Tennent’s Premiership: Heriot’s clock-up 50 after Hawick run out of steam

Match finely balanced at half-time but hosts ultimately have too much pace, power and poise for plucky Borderers

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Craig Robertson's two early tries set Heriot's on troute to victory ***Please credit: ©Fotosport/David Gibson***

Heriot’s 50

Hawick 14

DAVID BARNES @ Goldenacre

PROGRESS is a relative concept. Hawick came away from this match with diddly-squat but given that they were hammered 70-7 the last time they visited Goldenacre, this result might be regarded as some sort of symbolic victory – especially as the actual contest was much tighter than the final score-line suggests.

The hosts were only 19-14 ahead at the turnaround, and although Hawick never really looked like winning the match after Jack McLean went over for the bonus point try early in the second-half, it was tight enough for the hosts to choose to kick a penalty to ease themselves 15 points clear just before the hour mark.

By the time there was 10 minutes to go, Heriot’s had edged into a 36-14 lead, but Hawick were pushing hard, with a couple of bonus points not beyond the realms of possibility. However, they then shot themselves in the foot by conceding a penalty when they had the scrum put-in near Heriots’ 22 for back-chatting the referee, which gave the hosts an opportunity to break up-field, with scrum-half Alex Ball finishing off a sweeping passage of play to claim his hat-trick try.

Fatigue finally pulled the rug from under Hawick’s forwards. Callum Renwick was the only front-row on the bench, but he got hurt soon after coming on, which meant that Nicky Little (in only his third game back from injury), Matty Carryer and Shawn Muir had to play the full 80-minutes against one of the most powerful scrums in the league. They were under pressure to start with, by the end they were dead on their feet.

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That score was quickly followed up with another Heriot’s try. This time Ball was the creator on a sweeping run and outside centre Ross Jones finishing off.

It was a disappointing end to the match for Hawick after a spirited opening 70-minutes, but head coach George Graham was in no mood to accentuate the positives.

“Frustrated is an understatement, I think we’ve got a bit of a basket-case team, to be honest with you,” said the no-nonsense former Scotland prop. “We played very well last week, and we trained really well this week knowing that we were coming up here for a tough game. I thought in the first half Heriot’s lived off our mistakes and capitalised on them really well – but we made it easy for them because we couldn’t hold the ball to build pressure.

“We managed to manufacture a couple of tries off their mistakes and we went in at half-time only five points behind – so we were in the game.

“Then, in the second half, we capitulated. We fell off tackles, [there was] no organisation and we did none of our set-plays because we never had quick ball. Heriot’s stepped up and capitalised. You can’t come to a place like this and expect to compete, let alone win, if you don’t look after the ball.”

Graham had a long chat with the player’s in the changing room afterwards and it wasn’t hard to work out what the general tenor had been.

“I think it is mental toughness,” he stated. “We just had a conversation in there about that. The players are saying all the right things, they’re also frustrated – that we seem to play like Tarzan when we’re at Mansfield and we play like Jane everywhere else. Normally there is a drop-off when you play away, but not as much as that, and then when you capitulate in the second half and lose 30-points when you were only five points behind, it is really hard to take.”

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Heriot’s motored into a two try lead by the 20-minute mark thanks to a brace from Craig Robertson – the first via a slaloming run from the winger through a fairly shapeless defence, the second after he came in field to burst through a yawning gap and then easily rounded the away team’s back-field cover. Ross Jones missed the first but drilled home the second conversion from just inside the left touch-line.

Hawick struck back when Lee Armstrong ghosted through a gap, and when it looked like he was running out of gas he hen had the presence of mind to step back inside and duck under the tackle to score.

Having done so well to get themselves back into the contest, Hawick will be kicking themselves that they surrendered the next score quite so easily, with Ball picking up at the base of a ruck on halfway near the left touchline and realised that the blind-side was totally devoid of green jerseys. He didn’t need any persuading to take advantage, stepping past last man Kirk Ford with ease, and trotting home unchallenged under posts.

