LEWIS STUART @ Fullarton Park
DESPITE some opening weekend wobbles, Marr made the case for their Premiership ambitions by inflicting the first defeat for 18 months on the reigning champions, Hawick. In the end, they won with something to spare, dominating the scrum and making the breakdown a real battle that the visitors couldn’t handle.
Two tries were scant reward for their effort, but the reality was that apart from 10 minutes when they were down to 14 men, they were the only team stringing together phases and looking as though they could turn that into points.
For Kenny Diffenthal, the Marr coach, it all added up to a thoroughly satisfying afternoon. He had demanded a reaction to the team’s opening loss and got everything he hoped for.
“Extremely pleased,: he said. “All I asked for was a massive reaction after last week and that is what we go. They’re a class outfit and we know what they are going to bring, they won’t stop for 80 minutes. So we had to be on our mettle for a the entire game.
“All I want to do with the boys is improve week on week. If we keep improving we’ll be okay, so that’s all I’ve asked for. We’ve lost a few and gained a few from last season but we’ve managed to replace the ones we lost with younger guys who will come on.
“There’s a lot of variation in the way we play, so we can adapt week on week. The guys really seem up for it.”
Across the pitch, Matty Douglas, the Hawick coach, was in exactly the position Diffenthal had been in the week before – demanding that the next time his players take to the field he sees a reaction to an under-par performance.
“It’s always tough at Marr,” he pointed out. “We have not a lot of success here, last season was the only one in a while. Despite that, I’ll be honest, we were miles off.
“I think we gave away 12 penalties in the first 15 minutes. We were always staring down the barrel. We had a positive chat at half time about landing a blow but never did.
“I know the players are disappointed, as are the coaching team. We can only get better from that and I can guarantee we will. We will be firing next week at home, because that was not an acceptable performance from us.
“We just couldn’t string any phases together – I can probably count on one hand how many times we got through three or four phases. Bitterly disappointed, but that may be what we needed, just the kind of a reality check to show we cant just turn up and think we’re going to win.”
The reality is that Douglas probably realised his side were struggling from the word go. They conceded a string of penalties from the first exchanges, their scrum was in trouble and Marr took advantage, Colin Sturgeon, the home fly-half, happy to keep the scoreboard ticking over in threes as he slotted all his early kicks at goal.
They were 9-0 up by the time the string of offences cost Hawick a man in the sin-bin, flanker Calum Renwick the unlucky one to take a hit for his team, and with a man advantage Marr turned the screw.
They probably made hard work of it but eventually Blair Jardine, playing at No 8 in this game, took a tap penalty and drove over for the opening try.
Hawick did react and after 26 minutes they were able to mount their first serious attack. It was their turn to win a string of penalties and see Marr’s lock Calum Folan sent to the bin as a team punishment. They must have realised, however, that it was not going to be their day when they did eventually produce a meaningful attack and worked wing Ronan McKean over only for a forward pass in the build-up to mean it was not a try.
Eventually, scrum-half Gareth Welsh did find space from a tap penalty but when Kirk Ford missed the far-from-tricky conversion, Borders hearts sunk further.
Sturgeon added his fourth penalty early in the second half as both sides settled for a defensive stalemate with Marr getting the better of the breakdown and scrums while Hawick had the superior line-out and mauling game. Most of the action was between the 22s as both teams struggled to get a real foothold in the match.
It was Marr who broke the deadlock, Jardine rumbling down the right with support from the Bickerstaff brothers, Conor in the centre and Scott on the wing, before the ball whizzed back across the field and Hawick made a mess of fielding Scott Bickerstaff‘s probing kick, allowing Jake Jacobson, the wing, to ground the ball.
Hawick did try to get at least a losing bonus point out of the game but when Bailey Donaldson, the replacement centre, was held up over the line, their last chance had gone.
It was perhaps fitting that the game ended with Hawick knocking-on within a couple of yards for the home line – a moment that encapsulated the Green frailty in possession and Marr’s cast-iron, ferocious defensive spirit.
It’s early days, but after seeng the champions humbled, the Marr faithful are already starting to talk about this being their season again.
Marr: G Montgomery; S Bickerstaff, G Paxton, C Bickerstaff (C), J Jacobson; C Sturgeon, G Baird; A Rogers, C McMillan, A Apthorpe, D Andrew, C Folan (sin bin: 29-39), C Young, F Grant, B Jardine. Replacements: S Clelland, G Dick, E Bulger, J Scott, G Beckwith.
Hawick: K Ford; M Tait, A Mitchell, L Armstrong, R McKean; K Brunton, G Welsh; S Muir (C), F Renwick, N Little, F Wilson, D Redpath, C Sutherland, C Renwick (sin bin: 14-24), J Linton. Replacements: R Anderson, T Hope, G Lowrie, S Graham, B Donaldson.
Referee: F Hollins
Marr: Tries: Jardine, Jacobson; Con: Sturgeon; Pens: Sturgeon 4.
Hawick: Try: Welsh.
Scoring sequence (Marr first): 3-0; 6-0; 9-0; 14-0; 16-0; 16-5 (h-t) 19-5; 24-5.
Player-of-the-Match: In a defence-dominated match, Marr had the advantage of a dominant scrum and front-foot ball and the man who made it all work for them was No 8 Blair Jardine, who carried hard and led the fringe defence.
Talking point: After going unbeaten last season, you could construct a case for Hawick being thankful that they have got their dodgy away day out of the system early, when there is still plenty of time to recover. Lots of other teams are going to lose at Fullarton Park.