Hard day at Office
By Hugh Barrow
Difficult start at Balgray
Glasgow Hawks 14
DAVID BARNES @ Balgray
THEY are notoriously slow starters, so a bonus point victory in their first competitive outing of the last ever Premiership season will come as a relief to Heriot’s. They started the game as firm favourites but the Edinburgh side have paid the price the last two seasons for dropping points early in the campaign, which has ultimately cost them play-off qualification. This was a professionally done job, which tees them up nicely for a derby clash against arch-rivals Watsonians at Goldenacre next week.
“I didn’t say it during the lead-up but I think I have lost every first game of the season with Heriot’s apart from one, so I panic every first game of the season and we get beat the first game of every season, so I’m delighted with that,” said satisfied head coach Phil Smith – who is starting his seventh season at the helm – afterwards. “They had four pros – I include Grant Stewart in that given he toured with Scotland this summer – so that was a concern, but we got the job done and we actually scored some really good tries … happy days!”
The victory was achieved thanks to a ferocious performance up front – delivered despite three back-five forwards (including the two starting second-rows) going off injured before the game was 50-minutes old – and the big question now is whether Heriot’s can be as effective playing a more varied game when the battle at the pit-face is not so one-sided. With Jack Blain on the wing, and fellow Scotland Under-18 cap Scott Robeson to come back in, there is firepower out wide.
It might not have been the flying start to their Balgray era that Hawks were hoping for, and a 32-point deficit is hard to put a positive spin on, but this was not a disaster for the home team. There was enough zip about them – not to mention resilience, if not composure, during a one-sided second-half – to suggest that rumours of their demise may have been slightly exaggerated.
There is, however, a long arduous winter ahead and the strength in depth of their squad – especially when the pro player allocation thins out – is bound to be rigorously tested, as head coach Fin Gillies acknowledged.
“We lost Steven Leckie and Gav Wilson this week, and if we hadn’t got [Glasgow pros] Bruce Flockhart and Matt Smith then we would have been throwing two more 18-yar-olds in there, which would have been a big ask,” he said. “But that’s where we are – we just have to get on with it and take each challenge as it comes.
“That’s a gnarly old Heriot’s pack,” he added. “They strangled the life out of us, they mauled the life out of us, they scrummed the life out of us – I don’t think I’ve ever seen our scrum go back like during my time at Hawks. We can compete against a big team like that for the first 40-minutes, but when the tank is stunning low and you keep going back to the same people to carry it again and again, then eventually you are going to lose a bit of punch.
“There were four or five instances in the second half that, if we take them out, it is a totally different result – I’m not saying we win, I’m just saying it’s not 46 points – so that’s the big learning for the boys. We don’t get second chances, we can’t afford to be five percent off – we don’t have that luxury.
“I thought we were looking really good at half-time – I was chuffed with the way the boys were working – but the penalty count was sneaking up even then.”
Next up is Melrose at the Greenyards, so there is no easing into it for this young Hawks team.
Heriot’s drew first blood in the sixth minute when Rory Carmichael scooted over from close range, but Hawks rallied immediately, winning the ball back at the restart and dominating the next ten minutes. Hooker Stewart (who is the SRU academy and expected to become a full-time pro with the Warriros at some point this season) and centre Mark New (who was jettisoned from the academy during the summer after an injury ravaged 2017-18 season) both showed up well in the loose, and it was the latter of those two names who crashed over from close range to set up a fairly straightforward conversion for Liam Brims which put the home team briefly into the lead.
Heriot’s fancy their pack to be more than a match for any opposition they encounter in the Premiership this year, and when the juggernaut began to grind through the gears straight after that try there was an inevitability about what was going to happen next. Hawks openside Matt Smith was sent the sin-bin for illegally collapsing a driving maul, the pressure continued to build, and eventually there was so many home players sucked inwards that a yawning gap opened up on the left for Ruaridh Leishman to stroll in unchallenged.
There was more of the same with five minutes to go in the first half, but this time it was Callum Marshall who went in for the score – with Ross Jones adding his second successful conversion for good measure.
Hawks bounced back before the break – and before Smith had finished serving his term on the naughty step – by declining a very kickable penalty to go to the corner, and then showing that they can drive the ball a bit themselves, with Lewis Skinner flopping over, and Glen Faulds converting.
In a breath-taking climax to the match, Hawks’ aggressive defence pushed Heriot’s right back off their own line, then secured a turnover which launched a promising attack up the right wing from Faulds. Heriot’s snaffled the ball back and Craig Robertson went for the corner but couldn’t get the ball down before being pushed into touch.
By the third minute of the second half, Heriot’s had lost both their second-rows, meaning Struan Cessford and Leishman were populating the engine room, but it didn’t detract from the strength of their scrum – with the next set-piece splintering the Hawks pack and allowing Jones to extend the visiting team’s lead with a penalty.
Heriot’s pushed for the bonus point try – assisted by Hawks’ habit of any possession they managed to get tight back with loose handling or wayward kick – and, after Blain was held up over the line, the pressure eventually told when Iain Wilson dived over in the 56thminute.
Two minutes later, a thunderous break from Wilson off line-out ball on halfway ripped Hawks wide open, and the Heriot’s captain could perhaps have gone all the way, but he unselfishly offloaded for Andrew Simmer to run the score in.
That was the killer blow as far as any faint hope Hawks had of getting their season off to a winning start was concerned. To their credit they kept battling – but they couldn’t get any change out of their obstinate opponents.
A second yellow-card – converted to a red – for Smith, after a stramash in the middle of the park, seemed harsh in the context of the general nature of the match, but the disciplinary panel will decide whether it was merited. It didn’t have a significant bearing on the outcome of the game.
Jones kicked a penalty with two minutes to go, and then the Welshman finished off the scoring in the last play of the match, after replacement stand-off Dom Martin broke through Hawks’ exhausted defence.
Glasgow Hawks: G Faulds; J McReady, C Symes, M New, LMasaga; L Brims, P Boyer; G Strain, G Stewart, L Skinner, F Hastie, A Kirkland, B Flockhart, M Smith, G Adams. Subs: A Fraser,S Findlay,S Dow, K Kay,J Couper.
Heriot’s: C Simpson; J Blain, R Jones, R Kay, C Robertson; R Carmichael; A Simmers; J Scott, M Liness, S Cessford, C Marshall, A Sinclair, R Leishman, I Wilson, J Hill. Subs: A Johnstone,M Bouab,S Dewar, A Ball, D Martin.
Referee: Ben Blain (SRU)
Glasgow Hawks: Try: New, Skinner; Con: Brims, Faulds.
Heriot’s: Try: Carmichael, Leishman, Marshall, Wilson, Simmers, Jones; Con: Jones 5; Pen: Jones 2.
Scoring sequence (Hawks first): 0-5; 5-5; 7-5; 7-10; 7-12; 7-17; 7-19; 12-19; 14-19 (h-t) 14-22; 14-27; 14-29; 14-34; 14-36; 14-39; 14-44; 14-46.
Yellow cards –
Red cards –