At least Hawick can take some comfort in the knowledge that they weren’t the only team making life hard for themselves at this stage. On a bitterly cold afternoon in the Scottish capital, there was clearly a few ice-block fingers leading to dropped balls, and a guddle in the middle of the park was hacked ahead by 17-year-old Andrew Mitchell, who then outpaced Dougie Steele to win the footrace for a try under the posts.

Jack McLean grabbed the bonus point try for Heriot’s at the start of the second half when two flat passes put the winger into space, after Jack Blain’s midfield break had pulled Hawick’s defence all out of shape.

Heriot’s were now 12-points clear, but the contest was alive enough for the home team to opt for the three points from in front of the posts a few minutes later. Heriot’s nearly got try number five when Hawick’s desperate eight-man effort to stack up a scrum meant that Iain Wilson was able to make 15-yards unchallenged on a number eight pick-up, before throwing a behind-the-back flip towards the supporting Ball – who had a clear run to the line. But referee Sam Grove-White had spotted that the ball had initially floated forward.

Heriot’s kept at it, and they soon got their reward with the same two players involved, although, on this occasion Struan Cessford – showing the soft hands of a modern-day tight-head prop – acted as a link between Wilson and try-scorer Ball.

That added some more breathing space for the home team, but Hawick continued to battle for the next ten minutes – until the wheels came off during the final quarter.

Heriot’s head coach Phil Smith was fairly satisfied by the end but is clearly concerned that for the second week running his team waited until half-time before getting into the groove.

“The first half wasn’t dissimilar to the Boroughmuir game in that we kept coughing up the ball, we kept making errors, we didn’t look energised – the only difference was that we had scored three tries, so we weren’t chasing the game,” he reflected. “So, once again, you go back to explaining what you would like to happen, and funnily enough they do it really well in the second half, and they get lots of points.

“My frustration is that you can see the really good bits. They are in there all the time but they just don’t bring them out as much as you want, because they make stupid little errors.  When it comes to the crunch, will they deliver? Well, that’s what we’re going to find out.”

“Ultimately, at 19-14, the game is not – by any stretch of the imagination – won, so I’m over the moon to score 50 points. If you turn up on a Saturday and get five-points then you are happy, and it is against Hawick, who are a much better side now than they were last year. It didn’t feel like the score-line suggests.”


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Teams –

Heriot’s: D Steele; C Robertson, R Jones, R Kay, J Blain; D Martin, A Ball; J Scott, M Liness, S Cessford, R Leishman, C Marshall, M Hughes, J McLean, I Wilson. Subs: A Johnstone, A McMillan, A Sinclair, S Edwards, C Lineen.

Hawick: K Ford; G Johnston, A Mitchell, G Walker, K Young; L Armstrong, D Lightfoot; S Muir, M Carryer, N Little, D Suddon, D Redpath, S Graham, D Davison, B McNeil. Subs:  C Renwick, K McNeil, D Lowrie, A Weir, K Davies.

Referee: Sam Grove-White


Scorers –

Heriot’s: Tries: Robertson 2, Ball 3, McLean, Jones; Con: Jones 6; Pen: Jones.

Hawick: Try: Armstrong, Mitchell; Con: Armstrong 2.

Scoring sequence (Heriot’s first): 5-0; 10-0; 12-0; 12-5; 12-7; 17-7; 19-7; 19-12; 19-14 (h-t) 24-14; 26-14; 29-14; 34-14; 36-14; 41-14; 43-14; 48-14; 50-14.


Yellow cards –

Hawick: B McNeil


Man-of-the-Match: Heriot’s scrum-half Alex Ball has spent a lot of time playing understudy, but Andrew Simmers’ rolled ankle meant he got a chance to start this game, and he grabbed the opportunity with both hands – scoring three tries and bringing an energy which was key to Heriot’s finally easing away to a comfortable victory.

Talking point: George Graham was understandably frustrated at the way his team fell away during the final quarter, but in the cold light of day he will perhaps recognise that fatigue was a big factor and the tight-forwards actually did bloody well to hang in there for as long as they did. However, there is still a long way to go in this campaign and with Ruaridh McLeod out for the season with a broken ankle, the lack of depth at prop is going to be an on-going concern.

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About David Barnes 4028 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.