Premiership: Glasgow Hawks finish strongly to see off new boys Heriot’s Blues

Hosts blow away the cobwebs to claim a bonus-point victory at Balgray

Stephen Leckey crashes over for Glasgow Hawks versus Heriot's Blues. Image: Bob Coates
Stephen Leckey crashes over for Glasgow Hawks versus Heriot's Blues. Image: Bob Coates

Glasgow Hawks 31

Heriot’s Blues 19

IAIN HAY @ Balgray

HERIOTS’ return to the top tier of Scottish club rugby started brightly, and not just meaning the weather, but a powerful pack performance led from the front eventually saw Hawks claim all the spoils in a topsy-turvy Tennent’s Premiership season opener.

The newly promoted side started the brighter and more cohesively of the two, and led by a converted try at the half-time interval, however, Hawks head coach Andy Hill was confident that his, once again, highly revamped squad would be able to turn the tide in their favour.

“I felt that if we actually just moved the ball we would put them under pressure and start creating opportunities,” he reasoned. “I don’t think we played to an edge [during the first half], or got out the back, we were playing one-up rugby, which was nothing like what we had been doing in pre-season.

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“It was about the boys in the positions who are key to moving the ball, showing the confidence to do it,” he added. “Pre-season was difficult because we had a game cancelled, which meant a lot of guys didn’t get as much game-time as we would’ve liked, but Hawks (personnel) are changing every year so it’s nothing new to us. There’s more guys and more quality to come in and we’ll get stronger as the season goes.

“It was always going to be a difficult start, and coming up against Heriot’s was a bit of a lose-lose situation because we’re expected to beat a newly promoted side, and if we did lose it would be a dagger to the heart, so to get the five-points was essential. But the way we went about it in the first half wasn’t ideal.”

A shaky start for new Hawks stand-off Gav Cruickshanks saw him miss touch with a penalty and then put a kick out on the full, and although some solid hits from the like of Tiaan Wright and captain Stephen Leckey kept Heriot’s at bay initially, Charles Dineen managed to squeeze over in the corner to finish a fine move, started by a half-break by Player-of-the-Match contender Sam Wallace.

The exuberance of youthful Heriot’s kept Hawks pinned back, and a scrum penalty awarded to them let the visitors to kick to the corner, allowing hooker Elliot Young to double the away side’s advantage.

Hawks started to show they had the stronger scrum, shoving Heriot’s off their own ball, and then opting for more scrums when they won an eminently kickable penalty.

The second of these optional scrums went nowhere, so new scrum-half Eric Davey had a snipe and got to within five metres, where another penalty was awarded, this time for offside. Quite strangely, with a pushover try looking an option, Hawks went to the corner, and Paul Cairncross matched opposite number Young in scoring from the back of the maul. Harvey Bullock’s conversion attempt cannoned off the upright to leave the score at 5-12 after the opening 40 minutes.


The contrast in styles was making this an interesting fight, a charge down the left by Craig Robertson put Heriot’s on the front-foot, but when a kick was fumbled in the Hawks’ 22 by Cruickshanks, the away team couldn’t make it count as Hawks won another scrum penalty to release the pressure.

And then came yet another scrum penalty. This time it allowed Hawks to go deep, allowing Ross Darroch to score.

The home side were now fully in the ascendancy and flexing their muscles, and although they couldn’t finish another chance from a line-out when Matthew Stewart was penalised for not releasing a metre short of the line, Heriot’s couldn’t clear far, and then overthrew the line-out. Cairncross picked it up from the back, the forwards piled in, picking and driving as they went until Lewis Stewart got over near the posts, leading to a far easier conversion for Bullock to put Hawks in the lead for the first time.

The energy sapping defensive work was starting to effect Heriot’s legs and basic mistakes were being made as they tried to force their way back into the match. Worse was to follow, when replacement prop Jim Lascelles was sin-binned when a, for the first time in a while, advancing Heriot’s scrum was penalised for boring in. Lascelles, only just on the park, was probably the victim of a ‘team yellow’ after so many penalties in that area.

With no fit Heriot’s props remaining we went to uncontested scrums, and perhaps annoyed at having his favourite weapon taken away from him, Gary Strain bundled over for the bonus point try after another excellent touch-finder from Bullock set the platform.

Wallace’s predatory reply for Heriot’s kept them in touching distance, and the dream of an opening day victory on their return to the Premiership nearly became a reality when Bullock was caught with a big hit right in the epicentre of the field, but earlier try-scorer Dineen couldn’t cleanly gather the loose-ball off the floor with only open grass in front of him.

Following the graduation of Ryan Sweeney and Lewis McNamara to the Ayrshire Bulls set-up over the last couple of seasons, Hawks have a new No 8 to catch the eye in Oscar Baird, and he added the final flourish to the scoreboard with another grinding score.

“We knew we didn’t have a lot of size but we were over the moon first half, in taking the lead and hanging on in there, but the scrum wasn’t having a great time,” said the Heriots’ realistic but optimistic head coach Phil Smith. “Third-quarter, we lost a lot of possession and momentum. There was also maybe a couple of decisions went against us, however Hawks did what they had to do. They kept going forward through their big, powerful pack, and we coped for as long as we could.

“We still had chances, it’s a shame they scored at the end because I thought a bonus point was at least what we deserved.

“We are young and light and we can get about, but when we’re defending set-pieces against these bigger guys it takes its toll. The goal is to stay up, we’ve got a nice group here, with four or five to come back over the next few weeks to give us more depth. If we can compete like that, we should be okay.”


Teams –

Glasgow Hawks: H Bullock; R Flett, M Stewart, B McGroarty, R Darroch; G Cruikshanks, E Davey; M Downer, P Cairncross, G Strain, A Syme, S Leckey, T Wright, L Stewart, O Baird. Subs: I Totic, A Al-Agilly, R Hart, S Greig, J Blair

Heriot’s Blues: I Parkin; C Dineen, P Christie, P Burns, C Robertson; D Martin, G Wilson; A Munro, E Young, R Hutchison, M Keough, L Gordon, M Bruce, S Wallace, D Wither. Subs: D Westwood, J Lascelles, W Dineen, R Thomson, R Meldrum.

Referee: Grant Stephen


Scorers –

Glasgow Hawks: Tries: Cairncross, Darroch, L Stewart, Strain, Baird; Cons: Bullock 3.

Heriot’s Blues: Tries: C Dineen, Young, Wallace; Cons: Wilson 2.

Scoring sequence (Glasgow Hawks first): 0-5; 0-10; 0-12; 5-12 (h-t) 10-12; 12-12; 17-12; 19-12; 24-12; 24-17; 31-19.


Yellow Cards –

Heriot’s Blues: Lascelles


Player-of-the-Match: They’re at the coal face every game without a drop of hair product among them, so let’s show some front-row appreciation and give it to Gary Strain. The crafty veteran was central to a dominant scrum which turned the match in Hawks’ favour and pulled the bonus point score out the bag.

Talking Point: Although Hawks do lose a lot of players every season, they’re clearly creating an atmosphere where the players remember their time fondly. In attendance for this match were the likes of the aforementioned McNamara, and former flanker Tim Brown, hot off the back of 40 minutes of action last night at Millbrae.

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About Iain Hay 59 Articles
New to the freelancing journalistic world as of August 2019, Iain has previously written for The Scottish Rugby Blog since 2017, covering matches for Glasgow Warriors, Scotland and opinion pieces. Can also often be heard on their podcast flapping his gums about the oval-ball (technically, it’s ellipsoidal) game and being pedantic. Is rumoured to believe that Finn Russell is The Messiah. Does the Twitter thing, but doesn’t like it.