ALAN LORIMER @ Philiphaugh
IRRESPECTIVE of what happens in the play-offs, Hawick are the 2023-24 Premiership champions after victory over Selkirk at Philiphaugh in their final league match put the Greens into an unassailable position in the league table.
Hawick needed only one point from the encounter at Philiphaugh but in the event they came away with considerably more than required having collected a bonus point early in the second half before finishing with a nine-try haul. The victory also means that the Bill McLaren Shield has found its way back to Mansfield Park.
The huge scoreline was confirmation of Hawick’s superiority in the Premiership this season and confirmation too of head coach Matty Douglas’ skills in piloting his charges to a second successive title.
Reflecting on Hawick’s second title win, Douglas said: “It’s probably been harder this year. Last year we went through an unbeaten season. This year every team wanted to beat us and raised their game. To sum it up, it’s been another amazing season. All the boys want to play for the club. We won sixteen games this season, but that doesn’t just happen: it’s the extra hours the boys put in and the work of the back-room team.
“But this is not the finish. We’ve got the play-offs now and it looks like we’ll be up against Kelso in the semis. But today showed why we are Premiership champions. I thought we were clinical from the word go and the boys thoroughly deserve it. I thought there were some outstanding performances today” added Douglas.
Hawick’s performance, boosted by the return of second-rows Dalton Redpath and Fraser Wilson, was the near perfect showing, borne of clever attacking, strong and dynamic defence, massive fitness levels and strong contributions from the replacements.
For Selkirk, who were fresh off a fine win against Edinburgh Accies at Raeburn Place last weekend, defeat to Hawick was a deflating experience. Their head coach, Gordon Henderson, however, was magnanimous in his praise of Hawick.
“There is a big gap. Sometimes you’ve just got to take your hat off and admit you’ve come up against a much better side. Our guys were disappointed because they thought they were better than that. But they weren’t. Hawick have special players like Lee Armstrong, Jae Linton and Andrew Mitchell. We have to be honest and say we were second best,” he acknowledged.
“They got three breakaway tries. On another day that wouldn’t have happened but you can’t change things now. What we can do is change going forward. We have to regroup and raise our game for our next match against Heriot’s,” Henderson added.
Hawick showed their determination to collect the Premiership point they needed by retaining possession for the opening five minutes of play, and then capitalising with a try by Andrew Mitchell from a chip ahead by Lee Armstrong.
Kirk Ford added the conversion points but two minutes later Hugo Alderson ate into Hawick’s lead with a lengthy penalty goal.
Hawick, always eager to move the ball, attacked from deep in their own half, Linton outgunning the Selkirk defence before passing to Ronan McKean. The big wing was stopped but when the ball was moved across the park, Ford delivered a long pass to give Mitchell his second try of the match.
Ford looked to have rounded off some stylish Hawick handling only for the referee to chalk off the ‘try’. But it mattered not for the Greens who increased their lead with a try by Ford from a move initiated by Armstrong and which exhibited clever and accurate handling from the Hawick backs. From wide out, Ford succeeded with his second conversion to put his side 19-3 ahead going into the break.
Playing with the stiff breeze, Hawick forced Selkirk to defend in their 22 and soon drew the benefits, Ford slipping over for the bonus point try and then converting his own score.
Selkirk enjoyed a spell of continuous possession but their attempts to utilise admittedly slow ball ended with a knock-on, handing Hawick a chance to reset the scoring button, this time Linton benefitting from intelligent handling with replacement Morgan Tait‘s contribution key.
Ford made it four from five with the conversion kick and then added to his tally by slotting the extras to a try by Armstrong, who turned a dropped Selkirk pass into another score for Hawick.
The rout continued as Calum Renwick latched on to loose ball before using his speed to sprint to the line for a score under the posts presenting Ford with a simple conversion kick.
Finally, Selkirk moved to within five metres of the Hawick line but the home side’s efforts again came to nought and worse for the Philiphaugh men Calum Renwick fastened on to spilled ball before sprinting 70 metres for an unconverted try.
It was now a lap of honour for Hawick who added a further try – a second for Armstrong – after the centre collected a neat chip ahead by Kyle Brunton, Ford converting to complete a day of celebration for the champions.
Selkirk: C Anderson; F Wheelans, A Grant-Suttie, R Nixon, B Cullen; Aaron McColm, H Alderson; L Pettie, J Bett, Z Szwagrzak, Andrew McColm, A Cochrane, L Cassidy, S McClymont©, K Westlake. Subs: S Clark, B Riddell, C Turnbull, J Welsh, C Easson.
Hawick: K Ford; C Welsh, A Mitchell, L Armstrong, R McKean; K Brunton, G Welsh; S Muir©, F Renwick, N Little, D Redpath, F Wilson, S Graham, C Renwick, J Linton. Subs: R Anderson, R Macleod, D Brooker, D Lightfoot, M Tait.
Referee: Callum Worsley
Selkirk: Pen: Alderson
Hawick: Tries Mitchell 2, Armstrong 2, C Renwick 2, Ford 2, Linton; Cons: Ford 7.
Scoring Sequence (Selkirk first): 0-5; 3-5; 3-10; 3-12; 3-17; 3-19 (h-t) 3-24; 3-26; 3-31; 3-33; 3-38; 3-40; 3-45; 3-47; 3-52; 3-57; 3-59.
Man-of-the-Match: There were numerous candidates for the MOTM award and on a day when Hawick sealed the Premiership title it might be redundant to talk about special players. In terms of tries Andrew Mitchell’s brace confirmed the big centre as a special player, while Kirk Ford again showed himself to be creative player with a special talent and moreover not a bad goal kicker with 14 points here. But the player who plotted so many of Hawick’s tries was centre Lee Armstrong, whose return to the Hawick team this season has been key to the Greens’ success, so he is the MOTM
Talking point: Hawick will celebrate their second successive Premiership title win but after the party their thoughts and preparation must now turn to the play-offs, the timing for which has not yet been announced. Whether the follow on from the straight Premiership league is necessary is the subject of another debate but with Cup games, district championship matches and the play-offs all competing for calendar dates you get the feeling that something has to give.