1st XV vs Hawick: Match Report
When the fixtures for Premier B were published in November, Hawick away in January looked particularly unappealing. To emerge with a draw from Mansfield Park was, therefore, a very acceptable result. For those of us lucky enough to be present, we witnessed a display of defensive courage that is not normally the first thing you associate with Stewart’s Melville.
Potentially, the threequarters selected on Saturday are as good as we have fielded since the days of Murray Thomson, Graeme Stirling, Kenny Milligan and Graeme Burns. But the question was, how could we get them into play on a pitch that was bound to cut up and with less than 40% of the ball?
The answer is that it was impossible – but Liam Steele showed what we are capable of when he scooted in from 40 metres, Mike Hanning converting to put us 7 nil up. Unfortunately, we did not deal with the restart, and, at this level, you get punished for your indiscretions; after strong running from McNeil (about whom more later), McColm accepted an overlap to reduce the lead to 2 points.
Next, unfortunately, referee Charles Samson was unsighted as Scott Riddell broke through. His route to the line seemed to be blocked by the cover, however the tackler allowed Scott to fall over him and Scott used his experience and stretched out an arm to touch down. The referee could not be sure, though, and consulted with his assistant, who – likewise – could not be sure; strangely, we were then awarded a scrum five, which seemed a consolation prize rather than the correct decision.
Although you could argue with some of Samson’s decisions, his control and feel for the game and unflustered demeanour (in the face of intense pressure from the Hawick crowd and not least their captain, McNeil) was first class.
Scott’s effort was to be the last time we threatened the Hawick line, and, as half time approached, the feeling was that we had weathered the early storm, and, if we could just squeeze a little more ball, we would prevail.
Unfortunately, we got less ball the longer the game went on, but we did receive an early boost when that man McNeil was ‘yellowed’ for interfering with the tackled player and Hanning, at the edge of his range, extended our lead to five points. The loss of a player did not seem to affect the ‘Green Machine’, though, as it took up permanent residence in our 40 yard area for the remainder of the game.
With twenty minutes to go, Hawick were awarded a penalty in front of the posts; they took the scrum – in which they had the ascendancy – rather than the three points. But we kept them out; when the defending team successfully repulses wave after wave of attack, confidence and determination grow. Once or twice the attacker was absolutely halved. Our back row of Hendry, Sangster and Lean were immense.
The job was made harder still, though, when Liam was sent to the bin for interfering with the tackled player – but such was the excitement and determination within the Stewart’s Melville side that Hawick could not make the extra man count.
In a rare foray into enemy territory, Mike Hanning was unsuccessful with a penalty attempt, and, by now, the ball was heavy and slippy. Passing in midfield was more of a lottery and Mike took the ball into contact probably more than he would have liked, with Hayden and Scott more physical ball carrying alternatives. Time and again, Hawick did the ‘pick and goes’ round the fringes – and, time and again, they were repulsed.
Hawick did cross the line through McNeil, but were pulled back for accidental offside, and, after carefully engineering an overlap for McColm, the winger had the misfortune to lose his footing.
Just when it looked like we might hold on for a famous victory, McColm made amends by finishing off a three to two created by Renwick. Renwick’s conversion attempt hit the posts and kept out. We were now out on our feet, with three different players receiving treatment for cramp, but we held on to secure the draw.
There are six games to go in Premier B, three at home and three away. A quick glance at the other results confirms that Heriot’s and Hawks are the early front runners, but, after that performance and result, anything is possible as momentum builds.
Phil Leck (Hawick coach)
‘We are a side short in confidence, following the first half to the season, and that is why we never accepted our chances. We tried to slow your ball down as much as possible as we knew you would have dangerous backs.’
Jim Renwick (Hawick legend)
‘We should have won, but we didn’t take our chances. Stewart’s Melville now have guts as well as ability – you just need to improve your set piece and you will be a good side.’