HAWICK came out of the traps fast and, after big wins against Musselburgh and GHA, found themselves in forgotten territory at the top of the league – albeit on points differential.
It did not last. Talismanic skipper Shawn Muir was injured in the warm-up for the GHA game and was sorely missed. They never got off the bus at Malleny for round three – they were sloppy against Selkirk at Mansfield in round four – they were put to the sword by Marr at Mansfield in round five – and then they were bullied out of it by Hawks at Mansfield in round six.
It was looking bad, but just as he did two years when relegation threatened, George Graham turned things around. They steadied the ship – Wiann Griebenow arrived back from South Africa – and one step at a time, much boosted by Muir’s return to fitness, they built up a winning run of 10 consecutive league games – magnificent testimony to Graham’s coaching prowess and the players’ resolve.
- Pulling the season out of the fire when ‘all was sunk in deep dejection’ with a spirited display up in Aberdeen – Matt Carryer and Daniel Suddon very much to the fore.
- Heroic defence and astounding commitment to hold out against Chieftains at Mansfield in early December. Ten league wins on the trot is good going in anybody’s book – but this was the big one – the one that signalled a new dawn – and suggested that there might well be life beyond simply making the play-offs.
- The bonus point win over GHA just before Christmas which took the Bill McLaren Shield back to its spiritual home at Mansfield.
- Shawn Muir and Andrew Mitchell making the Scotland Club XV – with Carryer on the bench.
- Miserable, spiritless performance on a dreich afternoon against Hawks at Mansfield was the deepest low in that mid-season slump.
- Bruce McNeil’s long suspension for a racist remark during the Currie Chieftains match at Mansfield threw a dark shadow over an excellent achievement by the team, although the club took steps to address the situation by hosting a successful ‘Show Racism the Red Card’ event in March.
- Failing to turn second half pressure into points in the Cup quarter final against Chieftains at Malleny – not helped by Griebenow being out injured.
- Shawn Muir is a big, big player – respected and hugely influential – a natural leader. He scrums well, works hard about the park and enjoys getting the ball in his hands – and, more importantly, he knows what to do with it.
- It was good news when Wiann Griebenow came back from South Africa for a second spell with the club. He is big and strong and he knows the game. Super-adept at finding the space and angles which Andrew Mitchell so enthusiastically exploited.
- Andrew Mitchell was the club’s stand-out player and the Premiership’s top try scorer – yet was incomprehensibly overlooked for the Scotland Under-20 squad. There must be some very good players hanging around these SRU academies!
- As many second-row forwards do, Daniel Suddon initially struggled with the step up to senior rugby – but once he found his feet he showed rare promise – though his season was unfortunately curtailed by injury.
- Ali Weir thinks about his game – and has gradually but surely grown into the stand-off berth.
- “We are way, way, way better than that. The problem was our intensity – we never really had any” – George Graham after discomfiting defeat at Malleny in September.
- “That was a game we were looking to win. We never stuck to our structures; we missed tackles; we dropped passes. At times it was pretty embarrassing” – assistant Coach Dean McCracken after the draw with Selkirk.
- “It was an absolutely woeful performance. We couldn’t hold onto the ball for any length of time. Our discipline was poor and we had two guys in the sin bin” – George Graham after the Marr game at Mansfield.
- “I thought that Hawks were very average. Our basic skills were poor – and we cannot blame the weather – it was the same for them” – George Graham after the Hawks game at Mansfield.
- “Marr have been good this season and have guaranteed themselves a home play-off. We did not perform against them at home but many would argue that we have improved since then. Let’s see what happens come Saturday” – George Graham before the January postponement at Fullarton.
- “The fact that we were playing really well – probably the form team in the league – is really frustrating. It would have been nice to see how we would have fared up at Malleny against Currie Chieftain in the play-off with a fully fit team” – George Graham announcing his retirement in frustrating circumstances.
Hawick are back – local boys playing for their local club – enjoying it – and keen to add another chapter to a rich history.
But George Graham’s retirement presents a huge challenge. The decision to go with a fairly inexperienced four-man coaching panel to fill the huge void left by the former Scotland prop is unorthodox and not without risk. The squad showed emphatically during the second half of last season that the raw materials are there to be serious contenders for several years to come, but harnessing that talent has proved problematic for Hawick in the not so distant past. The challenge for Stuart Johnson, Matt Landels, Dean McCracken and Matty Douglas is going to be to find a way of ensuring that the self-belief and clarity of purpose cultivated by Graham can be replicated under the new structure. It is going to be about organisation and character.