DAVID FERGUSON @ Mansfield Park
THE disappointment felt in Hawick at a first defeat in 18 months at Marr last week was banished by a storming nine-try victory that thrilled their support and showed that the reigning champions are back in business.
Kelso knew their strength in depth would be tested in their first season back in the Premiership, but injuries and suspension meant that after two creditable draws they started yesterday with five players aged 18 or 19, and were forced to bring another teenager off the bench for his senior debut early in the game. Meeting the reigning league champions at Mansfield Park was therefore always likely to be a tough assignment, but, with a renewed determination in the home ranks following the insipid Marr loss, the challenge rose significantly.
The ‘Green Machine’ clicked into top gear early on to have four tries and the bonus point wrapped up by the 23rd minute, and they went on to pick their moments with a fifth before half-time and two, two-try bursts in the second half that was enough to clinically douse the Kelso spirit. Kelso fought bravely, and their ambition and no little skill was rewarded with a try from Bruce McNeil, the former Hawick skipper, before half-time, but they had no answer to the power and quality in the Hawick attack..
Home skipper Shawn Muir admitted: “This win started on Tuesday when we came back together after the Marr defeat and the boys were all determined to show that that wasn’t really us. We got behind at Marr and then started panicking a bit, which wasn’t like us, and so we knew we had to get into this game early and not let up.
“We did that pretty well and it was a real team performance with the forwards working really hard to create good ball for the backs, and when you have guys like Andrew Mitchell and Kirk Ford – one of the most underrated players in the Premiership in my view – in that form we’re going to be hard to stop.”
Kelso player-coach McNeil, who was the victim of a tip-tackle in the last ten minutes, which meant a red card for Hawick replacement Gary Lowrie, was disappointed with his side’s failure to stem the tide, but acknowledged: “We had a lot of young lads in the team and that is a big part of what is being developed at Kelso – bringing young boys through – and they will learn, and we as a team will learn more from this defeat than we will from many games this season.
“We have a lot of good players, but Hawick showed today what happens at Premiership level when you’re off the pace here and there – you pay for it. We knew it was going to be a tough game, especially with the issues we have with players missing, but it’s not an excuse. We’re here to learn and develop in the Premiership and there will be a lot of good lessons for us as a team and for the players individually from that today. Next week, we’re back at Poynder with Glasgow Hawks visiting, and we’ll work hard during the week to bounce back from this.”
Hawick served notice of their intent by driving the Kelso pack off the first scrum, with 19-year-old Ashton Asante receiving his first lesson in senior scrummaging. The youngster went on to have a good debut, and showed enough quality to suggest he is one for the future, but Hawick had started the steamroller and it clicked on through the gears of line-out mauls to score four tries inside 23 minutes, Fraser Renwick, Andrew Mitchell, Muir and Ford finishing off, after a blend of powerful forward play and similarly strong-running from the backs burst open holes in the Kelso defence.
Kelso lost young centre Hamish Tweedie to a leg injury, replaced by another teenager in James Thompson, and with McNeil and lock Cammy Brown leading the charge up front and Dwain Patterson providing an encouraging lead from full-back, Kelso had their best period of play, but it ended with that fourth Hawick try as a loose ball was swept up in the home 22 and Ford finished after sublime handling on the counter-attack.
Kelso’s defence was actually impressive at other times, to deny Hawick more scores, and the visitors showed they were not prepared to give up the ghost with a try poached by McNeil off the back of a Hawick scrum, Patterson converting to give the Kelso support some cheer. But the first half finished with full-back Ford scoring his second, for a 33-7 half-time home lead.
Kelso introduced the formidable second-row Keith Melbourne at half-time, the lock having missed the start of the season whilst on holiday, and replacement Liam Tait similarly made a positive impact after the break.
But, Hawick took a quick grip of proceedings again with No 8 Jae Linton underlining a fine personal display – and why he should be playing at a higher level of rugby – with a powerful try, charging 10 metres off a Hawick scrum in the Kelso 22, and stand-off Kyle Brunton finished a scintillating Hawick attack from a scrum inside their own half.
Though Kelso deserve credit for continuing to play and never throwing in the towel, showing glimpses of clever attacking rugby and fine try-saving defence, tries by Ford and Calum Renwick on the hour-mark took the home score past 60 points and ensured that even with the hosts reduced to 14 men with Lowrie’s red card, this would be a sobering welcome to the Premiership for the Tweedsiders.
Hawick: K Ford; M Tait, A Mitchell, L Armstrong, R McKean; K Brunton, G Welsh; S Muir (capt), F Renwick, N Little; C Sutherland, D Redpath, S Graham, C Renwick, J Linton. Subs used: T Hope, F Wilson, G Lowrie, S Goodfellow, C Riddell.
Kelso: D Patterson; A Barbour, H Tweedie, F Robson (capt), R Tweedie; M Hastie, N Stingl; G Shiells, C Marshall, A Asante, E Thompson, C Brown, J Glendinning, M Woodcock, B McNeil. Subs used: E Knox, M Thompson, K Melbourne, L Tait, J Thompson.
Referee: Finlay Brown.
Hawick: Tries: F Renwick, Mitchell, Muir, Ford 3, Linton, Brunton, C Renwick; Cons: Ford 8.
Kelso: Try: McNeil; Con: Patterson.
Scoring sequence (Hawick first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0; 19-0; 21-0; 26-0; 28-0; 28-5; 28-7; 33-7 (h-t); 38-7; 40-7; 45-7; 47-7; 52-7; 54-7; 59-7; 61-7.
Red card –
Hawick: Gary Lowrie (72mins).
Man-of-the-Match: There were many candidates across the Hawick side this week with Andrew Mitchell and Jae Linton particular stand-outs, but three tries and eight from nine conversions from Kirk Ford earns the full-back the award.
Talking point: All anyone was talking about after this game was the response of a Green Machine to its first defeat in 18 months, and the quality of the team’s play as they bid to retain their Premiership crown.