stopped them was the malfunctioning set-piece, which was often wasted by line-out overthrows and knock-ons. However, when it did work, points followed. With GHA offending at the breakdown, Hawick had a free ball and Donaldson unleashed his backs to go wide, with Gordon-Woolley sending in James Delaney at the corner for the try.
Now, the momentum was well and truly with the Borderers, with Donaldson slotting an easy penalty in front of the posts to edge his side to within a point of GHA.
Despite Scott restoring GHA’s three-point margin five minutes later, Hawick soon had their fourth try with scrum half Gareth Welsh capitalising on sleeping GHA defence from a quick tap penalty to dive over. Staggeringly, the conversion was missed once more, but Hawick still led for the first time in the match, 25-24.
Douglas’ men then began to turn the screw and used their driving maul to good use to score their fifth try, seemingly putting them out of reach. Prop forward Ruaridh McLeod had been a stalwart in the loose all game, and he bumped over for the score. Alas, the conversion – even when taken by Kyle Brunton – could not bisect the posts and it was a six-point game heading into the final seven minutes.
That was all GHA needed, and they went off in search of the winning try; their cause helped by a Hawick fumble which gave the hosts a scrum in midfield. And having kicked all of the points on offer, it was perhaps only right that Scott should score a brilliant winning try. The winger escaped the first tackle before fending off a second then sprinting down the touchline. Carmichael wanted poise and composure, and Scott delivered just that as he slotted the touchline conversion superbly to take his side back into the lead.
Hawick had one more chance to snatch the victory, in the final minute as GHA were adjudged to have gone off their feet at the breakdown. But Brunton’s penalty again strayed wide of the uprights, leaving GHA delighted winners.
A relieved Carmichael said that his side’s season starts from now as he revelled in a hard-fought victory.
“Our defence was really good today, we’re not the biggest of teams so our line speed was very important and every one of our players put in such a great effort today, they were phenomenal.”
Conversely, Hawick now have to pick themselves up for a Borders derby next weekend against Selkirk, something Douglas does not believe will take too much effort for his squad.
“The good thing about the season is that the games come thick and fast and we don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves. We need to right the wrongs for next weekend because Selkirk will be gunning for us and we need to be ready. We weren’t far off winning that match today and it was really our kicking which cost us the victory so we can take that positive heading into next week.”
GHA: G Mollison; A Scott, C Lonergan, M MacFarlane, L Bardelli, J Crilly; R MacFarlane, T Brogan; G Hiddleston, M Fox, A Kerr, J McCarthy, W Graham, D Ewing, J Bruce. Subs: E Cavan, L Archer, M Marinko, G Baird, N Kelly.
Hawick; K Ford, R McKean, L Gordon-Woolley, K Brunton; J Delaney; B Donaldson, G Walsh; T Hope, M Carryer, R McLeod, R Smith, S Fairbairn, S Frizzel, C Sutherland, J Linton. Subs: C Renwick, R Hartford, R Linton, D Lightfoot, M Tait.
Referee: M Todd.
GHA: Tries: R MacFarlane, McCarthy, M MacFarlane, Scott. Cons: Scott 4. Pen: Scott.
Hawick: Tries: Penalty Try, Frizzel, Delaney, Walsh, McLeod. Pen: Donaldson.
Scoring sequence (GHA first): 5-0, 7-0, 7-7, 12-7, 14-7 half-time, 14-12, 19-12, 21-12, 21-17, 21-20, 24-20, 24-25, 24-30, 29-30, 31-30.
Yellow card –
Man of the Match: It’s hard to look past GHA’s match-winner Adam Scott, who starred from start to finish for the home side. In a game determined by points off the tee, Scott held his nerve perfectly to slot 11 points, along with his crucial last-gasp try, and ultimately proved the difference between the two sides.
Talking point: This was a game about missed opportunities as much as execution. Hawick will no doubt be ruing their lost points from the boot, but they can also point towards set-piece mishaps at key moments.