ALAN LORIMER @Mansfield Park
HAWICK will face Currie Chieftains at Mansfield Park in next Saturday’s Premiership Grand Final after the Greens, playing in front of a sizeable crowd, extinguished Marr’s hopes of making a successful defence of the title they won last year with a performance that emphasised their defensive skills as much as their potency in attack.
This semi-final, however, was far from being a classic. For the most part it lacked the free-flowing rugby that both clubs are capable of producing and will be remembered, or indeed forgotten, for the scrappy nature of a contest that Hawick should have won by a much bigger margin given their massive territorial advantage.
Hawick’s coach Matty Douglas, however, dismissed, but not completely, the notion that his side had made heavy weather of achieving victory. “Yes and no” he said. “We got over positive messages at half time. We felt if we could keep our game management we would start to see cracks appearing.
“But in terms of performance, I couldn’t be prouder of the boys. Defensively we were on it, and Marr struggled” .
Surprisingly, and particularly in they early part of the game, Hawick did not achieve an expected dominance in scrum and line-out. “Our set piece didn’t function they way we wanted but that’s something we’ll look at and we’ll fix for next week,” predicted Douglas.
As for Marr, the Ayrshire club tried to involve their talented midfield but for most of the game they were operating from a weak platform and their inability to make inroads to the Hawick 22 meant their attacks were from long range.
Moreover, Marr came into the game having not played for three weeks, although their head coach, Craig Redpath, refused to cite their lack of competitive rugby recently as the reason for his side losing out.
“The three week gap didn’t affect anything,” he said. “We dug in and stuck in but Hawick had the majority of possession and had many opportunities. We kicked our two goals. We hardly got out of our half in the second half. As well as that Hawick’s defence was very good.
“All I can say is that we put a big shift in and at 8-6 in the second half we thought we had a chance, but in fairness they deserved to win. They won the title and they deserve to be in the final.”
25 minutes of nerves-affected rugby from both sides was finally diffused by a stramash involving a large cast and which resulted in a penalty award to Marr, allowing Colin Sturgeon to give the game its first points with a successful kick at goal.
It was the prod that Hawick needed. The Greens duly reacted with a spell of composed rugby and a number of accurate backline moves that ultimately opened up the Marr defence giving Calum Renwick a tilt at the line. The flanker was tackled just short but when the ball was moved from the breakdown, Ronan McKean powered in for the opening try to give Hawick the lead, their 5-3 advantage unchanged for the remainder of the first half.
If the opening 40 had been a bit of a non-event for Hawick in terms of outcomes, then the second half revealed the Greens’ determination to put matters right. From the whistle they incarcerated Marr in their own 22 before being rewarded with a penalty goal from Kirk Ford.
Marr tried desperately to get their talented strike-runners into the game only to see their attempts to gain ground met with stiff resistance from the quick-engaging Hawick defence. Then, when Hawick were penalised for wheeling a scrum, Marr had a second chance of points and again from wide-out Sturgeon put the ball between the sticks.
Again Hawick reacted positively to Marr’s points grab with pressure rugby and ultimately a penalty. A kick to the corner preceded a line-out drive setting up a try for Jae Linton, converted by Ford for a 15-6 lead.
With full time beckoning Hawick again converted intense pressure into points through the boot of Ford, who kicked his second penalty goal to ensure Hawick’s place in the final next week.
Hawick: K Ford; C Welsh, A Mitchell, E Reilly, R McKean; K Brunton, H Patterson; S Muir©, F Renwick, N Little, C Sutherland, D Redpath, S Graham, C Renwick, J Linton. Substitutes: M Carryer, R Macleod, R Graham, S Fairbairn, G Welsh, G Huggan, L Ferguson.
Marr: C Inglis; J Jacobsen, S Bickerstaff, C Bickerstaff©, J Scott; C Sturgeon©, G Beckwith; G Reid, S Clelland, C Miller, D Andrew, C Folan, F Grant, B Jardine, B Johnston. Subs: B Nichol, A Acton, S Khan, C Young, C Steele, A Ramage, A McCormack.
Referee: Sam O’Neil
Hawick: Tries: McKean, Linton; Con: Ford Pens: Ford 2.
Marr: Pens: Sturgeon 2.
Scoring Sequence (Hawick first): 0-3; 5-3 (h-t) 8-3; 8-6; 13-6; 15-6; 18-6.
Man-of-the-Match: Hawick’s trump card in the play-off semi-final was a defence that snuffed out Marr’s potent midfield with accurate tackling. Both in organisation and execution, this area of Hawick’s game was best carried out by their centre Ethan Reilly.
Talking point: Hawick reversed the result of last season’s semi-final and in doing so retained their unbeaten record at Mansfield Park this season. The Greens will be all too aware that Currie had a similar run in the Premiership last season but fell at the final hurdle to an inspired Marr side. Hawick will not want a repeat of such a finish and know that to do so they will have to tidy up their set-piece for the final against a Currie side that will have analysed every aspect of the Greens performance here.