DAVID BARNES @ Mansfield Park
HAWICK did it the hard way. They dominated territory and possession for long spells during this keenly contested top of the table clash, but struggled to convert that into points on the scoreboard, and it was just a little bit too close for comfort for the reigning champions at the end.
Marr had to make do with a losing bonus-point, no mean achievement at Mansfield Park, and visiting head coach Kenny Diffenthal didn’t have too many complaints afterwards, although he pointed out that the line-out which led to Shawn Muir‘s match securing try was very squint.
“We worked really hard on our ‘D’ this week and that showed because we were really great defensively, but we just didn’t fire a shot,” he said. “We just seemed to hang onto their coat-tails and couldn’t get into the game. They starved us of the ball and the few times we got into our shape we managed to stress them a little bit but we didn’t hold onto the ball long enough to get points from it.”
Meanwhile, Hawick head coach Matty Douglas was pleased and slightly relieved to get a result which keeps his side on course of finish at the summit of the table and exorcised some of the demons of the Borderers’ only loss in the last 18 months when they visited Fullarton back in September, but was frustrated at the lack of precision in attack.
“It was a win with about 95 percent possession,” he shrugged. “I think we gifted them a lot of points with five penalties. At times we switched off individually but take nothing away from the overall performance – defensively we were outstanding. Some of the hits going in were unreal. That’s what we are about, we build our game round our defence.
“The talk this week was we win the game and it didn’t matter whether it was by a single point or 50 points,” he added. “The manner of our defeat at Troon hurt and the boys rolled their sleeves up. We had to do it nitty-gritty, it was never going to be running in tries in the corners. The forwards played a massive role, the set-piece was outstanding, especially the scrum.
“Marr are second in the league, they are really good defensively and well coached so I’m really happy with the team performance – we probably just need to be a little bit more accurate individually and try not to give as many penalties away.”
Marr took an early lead after Lee Armstrong instinctively stuck out a hand to grab the side-stepping Calum Smith by the collar, and although he recognised his error and released his grip almost immediately it was a fair penalty which Colin Sturgeon happily turned into three points.
Hawick struck back in fine style with Jae Linton tidying up scrappy scrum ball on his team’s 10-metre line and feeding it straight to his backline, Armstrong – who had already shown a couple of times that he was in the mood – danced clear, then fed Andrew Mitchell, who made easy work of beating the last man to run it home from 35-yards.
A second Sturgeon penalty following a Hawick high tackle reduced the deficit to just one point on 23 minutes, but the home side were soon back on the offensive with Linton collecting a high ball at exactly the same time as being clobbered by Ben Johnston and showcasing his awesome power by bouncing the Marr flanker to trigger a move which featured another mazy run from Armstrong, supported by Calum Renwick, before Charlie Welsh failed to hold on to Kyle Brunton‘s cut-out pass with the line at his mercy.
Marr looked rattled, treating the ball like a hot potato and coughing up possession, although a lack of conviction at a couple of breakdowns and a some loose passing by Hawick delayed the next home score, which eventually arrived in the shape of a long-range offside penalty by Kirk Ford that landed on the crossbar and bounced over on 38 minutes.
Having worked so hard and dominated territory for so long to earn those three points, it will have been a source of significant frustration in the home ranked that they immediately conceded another high tackle penalty, with Dalton Redpath the culprit this time, which meant Sturgeon was able to take his and his team’s tally to nine points at the break.
Hawick continued to dominate in the third quarter but couldn’t find the killer pass, not even after Redpath had burst the line with powerful surge from halfway, and they had to make do with another Ford penalty, this time after Marr were guilty of not rolling away from the tackle.
A golden opportunity for the home side went begging when Greg Montgomery got caught out by the bounce of Ford’s kick into space and Linton ended up in possession, only for is offload out of contact to float harmless into Marr hands. That passage did, however, establish the field position from which Hawick finally rumbled a line-out maul to within striking distance for Shawn Muir to get that long-awaited second try with just over 10 minutes to go
Marr had their first visit to their opponents’ 22 since the break straight from the restart, only for Hawick to turn possession over at a line-out maul five yards from the home try-line.
But the visitors dug deep and got back into the strike zone, and although they were then pushed all the way back to near Hawick’s 10-metre line by a series of thunderclap green tackles, they did well to keep hold of possession and eventually harvested a penalty – with a yellow card shown to Linton far an off the ball challenge – which Sturgeon slotted to put his side side in bonus-point territory.
It looked briefly liked Hawick were going to deprive the brave visitors of even that consolation when Marr were penalised for a side entry and Ford kicked the points, but Marr bounced right back to earn another kickable penalty – and a tip-tackle yellow card for Ross Graham – which Sturgeon coolly sent home in the last action of the game.
Hawick: K Ford; C Welsh, A Mitchell, L Armstrong, R McKean (G Welsh 78); K Brunton, D Lightfoot (B Scott 52); S Muir, R Anderson (R Graham 45), N Little (T Hope 71), D Redpath, C Sutherland, S Graham, C Renwick (F Wilson 66-77), J Linton.
Marr: C Inglis (G Montgomery 63-66); S Bickerstaff, G Paxton, C Bickerstaff, J Jacobson; C Sturgeon, G Baird (v 73); B Sweet, S Reekie (G Dick 71), A Rogers, D Andrew (C Folan 55), C Young, C Smith (B Johnston 66), B Johnston (K Vallance 60), B Jardine.
Referee: David Young
Hawick: Tries: Mitchell, Muir; Con: Ford 2; Pen: Ford 3.
Marr: Pen: Sturgeon 5.
Scoring sequence (Hawick first): 0-3; 5-3; 7-3; 7-6; 10-6; 10-9 (h-t) 13-9; 18-9; 18-12; 21-12; 21-15.
Yellow cards –
Hawick: Linton (77 mins), Graham (79 mins)
Man-of-the-Match: He’s a back-row playing in the engine-room and he punches well above his weight. Connor Sutherland carried hard, was one of several big tacklers in the home pack and did a lot of unseen work at ruck and maul.
Talking point: No quarter was asked or given in this ferocious contest. In the end, the Marr coaching team conceded it was a fair result, but they can take a lot from the resilience shown which will stand the Troon men in good stead during the run-in to the play-offs. Hawick, meanwhile, will be unstoppable if they can match their defensive efforts with a bit more sharpness in attack … although Kelso (riding high after their dramatic win over Heriot’s Blues) away, Edinburgh Accies at home and Currie Chieftains away over the next three weeks will be keen to test that theory.