March 14, 2023
Article Originally published on The Offside Line
ALAN LORIMER @ Mansfield Park
A TRY in the last seconds of a thrilling Premiership final by winger Ronan McKean, when Hawick were down to 13 men, gave the Greens victory in the final at the end of the the Premiership play-off Grand Final at Mansfield Park, to confirm the Borderers as outright champions and for the second successive season, Currie Chieftains, as runners-up.
This was a match worthy of a final, between two teams who set high standards in the Premiership this season. It had tension throughout and the added ingredient of an outcome uncertain until the very last second of the game.
Hawick’s victory was all about resilience, their ability to defend on their own line and their skill in containing a classy set of Currie backs who frequently threatened to break loose, and no more so than when their lively centre DJ Innes was in possession.
The Greens were undoubtedly inspired by players like Fraser Renwick at hooker, Shawn Muir at prop and Jae Linton in the back-row, the latter frequently making telling inroads through the heart of the Currie defence, just when Hawick needed to make ground. Behind the scrum, Ethan Reilly was again an exemplar to those around him with his accurate tackling, but the Australian had little chance to show his skill with ball in hand, such was the limited supply of good possession afforded to the Hawick backs.
For much of the early part of the game Hawick looked a tad nervous as their coach Matty Douglas confirmed, saying: “I thought first half we were a bit edgy but then we got a score right on half time and had a really positive chat during the break. We started well in the second half but then Currie just built pressure on pressure.
“We got a red card and then a yellow card and you’re chasing your tail, but at the end we did what we’ve done all season. It took a bit of grit and fight to score in the last play of the game to win the Premiership.”
Chieftains may reflect on a game that got away from them in the last minutes of the match when, it seemed, they had built a winning platform after piling incessant pressure on Hawick. So, did the Malleny men, who finished second in the Premiership proper, lose the game when they had it won? Currie’s coach Mark Cairns believed his side was mentally atuned to winning.
He explained: “Our attitude was to go out and win the game right from the start. Hawick had it all to lose. So there was a different mentality at the start of the match. I felt that during the whole game Hawick were scrapping not to lose. And they’ve not lost that game, through some kind of belligerent defence and their togetherness.
“Winning is a habit and today they managed to do it. There were moments in that match when we failed to relieve pressure on ourselves and that will be ringing through the guys’ minds. There were times when we should have scored more points. Our backs attacked well because our forwards got over the gain-line.”
Currie’s dynamic start in which they went through a sizeable repertoire of moves brought its reward with a penalty goal by Jamie Forbes. But from the restart a barn-storming run by Jae Linton squeezed out a penalty for Hawick resulting in three points for Kirk Ford to level the scores. The collateral damage for Currie after this Hawick attack was a yellow-card for killing the ball at the breakdown shown to scrum-half Gregor Christie.
Despite being one man down, Chieftains hit back with a powerful run by Rhys Davies, resulting in yet another penalty award and a second goal for Forbes.
Currie came close to adding to their points tally when Forbes kicked intelligently into unguarded space at the back field but in the follow-up Chieftains knocked-on a metre from the line to deny themselves a try.
The Malleny Park side, however, were undeterred, and when their slick backs found space, DJ Innes slipped through a defensive gap to lay on a try for ex-Melrose man Iain Sim.
Hawick’s reply was a sustained period of pressure inside the Currie 22 but it took six penalty awards before they finally profited. From a kick to the corner, Hawick’s forward drove the ensuing line-out to create a try for Fraser Renwick to leave the home side trailing 8-11 at the break,
The slew of penalties continued early in the second half and, after replacement scrum-half Gareth Welsh was high-tackled, Ford kept his cool to achieve his second success at goal, levelling the scores at 11-11.
Hawick then suffered the temporary loss of second-row Dalton Redpath, yellow carded for a collar tackle that stopped a promising Currie move. But the Greens then forced their way into the Currie half and when the Chieftains were penalised at the breakdown Ford kicked his third goal to put Hawick into the lead for the first time in the game..
The balance, however, quickly changed as Currie turned up the heat, camping on the Hawick line but thwarted when second-row Ewan Stewart was twice held up over the line. But, just when Hawick appeared to have kept Currie at bay, the Greens suffered a second yellow-card shown to Redpath for collapsing the maul, meaning the he was off for the remainder of the game,
To compound Hawick’s problems, Kyle Brunton was sent to the bin for a late tackle, reducing the Greens complement to 13 men. Inevitably the handicap told as Currie turned incessant attacking into points after pounding the Hawick line and then moving the ball wide for Kody McGovern to squeeze in at the corner, Forbes’ excellent conversion kick giving the Chieftains a 18-14 lead.
From the restart, however, Currie conceded a penalty that opened the door for Hawick to mount a late and desperate effort to rescue the game.
The Greens initially used their big men to mount repeated surges at the line and when referee Michael Todd signalled a penalty advantage, Hawick changed their focus of attack as Reilly, with a skilful cut-out pass, spun the ball to McKean for the wing to crash over in the corner and claim the winning try.
Ford then converted from the touchline to end the game on a triumphant note for his team and triggering a massive response from the Hawick crowd, who hailed their heroes after a sensational victory to confirm the Greens as the Premiership champions
Hawick: K Ford; C Welsh, A Mitchell, E Reilly, R McKean; K Brunton, H Patterson; S Muir©, F Renwick, N Little, C Sutherland, D Redpath, S Graham, C Renwick, J Linton. Subs: M Carryer, R Macleod, R Graham, S Fairbairn, G Welsh, G Huggan, L Ferguson.
Currie Chieftains: C Brett; K McGovern, DJ Innes, G Cannie, I Sim; J Forbes, G Christie; C Anderson, R Stewart, C Ramsay, W Inglis, E Stewart, A McCallum, G Nelson, R Davies©. Subs: J Drummond, J Ramsay, A Cameron, M Vernel, P Boyer, A Hall, J McCaig.
Referee: Michael Todd
Hawick: Tries: F Renwick, McKean; Con: Ford; Pens Ford 3.
Currie Chieftains: Tries Sim, McGovern; Con: Forbes; Pens: Forbes 2.
Scoring Sequence (Hawick first): 0-3; 3-3; 3-6; 3-11; 8-11 (h-t) 11-11; 14-11; 14-16; 14-18; 19-18; 21-18.
Yellow cards –
Hawick: Redpath (50 and 67mins), Brunton (76 mins)
Currie Chieftains: Christie (6mins)
Red cards –
Hawick: Redpath (67mins)
Man-of-the-Match: Hawick won this because of the willingness of their forwards in particular to scrap for every piece of possession and to defend to the last man. Among the forwards, Jae Linton caught the eye with surging runs but ultimately this victory was about the coolness of Kirk Ford who contributed more than half of Hawick’s points with his goal-kicking and who had several important touches before the consistently impressive Ethan Reilly laid on the miss-pass for McKean’s winning try.
Talking point: There are various views on play-offs and it’s certain the subject will be discussed before decisions are made about next season. Hawick deserved their overall title after an unbeaten Premiership season but they could so easily have been dealt the same fate as befell Currie last season.