DAVID BARNES @ Fullarton Park
BY sticking to their game-plan, minimising errors in treacherous conditions, and maintaining an impressive work-rate for the full 80-minutes, league leaders Hawick toughed out a well-deserved win over dogged Marr at Fullarton Park, which tees them up nicely for another major test of their Premiership title credentials when Currie Chieftains visit Mansfield next weekend.
With a gale force wind at their backs during the first half, the visitors dominated territory but had only a converted Lewis Ferguson try to show for all that pressure as clock ticked past the 39-minute mark, and even when man-of-the-match Daniel Suddon crashed over to set up a straightforward Kirk Ford conversion in the last play before the break to make it 14-0, it was far from certain that this would be enough.
Certainly, when Marr capitalised on a rare Hawick mishandle to streak downfield and open their account through Conor Bickerstaff, converted by Colin Sturgeon, just three minutes after the restart, the hosts looked in great shape to burst their Border rivals’ bubble. But Hawick held their nerve to recapture control of the contest, and ultimately muscle their way to the bonus-point.
“With the elements today, I would have taken your hand off if you had offered me that result at half-time,” smiled Matty Douglas, Hawick’s satisfied coach, afterwards. “I thought we played really well in the first half in terms of keeping the ball, but I don’t think we turned enough pressure into points, and credit to Marr for defending really well in their 22.
“I think that score just before the break sent us into the changing room in a better frame of mind and the message at half-time was to not change a lot because we were able to manage the wind and get ourselves playing in the right areas. That was definitely one of our better performances away from home because Marr is a tough place to come, even without that wind.
“To play into that wind and keep the ball for as long as we did in the second half, with not many mistakes apart from a couple of penalties, and to fight all the way for that bonus-point try on 78-minutes, we’re really happy.”
There was no complaints from the home camp. “Hawick are a clinical side, they know what they are trying to do, they stick to their structures, they do the basics well, and they deserved to win given they had about 70 percent possession,” said Marr head coach Craig Redpath.
“We defended well and showed a lot of heart, but we also made a lot of mistakes which allowed them to keep the pressure on, and I think that sometimes we lack a bit of confidence in ourselves which we saw when we struggled to clear our line a few times after winning back possession inside our own 22.
“We just have to hope and pray now that other results go our way,” added Redpath, in reference to his team’s quest to make the play-offs. “We’ve got a massive game next week away two Selkirk, and if we can win that then we are kind of half back in to it, and take it from there.”
Last season’s champions have found themselves playing catch-up after losing six of their first nine matches of this campaign, but they were on a four game winning streak coming into this one. “We are in a better place, we have a clear vision of what we want to do going forward and we’re going to work on that over the next period of time,” concluded Redpath. “We’ll still have something to play for whatever happens, because there is still the cup and I know if we get everyone available and playing well then we are a difficult side to beat anywhere.”
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A classic example of those costly errors which damaged Marr during this match arrived soon after they had scored that try early in the second-half, when a loose-pass went to ground in the middle to initiate a long period of pressure. Twice Marr’s heroic defence managed to turn the ball over close to their own line, but on both occasions they failed to fully harness the wind to break out of their own half, and it didn’t help that their line-out was all over the place.
Then, with just under an hour played, Sturgeon was sent to the sin-bin for killing the ball and Ford stepped up to knock over the easy three points, but Hawick then handed Marr an easy route straight back into the contest with a calamitous kick-off receipt which featured Suddon colliding with Stuart Graham and the ball bouncing forward. When the resultant scrum hit the deck, referee David Young ruled in the hosts’ favour and Calum Inglis nailed the penalty.
That, however, was about the only meaningful slip-up Hawick had during a highly professional second half, and a long period of pressure saw Ferguson zip over on the right for his second, and then another sustained onslaught finally secured the bonus-point with three minutes left on the clock when Suddon crashed home to complete his brace.
Marr: C Inglis; J Jacobson (G Montgomery 71), S Bickerstaff, C Bickerstaff (N Calder 73), J Scott; C Sturgeon, G Baird; G Reid, S Clelland (C Steel 71), C Miller, D Andrew, C Young, B Jardine, C Folan, F Grant.
Hawick: K Ford; L Ferguson, A Mitchell, E Reilly, L Gordon-Woolley (B Donaldson 77); K Brunton, H Patterson; S Muir, F Renwick (M Carryer 71), N Little (T Hope 71), D Suddon, S Fairbairn (D Redpath 43), C Sutherland, C Renwick (R Graham 61), S Graham.
Referee: David Young
Marr: Try: C Bickerstaff; Con: Sturgeon; Pen: Inglis.
Hawick: Tries: Ferrguson 2, Suddon 2; Cons: Ford 3; Pen: Ford.
Scoring sequence (Marr first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-12; 0-14 (h-t) 5-14; 7-14; 7-17; 10-17; 10-22; 10-27; 10-29.
Yellow cards –
Marr: Sturgeon (57mins)
Man-of-the-Match: His try just before half-time was a huge psychological moment, and his second just before the full-time secured the bonus-point, but Daniel Suddon‘s contribution to this hard-earned win was much more than just those two sc ores, with his work-rate – particularly in carrying and hitting rucks – absolutely crucial.
Talking point: Even if Marr don’t make the play-offs, Craig Redpath believes his team still has plenty to play for this season. It is great that an exciting end to the Premiership season is on the cards, but a proper Cup competition featuring properly committed teams could also be a real boost to this tier of the game.