ALAN LORIMER @ Mansfield Park
IF Musselburgh had not already announced their strong presence in the Premiership this season, then their performance at Mansfield against the defending champions, Hawick, will certainly have done so, despite ultimately losing to a Greens’ side that will be thanking more than lucky stars.
The Stoneyhill side won the try count by 4-2 and led by 10 points at the interval but still found themselves on the wrong side of the 27-25 final scoreline. There was some consolation for Musselburgh in the form of two bonus points and the satisfaction of coming so close to causing an upset.
“Last year we came down here and got spanked 45-5. So to walk away with just two bonus points from a game we could have and should have won is a sore one” said the Musselburgh coach, Derek O’Riordan.
In defeat, albeit desperately narrow, Musselburgh can take much away from their display at Mansfield Park and notably their ability to trouble the Greens’ defence by using a clever passing game in the forwards, redolent of what Ireland employ so effectively.
“We’ve probably got the best short passing game in the league. It certainly worked for us today,” suggested O’Riordan, whose side had telling performances from scrum-half Fionn Coll, second-row Jack Haynes, open side flanker Gavin Inkster, the hard running wing Sandy Watt and the stylish stand-off Matt McMillan.
But in the end Musselburgh’s game was not enough to prevent Hawick from taking the spoils, despite being weakened by more than a third of their regular team being ‘unavailable’, a euphemism for weddings (yes they do occur during the rugby season), holidays and sundry other reasons.
“We knew about this from a while ago,” admitted Hawick’s coach, Matty Douglas. “Credit to the players who came in, especially Dan Brooker [a new arrival from New Zealand] – we had four hookers unavailable today. It’s the first time in a long time we’ve had to make wholesale changes to our squad.
“In the first half we were a bit off. Musselburgh started really well. I thought playing with the strong wind, we could really kick on in the second half. And to be fair we did. We took our opportunities. Overall this was a wake-up call that we cannot just turn up and expect to win.
“We had to dig deep. We’ll keep moving forward. Next week we’ll have players back. But it’s a great experience for the young lads who came in. They’ve done us well to get over the line. I’d like, too, to give special credit to Musselburgh,” stated Douglas with genuine sincerity .
Of the less experienced players on duty for Hawick, Deaglan Lightfoot impressed off the bench at scrum-half, his quick service and his eye for the break helping the Greens to stay in the game. Hawick can also congratulate themselves for sticking with the second-row combination of Fraser Wilson and Sam Frizzel, two young players who have certainly proved their worth.
After a chaotic start to the game it was Musselburgh who found were the first to find real composure, the visitors taking advantage of Hawick’s decision to gift turnover ball with an aimless box kick to attack through a series of phases and ultimately score in the corner through Sandy Watt.
Retribution was quick to follow as Hawick turned on the power with forceful running and slick handling ending with Shawn Muir taking a pass at pace before crashing through several tacklers for a try converted by Kirk Ford.
Hawick’s narrow lead was soon wiped out with a Matt McMillan penalty only for Ford to reply in kind with a 45 metre shot into the wind that sneaked over the posts.
The advantage changed again as Musselburgh used their forwards to make ground before the ball was released to a less congested area of the pitch and this time Sandy Watt was the provider, sending flanker Jordan Lister in at the corner for an unconverted try to give ‘Burgh a 13-10 lead.
Then, just before the interval, matters worsened for Hawick when Musselburgh nicked a scrum against the head five metres from the Greens’ line, resulting in a pushover try for the visitors credited to No 8 Paul Bogie and converted by McMillan to give the visitors a 20-10 interval advantage.
After the break, Hawick quickly set about eating into Musselburgh’s lead with a Ford penalty goal and that seemed to lift spirits in the home camp. Then, when Hawick skipper Muir took a short line-out ball, the prop made ground with a defence-scattering run. The ball was then released to the Hawick backs allowing Andrew Mitchell to use his power in a battering sprint to the line for his side’s second try.
Musselburgh were not going to see their earlier efforts wasted and hit back with a driven line-out and pick-and-drive phases that concluded with replacement Colin Arthur scoring from 10 centimetres out. With McMillan off the field after becoming collateral damage in the Mitchell try, Danny Owenson took over kicking duties but the replacement could not succeed with his first kick at goal.
With Hawick trailing 18-25, it required special skills to achieve a fightback. Cue Kirk Ford. The full-back, whom Hawick fans have dubbed ‘Mr Consistent’ , duly took over the role, kicking two penalty goals in quick succession, the first of these just inside the Musselburgh half.
Then, when Hawick turned the screw at scrum time to force a penalty, Ford stepped up and with what seemed a relaxed style kicked the goal that put the Greens back into the lead.
Musselburgh, however, were in no mood to concede victory and from an Owenson grubber kick, Sandy Watt, working hard on the follow-up, hacked the ball into midfield and seemed on course to score only for Jae Linton to intervene on the line with a tackle on the wing and a turnover, to seal what seemed for many of the home fans an improbable win for Hawick.
Hawick: K Ford; F Anderson, C Welsh, A Mitchell, R McKean; A Weir, S Goodfellow; S Muir©, D Brooker, T Hope, F Wilson, S Frizzel, S Graham, C Sutherland, J Linton. Subs: N Little, R Linton, H Donaldson, D Lightfoot, G Welsh.
Musselburgh: P Cunningham; R Hindhaugh; R Watt©, B Heber, S Watt; M McMillan, F Call; R Brown, R Stott, D Miller, J Haynes, J Arnold, J Lister, G Inkster, P Bogie. Subs: R Hanning, C Arthur, M Outram, D Owenson, R Smith.
Referee: R McDowell
Hawick: Tries Muir, Mitchell; Cons: Ford; Pens: Ford 5.
Musselburgh: Tries S Watt, Lister, Bogie, Arthur; Con: McMillan; Pen: McMillan.
Scoring Sequence (Hawick first): 0-5; 5-5; 7-5; 7-8; 10-8; 10-13; 10-18; 10-20 (h-t) 13-20; 18-20; 21-20; 21-25; 24-25; 27-25.
Yellow cards –
Musselburgh: Haynes 72
Man-of-the-Match: For his match saving tackle and then the subsequent turnover right at the end of the match Jae Linton deserves the MOTM award, but in truth the hard-working back-row impressed throughout the game with his crunching tackles and his go-forward power that put Hawick on the front foot when they needed it most
Talking point: If Musselburgh can maintain this form for the remainder of this season’s Premiership, they will achieve their aim of finishing in the top half of the championship and, who knows, perhaps they do enough to reach the play-offs. For Hawick this was a reminder that they need to be at full strength if they are to achieve the high standard of rugby for which they strive.