IAIN HAY @ Fullarton Park
A DASH of good fortune on the stroke of half-time for Marr proved to be the turning point, as the Ayrshiremen booked a home play-off semi-final in an engrossing, occasionally bad-tempered encounter with fellow contenders Hawick.
Edinburgh Accies victory over Hawks means that they could still overtake Hawick to take third spot but, in order to do so they’ll have to defeat runaway leaders Currie Chieftains at Raeburn in a fortnight’s time, a situation that Hawick head coach Matty Douglas doesn’t want to see happening.
Asked if he’d prefer another crack at Marr, he quickly responded: “100 percent. Wherever we go we’ll have a crack but I think there’s some unfinished business here.
“First half we were really good. It was the reaction I asked for, it’s a very hostile place to come here but it’s the tale of our season to give a score away just before half-time, and our discipline wasn’t the best in the second half. We switched off for a try round about the hour mark and never really got back into it.
“I have to give some credit to the players, we’ve been beat by 11 points when we’ve gifted them two tries, so if we have to come back here in the play-off then I’m looking forward to it.”
Hawick dominated possession, territory and the scoreboard during the first 39 minutes. Kirk Ford kicked the visitors into the lead off the tee, and soon afterwards he put one to touch which was worked inside and led to a try right under the posts for Glen Welsh.
After yesterday’s horrific weather, it was a pleasant surprise to see Fullarton bathed in sunshine, but with a stiff breeze, which Ford, and full-back Bailey Donaldson with his left-boot cannon, used to their advantage to keep Marr pegged into their own half.
An advantage from a deliberate knock-on – which perhaps should have seen referee Hollie Davidson dip into her pocket – saw Andrew Mitchell break the line after initially slipping, and Calum Renwick took it deeper into the 22, but once play was brought back Marr won a penalty at the scrum.
The visitors kept the pressure on, and it took some stern defending, including a key jackaling penalty by Brandon Sweet to keep them from increasing their lead, with Marr unable to find any cohesion or keep the ball for multiple phases.
However, football is a funny old game, and rugby football is even funnier. From nothing and nowhere, a hopeful hack ahead became the platform from which Marr could spring into life.
Replacement Matthew O’Sullivan gave chase, and although Hawick winger Morgan Tait had done very well to come in off his right wing to sweep up the danger, O’Sullivan was on him quickly and Hawick weren’t able to exit far. With 30 seconds remaining in the half, Marr camped on the Hawick line, Renwick was sent to the sin-bin, and Curran McMillan crossed the whitewash to somehow leave Marr only trailing by three as they hit the changing rooms.
With Marr having had so little possession, all we’d seen so far from Scott Bickerstaff were a few kicks to touch – one of which was badly sliced and barely went 10 metres – but now with the wind at his back he launched one deep, which Donaldson allowed to bounce and land just on the edge of the 22.
Marr were then awarded the free-kick for an early jump, and it looked like Bickerstaff would have an easy run-in but he was unable to take a long pass from Jack Scott, who had moved into scrum-half with Sinjin Broad going off injured in the first half.
A Hawick scrum penalty saw a bit of a stramash with front-row replacements Gordon Reid and William Farquhar – rumoured to be moving on up to the Super 6 with Ayrshire Bulls – front and centre, as both sides literally fought over the coveted home play-off spot.
Both sides were fairly evenly matched, but Hawick gave away slightly more penalties (I made the count 14-12) and although they had lost the first scrum, Marr’s front-row then took control.
Two close range penalties led to two tap-and-go attempts, and from the second it was McMillan who finally battered over the line to break Hawick resistance and hearts.
Bickerstaff took the game beyond doubt when he went under the posts with just over five minutes remaining after good feet and an offload by Colin Sturgeon.
Hawick had one last chance to snatch a bonus point when they kicked a penalty to within the Marr 22, but as with a lot of arrows on a windy day, the throw-in failed to hit the target and Marr gleefully booted the ball out to halt proceedings.
“We were struggling, to be honest” said a relieved Craig Redpath afterwards. “Hawick just played a simple game-plan of putting us into corners and waiting for us to make a mistake. We got lucky just before half-time, got the wee break and scored a try, then even in the second half I didn’t think we managed it particularly well, but we managed to find a way to win.
“We’ve confirmed the home semi, we expect it’ll be Hawick again. There wasn’t much in that game, and Hawick are always be confident whoever they’re playing. We’ll improve from that game; we’ve got a few guys coming back, and in the wings, so we’ve got selection decisions to make.”
Marr: D Steele; S Bickerstaff, J Shedden, G Paxton, J Scott; C Sturgeon, S Broad; B Sweet, C McMillan, C Miller, D Andrew, F Grant, B Jardine, R Brown, B Johnston. Subs: W Farquhar, G Reid, J McLean, N Calder, M O’Sullivan
Hawick: B Donaldson; M Tait, A Mitchell, Glen Welsh, R McKean; K Ford, Gareth Welsh; S Muir, R Graham, R Macleod, R Smith, S Fairbairn, C Renwick, C Sutherland, S Graham. Subs: M Carryer, T Hope, C Tait, D Lightfoot, L Gordon-Woolley.
Referee: Hollie Davidson
Marr: Tries: McMillan 2, Bickerstaff; Cons: Sturgeon 3.
Hawick: Tries: Glen Welsh; Cons: Ford; Pens: Ford.
Scoring sequence (Marr first): 0-3; 0-8; 0-10; 5-10; 7-10 (h-t) 12-10; 14-10; 19-10; 21-10.
Yellow Cards –
Man-of-the-Match: In a game so fiercely competitive, it’s the line-breakers and metre-makers who can be the difference, so Jamie Shedden and his effortless running style gets the award.
Talking Point: Matty Douglas made point of how the Fullarton crowd can intimidate but one individual certainly crossed the line in swearing at Calum Renwick when he was sent to the bin. Douglas and his coaching staff were not amused.