COLIN RENTON @ Stoneyhill
HAWICK spoiled the century celebrations of the home side with a seven try show that underlined the Mansfield Park men’s credentials as title challengers. They rarely looked to be under threat, although Musselburgh deserve credit for refusing to buckle, particularly during the second half when Hawick were relentless. Indeed, the determination of the hosts meant that they were still in the hunt to preserve their unbeaten home record as the game entered the final quarter, and ended with a four-try bonus as consolation.
Hawick coach Matty Douglas was delighted with the performance, saying: “Really happy with that – five points away from home first time this season. To be fair, I thought we were pretty dominant the whole game. We have gifted them a lot of points – we’ve scored and then haven’t dealt with our exits, and they capitalised on that. But in the second half, we played some good rugby.”
Douglas welcomed the return of two men who could have a big say in how Hawick’s campaign goes from here. “Having Shawn Muir and Andrew Mitchell back gave us some front foot ball and go forward that we’ve been lacking the past couple of games,” he added.
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Mitchell, back at the club after campaigning with Southern Knights during the FOSROC Super6, wasted little time in making his presence felt. The powerful centre blasted through a tackle and carried play into the home half before offloading to Morgan Tait, who raced in at the corner to open the scoring after five minutes.
The swirling wind made it tricky for the kickers and Kirk Ford was off target with the conversion attempt. The same fate befell Danny Owenson’s subsequent penalty and Ford’s next effort. That came after the visitors had bagged a second try. Mitchell was again at the heart of proceedings, drawing in three defenders and leaving space for Bailey Donaldson to sprint over.
Owenson clawed back three points with a penalty from the restart and the hosts were right back in the game after 18 minutes when Gregor Tait intercepted just inside opposition territory and took off – a collision between two pursuers making his task a little easier.
Ford added a three-pointer for Hawick from the edge of the 22, and the Borderers extended their lead when a bristling run by Callum Renwick carried play to within striking distance, where Ford collected and sliced through, then added the extras.
The hosts battled back with the final play of the half when a penalty into touch created the platform for a powerful drive that ended with Owenson picking up and darting down the blindside to dot down, then adding the conversion to leave his side five points adrift at the break.
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The Hawick bonus point came immediately after the restart when Tait scampered down the right wing and put boot to ball then applied the final touch in a race for the line. The visitors continued to press, and they had a man advantage for 10 minutes after William Fleming was sent to the sin-bin. However, during his absence, the home side fought their way back into the contest. Michael Maltman almost forced his way over following a close-range penalty. That sparked a series of pick and go attempts before the flanker smashed through at the second time of asking, and Owenson converted.
Hawick again delivered an instant riposte, with Donaldson feeding Ronan McKean, who skirted past two defenders and ran round behind the posts to leave Ford an easier conversion.
That could have knocked the stuffing out of Musselburgh, but they came back once more, with Maltman crossing for a second time with a juddering close-range effort which resulted in an injury that ended his afternoon. Owenson’s conversion left the gap at five points with 20 minutes to play.
The visitors quelled any doubts when Jae Linton bounced through several attempted tackles before the ball was moved wide then back inside where Ford spied a gap and scampered in, then added the extras. And the scoring was not quite finished. Hawick produced a result that was a truer reflection of their superiority when Muir marked his return from the injury he sustained on the opening day of the campaign by thundering over for try number seven.
Musselburgh coach Graeme Paterson had hoped for a result that would be worthy of the occasion. Instead he and the supporters who turned out to mark the club’s hundredth year were had to shrug their shoulders and take this one on the chin.
“Obviously it’s disappointing, first of all to lose at home, then to lose at home on such an important day for the club, and the guys are gutted for that,” he admitted. “We just didn’t have enough foothold in the game. They used the ball more effectively when they had it and they took their opportunities. And that was the difference.”
That said, he acknowledged the commitment of his players, stating: “To be fair, twice we got ourselves back into good positions to actually kick on and maybe have a chance of actually winning the game, but we just didn’t follow that through.”
Musselburgh: R Hindhaugh; S Watt, R Smith, R Watt, G Tait; P Cunningham, D Owenson©; N McNairn, C Owenson, C Arthur, W Fleming, P Brown, M Maltman, M Crawford, L Hutson. Subs: R Stott, J Haynes, J Lister, M McMillan, L Brook.
Hawick: B Donaldson; M Tait, L Gordon-Woolley, A Mitchell, R McKean; K Ford, Gareth Welsh; T Hope, M Carryer©, R Macleod, C Sutherland, S Fairbairn, C Renwick, S Graham, J Linton. Subs: S Muir, C Tait, S Mabon, Glen Welsh, K Brunton.
Referee: Ross Mabon
Musselburgh: Tries: Tait, D Owenson, Maltman 2; Con: D Owenson 3; Pen: D Owenson.
Hawick: Tries: Tait 2, Donaldson, Ford 2, McKean, Muir; Cons: Ford 4; Pen: Ford.
Scoring sequence: (Musselburgh first): 0-5, 0-10, 3-10, 8-10, 8-13, 8-18, 8-20, 13-20, 15-20 (h-t) 15-25, 15-27, 20-27, 22-27, 22-32, 22-34, 27-34, 29-34, 29-39, 29-41, 29-46.
Yellow cards –
Man-of-the-match: Andrew Mitchell’s contribution ensured Hawick made a great start, and Kirk Ford was solid and reliable in all that he did, but the man who stood out was scrum half Gareth Welsh, who was abrasive, controlled proceedings and kept asking questions of the home defence.
Talking point: Hawick rely on a tight, yet fairly small squad. However, the spirit is exceptional and if key men can stay fit, the Borderers have what it takes to be title contenders.