Hawick know survival rests on reclaiming must-win mentality
The two Borders sides in the BT Premiership, at opposite ends of the table, are preparing for a massive game with each other this weekend.
Front-runners Melrose are looking to sign off with a flourish before they enter the play-off stages.
Hosts Hawick, however, know their remarkable revitalisation could hinge on this one game as they battle for their Premiership lives.
A win at Mansfield Park should see them safe, if Glasgow Hawks lose, while defeat will consign them to a second successive relegation play-off.
Rewinding to the first half of the campaign, the clubs’ fortunes could not have been more in contrast.
Melrose won every league game with a bonus-point tally before the turnaround, while Hawick lost them all.
Melrose then stumbled slightly, losing two back to back before recapturing regular winning form, while Hawick strung together a consistent series of wins which scraped them away initially from the drop zone.
Hawick captain Bruce McNeil said it was a “massive game” and a “big test”, which the squad had been building up to and was now fully fit.
“We know how good Melrose are – they can go pretty much anywhere in Scotland and get five points,” he said. “But, generally, this season in a must-win game, we have come through it. We have taken a lot of heart from our resurgence in the second half of the season. It’s remarkable how we have turned things around.
“We know what’s at stake and how big a challenge it is. If we’re going to get beaten, we’ll get beaten by a better team and not by our own mistakes.”
McNeil added: “We are the home team – since the halfway turning point, we’ve only lost one out of 10 at Mansfield. Hopefully, there will be a big crowd to spur us on. It certainly helps, and having a full team to choose from is good.”
Melrose could have players involved in the Scottish Club International, so it was a big weekend for the club, said head coach Rob Chrystie.
“We know how good Hawick can be at Mansfield,” he said. “We’re under no illusion how tough it will be. Hawick are on a bit of a high and they are confident under George (Graham, head coach). There will be a big, vocal crowd at Mansfield – they’ll give us a good welcome. It’ll be a battle.
“Our focus is on this weekend,” he added. “Once we get past that, we’ll prepare for Watsonians in the play-offs.”
In League I, second-placed Jed-Forest have a huge home game against leaders Edinburgh Accies. A win for the hosts would put them level on points with the side which has a 100 per cent sequence of wins this season. Jed’s head of rugby, Ali Campbell, said they were boosted by Friday’s physical game at Kelso, only their second match in eight weeks. “Edinburgh are a strong, formidable side but we have home advantage and everything to play for. It’s a huge end to the season for the club from this Saturday onwards. We will try and get the win and take it from there.”