Currie Chieftains 13
DAVID FERGUSON @ Mansfield Park
HAWICK may still be a few points short of the top of Premiership table, but the reigning champions served notice here that they are very much back in the hunt for the silverware.
There was great anticipation around this game with the last time the teams having met being last season’s dramatic Premiership Final in March, which ended in delirium around Mansfield Park with a match-winning try from wing Ronan McKean.
After a slip-up away to Marr, the Teries bounced back with a 61-7 win at home to Kelso and 20-15 defeat of Edinburgh Accies in the capital, but this was always destined to be a better test of their ability to be part of this season’s title battle. Currie had been flying, not just beating Selkirk, Jed-Forest, Musselburgh and Heriots, but posting an average of 48 points per game. But Mark Cairns admitted beforehand that he worried that his team had not yet had their title credentials tested.
They were strengthened with Ali Bain back at blindside and Will Inglis, who made his presence felt off the bench, while Sam Leto came in for Charlie Brett, who it turns out suffered a broken wrist in the warm-up to last week’s game, but went on to play before the pain kicked in. Cairns didn’t expect a high-scoring affair, more a tactical battle, but admitted he is “rubbish at predicting these things”.
At half-time, he appeared something of a Nostradamus as Currie survived an early onslaught from the hosts to work their way back from a 10-3 deficit to lead 13-3. A close encounter at that point appeared very much on the cards. But the Greens learned from that second quarter in which errors gifted a willing Currie footholds in the game, and after a fine third quarter in which they turned the tables and regained their seven-point lead, the hosts tightened up, reduced the error count and finished their chances to take the game out of Curie’s reach.
Chieftains captain Jamie Forbes said: “We believe we’re a good team and I think we did go in at half-time on top, even though Hawick started really well. We were pretty positive and knew what we needed to do in the second half – we just weren’t able to do it. We couldn’t get a foothold in that half, and you have to say that Hawick were good – they were incredibly good and scored well when they needed to – but when we got into their half we lost ball, and any momentum we had at half-time was whittled away. If we’re honest we didn’t deserve to win after that second half performance.”
Hawick captain Shawn Muir wore a wide smile afterwards, having ensured the bonus point himself by diving over from close range in the final minute.
“We knew what we had to do against Currie,” he said. “They have started the season unbelievably well but they haven’t played a team like us. But we knew we had to start fast and knew they would come back at us, and our defence would have to be good, which it was mostly.
“At half-time there was no panic, it was just get back to our game-plan and our structures, and we knew we’d get chances again. We just simplified things a bit in that second half, got back to basics, got the big men running round the corner, and tightened up our defence a bit, and took our chances. What really pleased me as well was that we nilled Currie in that second half.”
Hawick definitely started the brighter, serving notice of their intent with thumping tackles epitomised by openside Connor Sutherland knocking Currie centre DJ Innes back five metres, and a ferocious turnover secured by Lee Armstrong against three Currie forwards. A great Sean Goodfellow break sparked the first Hawick attack and it led to a first of many high tackle penalties, which Kirk Ford slotted after just four minutes.
orbes levelled with a penalty after 11 minutes, but Hawick responded with a silky try off a line-out outside the Currie 22 launched Andrew Mitchell on a fine running line to scythe through, and once inside 22 the centre’s pace took him away from despairing tackle of Leto and to the posts. Hawick had chances to go on and extend their lead, with two great breaks by lock Dalton Redpath teeing up great opportunities in the 22, but they failed to finish those off and were made to rue them.
Currie took a grip on possession through the second quarter, but for the most part found Hawick’s defence impregnable and the best chances came from errors or ill-discipline, Hawick fortunate to escape a yellow card when the officials could not determine the number of the culprit after a series of penalties in the home 22. Until the last few minutes of the half that is.
Wing Ryan Daley was finding space to attack and centre Cammy Gray also made good ground, dancing away from tackles, before Innes broke the home defence on halfway and prop Graeme Carson burst through a gap, for hooker Roy Vucago to take the attack to the five-metre line. When the ball came left, Sam Cardosi found Forbes in space and the fly-half touched down, and then converted to level the scores with the clock showing 40 minutes.
There was still injury time to play and Currie used that to take the lead, stealing a line-out and after a Sean Fisher burst, winning a penalty which Forbes converted.
At that stage no-one was betting on either side running away with this game, but Hawick had other ideas and came out of the interval all guns blazing. Impressive open-side Sutherland claimed the first line-out, Fraser Renwick bolted from the maul and bounced off two defenders before diving over the line two minutes in.
Minutes after the restart, Armstrong sent up a Garryowen as Hawick attacked from their half and raced 30 metres to claim it untouched, and from that surge Hawick won a penalty. Kirk Ford had converted Renwick’s try and added another three points to put the hosts seven points up again.
As much as they worked tirelessly in defence, from then on there was no coming back for Currie as they coughed up possession on the few periods of possession they put together in the Hawick half.
The Greens, by contrast, had a firmer grip of the game and could afford an Armstrong try to be ruled out for a debatable knock-on, and a few handling errors as the rain grew stronger, yet still cruise to victory when Ford added another penalty just after the hour.
Then Charlie Welsh finished off a sublime attack launched by Mitchell’s 40-metre run and an inch-perfect chip through by fly-half Kyle Brunton that sat perfectly for the Hawick replacement.
Hawick secured the bonus point try in the final moments, when Muir picked up a tap-penalty from five metres and was driven over the line to rapturous cheers from the Mansfield stand. Ford’s conversion put the seal on a 35-13 win that had seemed quite unlikely just 45 minutes earlier.
Ominously for others in the league, Muir added afterwards: “We are not playing at our best yet. There is more to come from this team.”
Hawick: K Ford; M Tait, A Mitchell, L Armstrong, R McKean; K Brunton, S Goodfellow; S Muir (capt), F Renwick, N Little, F Wilson, D Redpath, S Graham, C Sutherland, J Linton. Subs (all used): T Hope, D Lightfoot, R Anderson, C Welsh, S Frizzell.
Currie Chieftains: S Leto; R Daley, DJ Innes, C Gray, J McCaig; J Forbes (capt), C Lessels; C Anderson, R Vucago, G Carson, A McCallum, C West, A Bain, S Cardosi, R Davies. Subs (all used): R Stewart, S Fisher, W Inglis, M O’Neil, E Crombie.
Referee: C Worsley.
Hawick: Tries: Mitchell, Renwick, Welsh, Muir; Cons: Ford 3; Pens: Ford 3.
Currie Chieftains: Tries: Forbes; Cons: Forbes; Pens: Forbes 2.
Scoring sequence (Hawick first): 3-0, 3-3, 8-3, 10-3, 10-8, 10-10, 10-13 (h-t); 15-13, 17-13, 20-13, 23-13, 28-13, 35-13.
Yellow card –
Currie Chieftains: DJ Innes.
Man-of-the-Match: DJ Innes was a stand-out for Chieftains and there were many contenders in the home side, captain Shawn Muir, Connor Sutherland and Fraser Renwick in the pack and Lee Armstrong and Andrew Mitchell excelled in the backs, but second-row Dalton Redpath earned it with his work in the set-piece and the loose, providing a lightning rod focus for the home side.
Talking point: Currie scored 10 points when the first half was over according to the home scoreboard. It did not allow for the referee’s adding of injury time, with a few players needing treatment in a bruising first half, but the turnaround from 10-3 ahead to 13-3 down during that added-on period only fired up the Green Machine at the break.