Glasgow Hawks 16
IAIN MORRISON @ Hughenden
THE scoreboard suggests that this was a regulation win for the league champions but instead it was a nervy encounter with nothing separating the two sides until the final ten minutes. The lead changed hands six times in an absorbing contest played out in front of a decent crowd in near perfect conditions.
Hawks were trailing by 16-17 as the match entered the final knockings, when the visitors finally found their stride and the ‘home’ team (the game was played at Hughenden) finally ran out of steam. Hawick scored two tries, converted one of them and added a penalty to make the final score look a lot more comfortable than the match had been.
Those tries were scored by Matt Carryer and Ethan Riley, the extras came from the boot of fullback Kirk Ford and they combined to make the final score a little lopsided.
“The game was a lot tighter than the score might have you believe,” said Hawks’ coach Andy Hill, contemplating what might have been.
“We were very physical at the start of the season and we produced that physicality again this afternoon which was nice to see but, as we said afterwards, we were killed by our line-out misfiring and also by the number of turnovers we gave at the breakdown.
“Hawick are probably the best team of jacklers in the league and we paid the price today. We didn’t deal with that aspect today and Hawick were just that little bit more clinical than us.”
Playing with the slope, Hawks laid their stall out, clattering into the Hawick players from the kick-off and giving zero respect to the team that remains unbeaten thus far this season.
They were undone by that line-out, I counted perhaps six lost throughout the game, and the penalty count at the breakdown, where both teams were regularly pinged by a referee who was pretty quick on the whistle but consistently so.
Three times Hawick’s big men flexed their muscles and drove Hawks over from a line-out maul, once in the first half to open their account and twice more in the second 40. This one aspect of the game had a huge bearing on the final result.
Hawks fly-half Gavin Cruickshanks kicked to the corners pretty well and his side milked an early penalty thanks to the boot of winger Andy McLean.
The game was played at a blistering pace throughout and Hawick may have been a little surprised by the intensity that their hosts brought to the contact area. Certainly, they seemed a little out of sorts and midway through the first half coach Matty Douglas was already asking his players to calm their cheese.
Hawick weathered the early storm and struck an early blow themselves when hooker Fraser Renwick was the last man up after a five-metre line-out and a highly effective driving maul.
Despite having a very useful maul themselves Hawks went for posts twice in the opening 30 minutes when they might have been better advised to back their big men. McLean’s second penalty gave them a 6-5 lead.
Just when it looked like we may have a low scoring game the crowd was granted two tries in the space of as many minutes. The first went to Hawick centre Andrew Mitchell who picked a superb out-to-in line to go over under the Hawks’ posts, ensuring Ford couldn’t miss the conversion.
Moments later, Hawks’ live-wire scrum-half, Eric Davey, whowas a threat throughout, bounced off one attacker on a blindside snipe before racing towards the Hawick line and feeding his right winger Ryan Flett for one of the softer scores Hawick have conceded this season.
With half-time approaching there was still time for two scoring opportunities, both of which went west. First up Hawks’ full-back Euan Muirhead made a searing break to sew panic in the green ranks and then Hawick centre Ethan Reilly broke from deep and had the exact same effect on Hawks defence. Both moves broke down thanks to breakdown penalties; there was plenty to go around.
Trailing by a point, it was important that Hawks score first in the second half and they managed exactly that thanks to another clever move by Davey.
A training ground ploy saw the little scrummy take a line-out at the front, one of the few that Hawks secured, and race into the Hawick half. When the ball was moved quickly, James Pinkerton’s long miss-pass fell perfectly for winger McLean to score in the left corner.
McLean was unable to convert his own try leaving Hawks leading the league champions by 16-12, but they didn’t have long to bask in the glory. The second of Hawick’s three maul tries arrived two minutes later and went to the veteran prop Nicky Little who trundled over from short range around the 54 minute mark.
Hawick now had a slender one point lead that they only extended in that final ten minutes with a flurry of scores.
“That was a really tough game,” said Hawick’s Matty Douglas after the final whistle. “All credit to Hawks who played really well and made life difficult for us.
“I think that we were second best for maybe 60 to 65 minutes of that game but we came good when we needed to and that is what has given us our success this season.
“It’s difficult because we have been off for three weeks and we are coming off the incredible high of winning the league and we are asking players to refocus all over again and that isn’t easy.
“But we have a final at Murrayfield to look forward to and we will be rightly motivated by that and the possibility to claim the first (league and cup) double since I don’t know when!?”
Glasgow Hawks: E Muirhead; R Flett, J Pinkerton, S Graham, A McLean; G Cruickshanks, E Davey; M Downer, P Cairncross, G Strain, S Leckey, R Burke, V Carlsson, T Wright, S Hastings. Subs used: T McTeir, K Shanahan, M Crumlish, J Porter, C Harrison, C Ferrie, H Mitchell.
Hawick: K Ford; L Ferguson, A Mitchell, E Reilly, R McKean; K Brunton, G Welsh; S Muir, F Renwick, N Little, D Redpath, S Fairbairn, S Frizzel, C Renwick, J Linton. Subs used: M Carryer, R MacLeod, H Donaldson, M Brogan, D Lightfoot, G Huggan, C Welsh.
Referee: Fergus Hollins.
Glasgow Hawks: Tries: Flett, McLean; Pen: McLean 2.
Hawick: Tries: Renwick, Mitchell, Little, Carryer, Riley; Cons: Ford 2; Pen: Ford.
Sequence of scoring (Hawks first): 3-0; 3-5; 6-5; 6-10; 6-12; 11-12 (h-t) 16-12; 16-17; 16-22; 16-24; 16-27; 16-32.
Man-of-the-Match: Hawks hooker Paul Cairncross was brilliant around the field but a little less assured at the sidelines. The entire Hawick front-row were hugely impressive throughout and the front-five won this one with three maul tries but the best player on the field was Hawks scrum-half Eric Davey who had a big hand in both of his team’s tries and was equally impressive in defence.
Talking points: It is natural for club colleagues to get a little emotional after the last game of the season but this could be the last game ever for Hawks’ stalwart Gary Strain. The tough tighthead has been at the club since 2007, excepting a few years in France and Newcastle Falcons, and he has lost count of the number of games he has played for Hawks. He is the epitome of loyalty, endeavour and excellence and it was little wonder that each of his team-mates looked him out and offered him a little hug after the final ever whistle. One of his colleagues did suggest that he might be tempted to go for one more year but seems a little unlikely as Strain became a father only last Monday.