Last-gasp Lee keeps Greens on course for promotion

Hawick v Glasgow Hawks. Mansfield Park. (11-6)
Hawick v Glasgow Hawks. Mansfield Park. (11-6)

Hawick 11

Glasgow Hawks 6

RBS NATIONAL LEAGUE

STUART CAMERON reports from Mansfield Park

PICTURE the scene. Eighty-three minutes of rugby had been played at Mansfield Park with Hawick and Glasgow Hawks battling it out for the key to the one automatic promotion place to the Premiership.

The two best sides in the National League had throttled each other’s attacking options in a game which was tense, nervy and compelling. Every player on the Mansfield Park pitch gave their all for the cause. This was rugby for purists, but not spectators.

If you were after fast, flowing rugby you would have been disappointed. This was a war of the mind and body – a tough physical encounter with tactics playing a massive part in proceedings.

But as this top-of-the-table clash went deep into stoppage time, it looked as if it would be honours even at 6-6 and heading for a second consecutive draw between the pair, following a 16-16 battle at Anniesland earlier in the season,

A draw would have favoured Hawks, not Hawick. The Glasgow men were 10 points behind the hosts before this game, but had three matches in hand. However, there was a twist.

A dramatic try in the 83rd minute from Lee Armstrong sent the whole place crazy and almost lifted the roof right off the famous stand. The Greens had pulled off a dramatic victory in the last play of the game, giving them a real chance of snatching that prized promotion place from under the noses of their Clydeside rivals.

There were stars on the pitch who could change a match in a heartbeat, but they were well shackled by the Hawks’ defence – a rearguard which has the best record in the league by a mile.

Rory Hutton’s part for Hawick was reduced to a 10-minute cameo role right at the end following a day of sickness which forced him to withdraw from the starting line-up moments before kick-off. Graham Hogg stepped in at fly half in one of the most important games for the club in recent times – and put in a man-of-the-match performance.

The scoring up to Armstrong’s try consisted exclusively of penalties, from Neil Renwick in the first half plus Mike Adamson’s two after the break. Both missed kicks at goal on a bleak, freezing afternoon.

There was a huge release of tension at the end when Hawick turned the ball over 10m from the Hawks’ try line. Greg Cottrell passed to Hogg, who threw a long and accurate ball out to Armstrong. Armstrong had Adamson – one of Scottish club rugby’s best players and former Scotland sevens internationalist –to beat. Armstrong dummied him and pinned his ears back as he threw himself towards the line.

It was a magical moment and one to savour.

Hawick are now 13 points clear with one game to play – against Jed-Forest on March 23 with the added twist that a win at Riverside Park would probably send Jed out of the National League, but could promote the Greens back to the Premiership.

After the final whistle, Greens coach Phil Leck was more animated than usual: “The Hawks’ defence is not the best in the league for nothing and they frustrated everything we tried to do. We fought and scrapped for everything.”

Shawn Muir, who played half an hour the night before in the Scotland under-20 win against Ireland and then turned out for the Greens to play the full match, said: “It’s been a crazy couple of days. But I’ve been looking forward to this game for a long time and winning like we did was not very good for my health!

“I love playing for my country, but I love playing for my hometown. It’s been an unbelievable year for me.”

z You can watch the dramatic closing moments unfold on Borders Rugby TV at www.BordersRugby.net

Hawick: N. Renwick; N. McColm, L. Armstrong, G. Johnstone, J. Coutts; G. Hogg, G. Cottrell; S. Muir, L. Gibson, L. Launders, R. Smith, D. Lowrie, N. Mactaggart, S. Graham, K. Davies. Subs: M. Landels, H. Scammell, B. Keown, R. Hutton, S. Anderson.