by Ian Donaldson
A beautiful, sunny afternoon and a pleasingly larger than usual attendance was somehow fitting for Musselburgh making their Premiership debut against Border giants Hawick at Stoneyhill, after last week’s fine win over Glasgow Hawks.
Danny Owenson got proceedings under way, kicking in an easterly direction towards the houses. An early barrelling run by skipper Michael Maltman got ‘Burgh on the front foot and a fine kick by Owenson resulted in a good touch for ‘Burgh, before the Borderers cleared their lines.
Even in the pre-match warm-up and at this early stage it was apparent that the visitors were a more physically imposing side than ‘Burgh. This advantage was cruelly rammed home to the hosts in the next two minutes and with only 5 minutes on the clock and after a period of heavy carrying and recycling, Hawick prop Craig Greer opened the scoring, finishing with a powerful run before full back Weir converted for an early 7-0 lead to the visitors.
‘Burgh sought to re-group after this early blow, but ‘The Greens’ merely added the second instalment of ‘the old one-two’ when a fine handling movement put their winger Logan Gordon-Wooley in for a fine unconverted try a minute later for a lead of 12-0.
For the Musselburgh faithful, this was not exactly the start to the new league campaign that they had envisaged, but credit to the squad, as they dug their heels in and gave their all and after 11 minutes they got on the scoreboard. Heavy ball carrying by Colin Arthur, Michael Maltman and Willie Fleming, coupled with the astute tactical kicking of Owenson and Cunningham forced defensive infringements from the visitors before the referee awarded ‘Burgh a penalty try to reduce the deficit to 12-7.
Shortly after play had restarted, an altercation involving both packs (and some backs as well !!),resulted in yellow cards for Musselburgh’s Maltman and Hawick’s No.8 Bruce McNeil. Then, following a well place touch kick from Owenson, ’Burgh had a period of forward impetus and several phases were completed before Danny Owenson went over from close range after 19 minutes, before converting his own try to put ‘Burgh into a 14-12 lead.
This was more what the ‘Burgh supporters had craved, namely a warm, sunny day and their favourites giving a good account of themselves against one of Scottish rugby’s biggest names.However,before they could bask in any notions of superiority, ‘Burgh had to defend bravely and in numbers against a large, powerful Border pack, the McNeil brothers rampaging about and the front row of Muir, Carryer and Greer pressurising ‘Burgh at every opportunity.
The hosts line held heroically amid countless last ditch tackles, before Hawick prop Greer got his second try of the day, which was unconverted but moved the visitors ahead at 17-14 with 27 minutes played. Hawick continued in the ascendancy as the interval approached and after a penetrating break by No.8 Bruce McNeil, the ‘Green Machine’ recycled to put prop Shawn Muir over in 32 minutes for their fourth and ‘bonus point’ try, in 32 minutes, with Weir converting for 24-14.
Then, as had happened earlier in the match, Hawick again hit ‘Burgh with a second try shortly after the previous one, when a fine handling move initiated by stand-off Bailey Donaldson, through the backs to their winger Gordon-Wooley to score his second try of the day on 34 minutes and the score being unconverted it left the half-time score at Musselburgh 14 Hawick 29
The first half bore testimony to the power and aggression of a well organised Hawick pack, ’Burgh having to spend an extremely tiring afternoon in the warm conditions, making tackle after tackle as the green waves continued to bear down on them.
The general consensus was that ‘Burgh would require to score soon, and preferably before Hawick, to prevent the game from running away from them and with only two minutes on the clock in the second half, Paul Cunningham intercepted a loose pass and raced clear, before feeding Tom Foley to go in under the posts, before Cunningham converted for 29-21.
We then had a raft of replacements by Hawick, with Carryer, Billy McNeil and Suddon being replaced by Rowley, Murray Renwick and Dale Johnston.
Hawick had again resumed their forward dominance and a penalty into the corner brought further pressure on an already overworked home defence and Hawick were held up yet again by superb close quarter defence by ‘Burgh. Maltman, Arthur, Haynes and Hutson and indeed, the whole pack deserve credit for a great defensive effort.
Then, as if to prove there were other strings to their bow, besides pulverising, close range attacks, Hawick stand off Donaldson scored a tremendous solo try, jinking his way to the line before Weir converted for 36-21 after 63 minutes.
As if to repeat their earlier endeavours, Hawick, for the third time in the match, scored two tries in two minutes, when flanker Stuart Graham crossed before Weir converted for 43-21 after 64 minutes.
Hawick relentlessly continued to attack and ‘Burgh replaced Euan Bonthron and Danny Owenson with Paddy Brown and Aiden Reddick as the fierce onslaught took its toll.
The visitors then completed the scoring on 75 minutes with another fine solo try by centre Andrew Mitchell which Weir inevitably converted for a final score of
MUSSELBURGH 21 HAWICK 50
In the dying embers of the game, ’Burgh enjoyed a period of ascendancy in a valiant, but vain effort to secure a ’bonus point’ via the scoring of a fourth try, but the Borderers held firm to deny ‘Burgh.
The match spoke volumes for the fitness of a brave ‘Burgh squad, who tackled themselves to oblivion in the sweltering heat, so ‘hats off’ to them all.
Next week sees another very difficult fixture away to Marr, who clocked up 57points away to Jed Forest on Saturday.