Glasgow Hawks 38
DAVID BARNES @ Balgray
THREE late tries salvaged a bonus point for Marr and perhaps gave the final score-line a complexion which flattered last season’s champions, but there will be no doubt within the Troon camp this coming week about how precariously their Premiership crown is now perched upon their collective scalps after a second defeat from four matches played so far in this campaign.
Hawks, meanwhile, were magnificent: winning the physicality battle up front, incisive across the backline, resolute in defence, and generally well disciplined in a hotly contested encounter.
“The intensity and physicality was a real step-up from where its been in the first few weeks of the season and where it needs to be every week going forward,” said triumphant head coach Andy Hill. “It can’t be something that we just do for Marr or Currie, it needs to be something we do against the likes of Musselburgh who we face next week.
The hosts came out firing and Andy McLean nudged them into the lead with a third minute offside penalty, setting the tone for what would be another very impressive day for the 18-year-old full-back, who ended the contest with 23 of his team’s 38 points, from a try, three conversions and four penalties.
Marr responded five minutes later with an offside penalty of their own, slotted by Colin Sturgeon, but Hawks were soon back on the front foot and twice looked dangerous when they engineered space for Harris Mitchell on the left, but on the first occasion he kicked when he perhaps should have tested the tackler, and on the second occasion the final pass was slightly loose.
Hawks stuck to the task, however, and they got their reward when James Pinkerton angled an inch-perfect diagonal grubber into the in-goal area and McLean was first on the scene to claim the touch-down, before kicking the tricky extra two points for good measure.
Marr bounced back with an excellent try from deep, with prop Craig Miller and No 8 Ben Johnson both doing pretty good impressions of three-quarter players as they helped shift possession across the park with no drop-off in momentum, before Andrew Ramage‘s soft shoe shuffle left last defender Pinkerton for dead.
The home team needed to hold their nerve, which they did. McLean gotf the scoreboard rolling again with a penalty following after an off the ball collision, and after Marr butchered an attacking line-out 10 yards from their opponents’ line, Hawks capitalised with another fine try. Those trusty veterans Stephen Leckey and Brendan McGroarty rolled back the years with a cheeky exchange of passes, and Mitchell added the final flourish.
Marr battled hard to get back into the contest before the break but couldn’t find a way through, and Hawks were soon back on the march at the start of the second half with two more penalties from McLean, following a collapsed line-out maul and a not-rolling-away infringement which was perhaps rather harsh on the visitors.
Connor Bickerstaff was yellow carded for leading with the elbow, and temperatures were rising with two bouts of fisticuffs during the third quarter. But Hawks could sense that this might just be their day if they kept their eye on the rise, and they managed to toe the line between aggression and discipline better than their opponents during this game-defining period.
They defended like their lives depended on it and then McLean activated the pressure release valve by ducking and weaving past several flailing Marr tacklers then bumping Curran McMillan onto his backside, creating the space for Gav Cruikshanks to fire a wicked 50-22 downtown. The line-out was driven to a metre short of the scoring zone before scrum-half Eric Davey scrambled over from the base.
McLean uncharacteristically missed the conversion but made instant amends when he streaked up the left touchline and timed his pass perfectly to send Mitchell on an unchallenged run to the line for his second and his team’s fourth try of the match.
Marr appeared to be dead and buried, so it says something of their character that they battled back to claim the four-try bonus-point, perhaps helped slightly by Andy McLean being sent to the bin for the final 10 minutes after referee Calum Wolsley lost patience with the number of penalties the home side were conceding.
Scott Bickerstaff led the late revival by barging over from a close range tap-and-go. Then some loose handling from Hawks gifted the same Bickerstaff brother a clear run at the line from his own 22, and fair play to Sam Graham for chasing his opposite number down just as he reached the Hawks 22, but the ball was recycled and spread across the park forSturgeon to finish on the right.
With just two minutes left on the clock, Scott Bickerstaff handed off at least three fairly half-hearted tackles on a 45 yard run to the line, which quietened down the excitable Hawks ultras who had set up camp behind the Balgray press box.
That score meant Marr did not return to Troon empty handed, and as head coach Craig Redpath pointed out afterwards, if the game had lasted five minutes longer his team may well have picked up a second bonus-point for finishing within seven points of Hawks.
“Every team we play against, they are up for it,” reflected Redpath. “And the level of that performance was way above how Hawks have played any other game, I believe.
“They have a formula to play against us: they come out and and try to knock us over at source and don’t let us get the ball wide. I think we played into their hands a bit and didn’t take a number of opportunities when we had them.
“We’re a bit off the mark in a few things at the moment,” he added. “The changes in personnel between last season and this have been bigger than I thought they would be, and we’ve had a couple of injuries at the start of the season with Gregor Paxton [out until Christmas with a torn pectoral] a big one in terms of our defensive structure.
“Fair play to Hawks, they came out and were the more physical side. They bullied us a wee bit and did a number on us. We just have to dust down and go again because it’s a massive game next week against Currie, which we can’t really afford to lose if we want to avoid being in a dog fight for the play-offs.”
Glasgow Hawks: A McLean; S Graham (H Mitchell 79), J Pinkerton, B McGroarty (C Harrison 69), H Mitchell (R Speers 76); G Cruickshanks, E Davey; M Downer (A Al-Agilly 72), P Cairncross (I Totic 32), G Strain, M Crumlish (T Wright 60), J McLean (P Cairncross 69), L Stewart, S Leckey, O Baird.
Marr: J Scott; A Ramage, C Bickerstaff (A McGowan 72), C Sturgeon, S Bickerstaff (C Bickerstaff 79) ; C Inglis, G Baird (M O’Sullivan, 72); A Acton (S Reekie 74), S Clelland (C McMillan 52-74), C Miller, D Andrew (C Folan 74), F Grant, B Jardine, C Folan (C Steel 52), B Johnston.
Referee: Calum Wolsley
Glasgow Hawks: Tries: A McLean, Mitchell 2, Davey; Con: a McLean 3; Pen: A McLean 4.
Marr: Tries: Ramage, S Bickerstaff 2, Sturgeon; Con: Sturgeon; Pen: Sturgeon.
Scoring sequence (Glasgow Hawks first): 3-0; 3-3; 8-3; 10-3; 10-8; 13-8; 18-8; 20-8 (h-t) 23-8; 26-8; 31-8; 36-8; 38-8; 38-13; 38-15; 38-20; 38-25,
Yellow cards –
Glasgow Hawks: A McLean (74mins)
Marr: Bickerstaff (63mins)
Man-of-the-Match: 18-year-old full-back Andy McLean is a rare talent and it was hard to see past him again, but there was plenty of other candidates in the home ranks including warhorses Stephen Leckey and Brendan McGroarty as well as fearless teenage scrum-half Eric Davey.
Talking point: As Craig Redpath acknowledged afterwards, this is unusual and uncomfortable territory for Marr, but they didn’t become a bad team overnight. They came up against a committed and well-organised Hawks side who have shown that they will be serious play-off contenders this season. A win for he Fullarton men next week against Chieftains will blow this league wide open.