Glasgow Hawks 22 Stirling County 16
Try: Strain 27, Beattie 44, 63
Con: Horne 44, 63
Pen: Steele 51
Try: Hughes 46
Con: Hope 46
Pen: Hope 33, 40, Black 73
Hawks left it to the last match of the season, after the rest of the scheduled fixtures had finished, to retain their place in the BT Premiership.
A quirk of the weather and the International call ups of players for both sides had led to a match which would have been a fairly run of the mill affair becoming a tense winner takes all match, where the loser would have to play off against GHA to see who would be playing in the top flight next season.
The match started at a break neck pace as both sides showed the urgency which the occasion demanded. Hawks were playing into a stiff breeze, but County couldn’t take advantage of this as they kicked a couple of balls through the in-goal area a couple of times in the early part of the match.
In 15 minutes County kicked a long ball which George Horne did well to track back and gather. It looked as if County were going to put pressure on Hawks deep in the 22 but Steven Findlay had raced back to assist in the defensive duties and managed to take the ball about 25 metres up the line before being put into touch, but the danger had been eliminated.
The opening score almost seemed inevitable when it came, Hawks had been putting County under pressure and the visitors’’ full back Jamie Urqart was Yellow carded for interfering in a probable scoring move. The consequent penalty was put into touch and from the lineout the ball was mauled to the lines. A couple of recycles later and Gary Strain went over from close range, (5-0)
With the wind against then Horne couldn’t make the conversion, it was one of those winds.
Just before the numbers were restored County had been looking lively in Hawks’ 22 and were awarded a penalty about 15metres out with Joff Hope scoring, to close the gap. (5-3)
As the game moved cagily towards half-time, Hawks’ were caught offside as they scrambled to clear and a couple of player had been ahead of the kicker. Hope easily converted and as the teams went in County had the lead. (5-6)
The second started as fiercely as the first and Hawks quickly used the wind to push up on County. Glasgow Warrior, Gordi Reid, had come on in the front row and from the off he was causing problems for the Stirling pack, which would play a part in their undoing. Hawks had a penalty which Paddy Boyer had quickly tapped and run with. In the tackle the ball had been knocked on but Stirling couldn’t get decent ball from a retreating scrum and the ball come out to 2nd half replacement Robert Beattie who went over and round for the try which Horne converted. (12-6)
With all that was at stake, Stirling reacted well to the try and it looked like Hawks had thought that they were in the driving street a couple of minutes later, as complacency and some quick hands saw County send Rory Hughes over for the try. Hope did the business and the match had swung against the hosts. (12-13)
Hawks went ahead 5 minutes later when Jack Steele knocked over a difficult penalty and the determination to see out a win was shown as he went wide with a 47 metres attempt just before the hour. (15-13)
What was to prove to be the winning score came a bit after the hour when Beattie went over again. This time he was supporting Brandan Cullinane who was wide in the line after the ball had been recycled several times. The big Munsterman, drew the cover before putting the pass to Beattie to go over in the corner. (22-13)
A nine point lead although solid was still small enough to make the home support nervous. County put a penalty from close range over in 73 minutes to mean that a converted try could give them the win. However, tremendous pressure from the home side forced County to play from deep in their half and they couldn’t put the phases together to find that score as they game concluded. (22-16)
As the whistle went there was a mixture of joy and relief in the players, coaches and supporters. But there is no doubt that when the going got tough the whole team dug deep and put on a great performance.