Glasgow Hawks 25
Edinburgh Accies 34
STEPHEN BRUNSDON @ Balgray
ALTHOUGH they had already secured a place in the Tennent’s Premiership play-offs, Edinburgh Accies still had something to prove, if not to themselves but whichever sides await them in the final games. It wasn’t their best performance of the season, but it was a gritty, hard-fought bonus-point victory from Iain Berthinussen’s side on the road.
With soggy conditions under foot, this was always going to be a tricky encounter between two sides with contrasting approaches coming into the weekend. Hawks were keen to end their season on a high after a disappointing defeat last week to Musselburgh, while Accies kept one eye on the bigger prize of a Premiership title.
Both teams began the match with plenty of attacking intent, with Accies dominating the possession for the opening two minutes. But although they had the ball for the bulk of the early going, Accies found themselves behind on the scoreboard as Hawks struck the first blow thanks to centre James Pinkerton. The home side used their tactical kicking and strong defence inside the Accies half to their advantage, forcing a turnover inside the 22 and making the visitors pay for inferior numbers on the right wing. Liam Brims’ conversion attempt went wide, giving Accies some respite.
Hawks looked as comfortable without the ball as they were with it, and made the most of a malfunctioning Accies set-piece line-out to make yet more easy metres over the gain line to clear their lines following the restart.
Accies did eventually settle into their rhythm, and it wasn’t long before Jamie Sole scampered over for his side’s first try of the afternoon. While Hawks’ midfield defence was strong, they were left vulnerable on the flanks, with centre Neil Armstrong exploiting the space out wide to break the line before feeding back inside for Sole to go under the posts.
Full-back Ben Appleson’s conversion took Accies into the lead, which they extended 10 minutes later through fly-half Vincent Hart. Having seen Hawks blow a golden opportunity just minutes earlier after a superb break from winger Harry Hughes, Accies went on the offensive once more through Campbell and Hamish Janes. The winger made solid ground before sending Hart – who ran a sumptuous supporting line – under the sticks.
It seemed as though the game was quickly running away from Hawks approaching the end of the opening period, as indiscipline gave Accies a chance to peg the hosts deep in their own 22. A penalty line-out turned the screw even more and there was nothing the desperate Hawks pack could do to stop hooker Fraser McAslan – a late addition to the matchday squad – from crashing over for the third try.
Hawks’ attacking prowess in the first half showed that they had few issues getting over the gain line, but far too often it was their inaccuracies on the key passes and indiscipline at the breakdown which proved their undoing. A loose Brims clearance kick which was put out on the full should have given Accies a greater half-time margin, as the visitors forced a penalty in the closing minutes. To Hawks’ relief, Accies twice went for the driving line-out maul which served them so well for McAslan’s try, perhaps hoping to bury the match with a fourth try, but twice they fell short.
Hawks, therefore, probably felt they’d made the escape of the century with a half-time scoreline of 19-8, knowing full well that Accies had left points out on the field. “I think we probably tried to play a bit too much rugby in that first half,” Hawks head coach Andy Hill admitted later.
“The two Accies tries let them into the game a bit and their scores came off our errors a little bit. But credit to them, they made the most of their entries into our 22 and made us pay.”
Hill’s counterpart Bertinussen, on the other hand, was left satisfied with his side’s first half showing. “We started well, even though I don’t think we played our best rugby, but we played in the right areas of the field and put them under pressure. We had great continuity in our play and we scored some good tries in the first half, but we know that we left some opportunities out there as well,” he said.
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Those opportunities which Accies failed to take at the end of the first period almost looked like coming back to bite the Edinburgh side as Hawks roared back into life at the start of the second half, with two quick-fire tries. Thomas Glendinning got the first of those in somewhat fortuitous circumstances as a fumble from the Accies back three from a loose ball gave the centre ample chance to fall down on the ball over the line. Brims added the extras and Hawks were suddenly back to within four points of Accies at 15-19 down.
The home crowd then went into raptures as Hawks bagged their second score in as many minutes as Accies began to come under increased pressure. Prop Michael Downer barged his way over from short range, as Accies were penalised twice in quick succession. Again, Brims slotted the conversion to take his side into a 22-19 lead.
From then on, the match became less of a try-fest and more of a dogfight as indiscipline started to affect the game for both sides. Accies hit back through a Cole Imrie try, in almost identical fashion to McAslan’s earlier score, after Hawks had infringed at the breakdown in their own half.
But Brims kicked Hawks back into the lead once more with a second penalty kick of the game from in front of the Accies posts after Hart strayed offside in midfield.
Accies then made amends two minutes later with Appleson slotting a penalty from in front of the posts after Hawks were pinged for an off-the-ball tackle. Advantage Accies at 27-25.
Heading into the final quarter of an hour, the match could have gone either way, with the pitch – already suffering as a result of the recent heavy rain and storms – beginning to cause all manner of issues for attacks.
Hawks were left chasing the game after a Brims try was chalked off for obstruction as the fly-half crossed the line. The Accies defence, on the other hand, didn’t rest all match and replacement Max Wallace sealed the victory with a well-taken interception try under the posts, which Appleson converted.
That final act from Accies showcased their determination right until the end, but it also left something of a bitter taste in the mouth of Hawks who surely deserved a losing bonus point for what was their last outing of the competitive season.
For Accies, attentions are now focused firmly on the close season, with Currie the last hurdle to overcome next weekend.
“If we beat Currie next weekend, I guess we can go third and maybe dictate who we play in the play-offs,” Bertinussen said. “I’m really pleased with the way we dug in and got the victory even though we weren’t at our best today. Credit also to Hawks who, like us pre-Covid, were ninth in the league and now they’re up there in fifth, so that shows how far they’ve come this season.”
Glasgow Hawks: M Stewart; H Hughes, T Glendinning, J Pinkerton, R Joy, L Brims, F Burgess; M Downer, P Cairncross, E Rintoul, S Halafihi, S Leckey©, L Stewart, T Brown, I Carmichael. Subs: A Ala-gilly, M Ogunlaja, L McNamara, S Greig, C Kennedy.
Edinburgh Accies: B Appleson; H Janes, R Kent, N Armstrong, M Sinclair; V Hart, J Troup; C Imrie, F McAslan, C Lacour, S Whittaker, F Simpson, J Sole, S Hegarty, R Campbell©. Subs: F McAslan, A Winnington-Ingram, C Bain, B Grainger, M Wallace.
Referee: B Blain.
Glasgow Hawks: Tries: Pinkerton, Glendinning, Downer. Cons: Brims 2. Pens: Brims 2.
Edinburgh Accies: Tries: Sole, Hart, McAslan, Imrie, Wallace. Cons: Appleson 3. Pen: Appleson.
Scoring sequence (Glasgow Hawks first): 5-0; 5-5; 5-7; 5-12; 5-14; 8-14; 8-19 (h-t) 13-19; 15-19; 20-19; 22-19; 22-24; 25-24; 25-27; 25-32; 25-34.
Man-of-the-Match: Accies full-back Ben Appleson controlled territory well and kicked his goals when needed. He missed a couple, but when it came down to slotting the penalties which ultimately won the game, he stepped up to the mark. He also played a handy role in getting the rest of the back three on the front foot, which wasn’t the easiest with the trick pitch conditions.
Talking point: Forget the play-offs, this was first and foremost a great game of rugby and both sides played with the sort of spirit that you love to see. Accies made the most of their superior game management to sneak the win in the end, and that is perhaps why they have ended the regular season in the top four. Hawks, with a bit more experience in these types of tight encounters, will have learned a valuable lesson for next season.