From The Offside Line. Match report by Stephen Brunsdon.
MUSSELBURGH produced scintillating first half display to secure their sixth win of the Premiership season against a wasteful Glasgow Hawks at Stoneyhill.
A hat-trick from winger Sandy Watt was one of six tries from the home side, who edged clear from ninth-place Selkirk in the table with two games left to play.
Neither side came into the match with anything major to lose as the regular season draws to a close, but Graeme Paterson’s side belied any indication that they were playing a dead-rubber by racing into a stunning 29-0 lead with Hawks barely able to fire a shot.
Despite a swirling wind, Burgh bolted out of the blocks and stunned a lethargic Hawks side via a pick-and-go try from back-rower Paddy Brown after just five minutes.
And before they knew it, Burgh were back deep inside the Hawks half as Watt barged through a gaping hole in midfield to score the second try within a minute of the first. Danny Owenson slotted a superb touchline conversion against the breeze to put his side 12-0.
Save for the restarts, Hawks had barely touched the ball and they soon found themselves standing underneath the posts for the third time in 12 minutes, as Burgh launched another cutting counterattack from a loose visitors’ attack.
This time, it was Sandy Watt who claimed the score with Owenson again adding the extras to surge 19-0 in front, the game almost – but not quite – out of sight.
Frustratingly for Hawks, they had chances to get themselves on the scoreboard, but indiscipline and handling errors ensured they remained pointless for the duration of the opening 40 minutes. As ever, centre Brendan McGroarty was a force for good, breaking the defensive line of Burgh several times, but Andy Hill’s men couldn’t find the extra gear to kick on.
While Hawks more often than not forced play, Burgh looked comfortable with ball in hand and used the prevailing gale to gain vital territorial metres which only added more pressure to the Hawks set-piece.
Indeed, it was a lost line-out from Hawks which gave Burgh their bonus point score nearing the half hour marker. Winger Gregor Tait gathered a perfectly weighted grubber from Luhann Kotze on the blindside to sprint clear for the try unopposed.
Four tries without reply. Four tries which seemed almost too easily secured for the home side as well. It was a spellbinding first half performance and one which almost surprised head coach Paterson, too.
“We had a lot of advantage with the elements in the first half and that helped us get off to a good start,” he said. “It was a fantastic platform on which to build for us. We’d seen that they were a bit stronger in the midfield, so we targeted the flanks and I thought we did that pretty well. We got some good yards which were key to the tries.”
If Hawks were to stand any chance after the break, the visitors – led by Stephen Leckey – knew they would have to really sharpen things up. They started the second period brighter, with far more possession in the early minutes than the first half, but once more the ball hit the deck rather than the on-rushing support.
Burgh made Hawks pay again as Sandy Watt bagged his second try of the match and his team’s fifth. Full-back Rory Hindaugh, who had looked dangerous with ball in hand throughout, broke through weak would-be Hawks defenders on the far side before feeding back inside to the supporting Watt who strolled over.
With the home side now 29-0 to the good, the match risked becoming something of a rout for Hawks, who blew another golden opportunity when replacement Harry Hughes’ pass to McGroarty drifted forward following a scything midfield break.
But Hawks did find their mojo, eventually. And when they did, they looked more like the solid top-five side they have been all season. Hughes made amends for his earlier blunder by running in a superb counterattack try on his left wing, chipping ahead and regathering from far out to bag his side’s first point after 55 minutes.
Hawks, reinvigorated now, went in search of further consolation scores which they managed within five minutes of their first. A dropped ball from Watt left the home side stretched in defence, and winger Ryan Flett raced in under the posts somewhat against the run of play.
Keen not to make the game closer than it actually was, the hosts went back on the attack and made sure of their victory by scoring their sixth try – and Watt’s third – with Owenson’s conversion drifting wide of the uprights.
Hawks did have the last say in the end, and their third try was a well-worked effort, scored by winger Charlie Kennedy in the final minutes: proof that, although their wide defence lacked punch, their attacking threat was a match for Burgh given a chance.
Head coach Andy Hill was understandably disappointed with his team’s performance in the opening period but found some cause for optimism with the spirited fightback in the second.
“Musselburgh came out with a game-plan which we probably haven’t seen before and,” he said. “They used the ball well, got it to the edges. We had nothing really to play for except pride, and they won that battle clearly and put us to the sword.
“We’re going to look at the video this week and see where we went wrong and try to improve them for next week. Accies will be a big match for us, to end the season on a high note, and we’ll be looking to make amends for a missed opportunity at Raeburn Place earlier in the year.”
On the other side of the result, Paterson was pleased that his side were able to keep the first half momentum well into the second half to snuff out any potential Hawks comeback.
“I was really happy with the way we played the game, keeping ball in hand and playing an expansive game,” he added. “At this stage of the season, you want to see that and we know that because we’re part of the competitive mid-table group of teams, a lot of things can still happen in the remaining two games for us.”