The great escape is alive after Hawick snatched a last-minute victory over Heriot’s on Saturday to climb out of the BT Premiership relegation places for the first time since September.
Down 23-17, and with 77 minutes on the clock, Darcy Graham, Hawick’s professional ringer for the afternoon, illustrated why Edinburgh Rugby’s Richard Cockrill, Scotland’s Gregor Townsend and coaches around European rugby have described the winger as “the complete package”.
Graham collected clean ball at midfield and dazzled with a split-second change of pace, blazing past exhausted Heriot’s players, touching down under the posts. Adding to Graham’s heroics, Lee Armstrong stepped up in the high-pressure conversion situation, executing a perfectly-struck kick to propel the Greens to an unlikely bonus-point win over play-off chasing Heriot’s and move off the bottom of the Premiership.
“It doesn’t get any better, really, does it?” pondered Hawick captain, Bruce McNeil. “They beat us by 60-odd points in September, so to win it and do it in the final minutes was special. Great result for us.”
“We gave it our all in the opening 40. Boys worked hard and built a great lead but, like we said before, and in the changing rooms, they came back at us after the break. Credit to the boys for not giving up – they kept fighting and when the wee magician (Graham) went over and Lee added the conversion, it was a great.
“That’s three league wins in row for us,”continued the delighted skipper. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to say that and we will enjoy this result before George Graham (Hawick’s head coach) brings us back to earth this week, ahead of Glasgow Hawks.”
Conditions were typical for January at Mansfield Park and it was immediately obvious from the start that Hawick players were far more comfortable than their city opponents. Heriot’s were slipping off tackles and slow to get back to their feet, while Hawick showed an urgent desire to impress with strong defensive sets and attacking guile.
Heriot’s did themselves no favours in the opening 40 as ill-displine and nonsensical basic mistakes littered their opening-half performance. The Goldenacre outfit, who dumped 70 points on the Greens in a September mauling, were down to 14 men straight from the kick-off, when Iain Wilson was yellow-carded for a collision in mid-air as he challenged for the ball. That man disadvantage became permanent 18 minutes later when Michael Maltman was shown a red card for throwing a punch at McNeil.
As Heriot’s were falling over themselves, the Greens raced into a 10-0 lead through scores from Shawn Muir and Gary Munro. Heriot’s hit back with a penalty before McNeil notched the Robbie Dyes third, Lee Armstrong converting, to deliver Hawick a 17-3 half time advantage.
Despite only 14 men, Heriot’s began the second half with a point to prove. The Edinburgh side are aiming for a top four place and started to show their quality. Ross Jones added his second penalty, followed by tries from Martin Hughes and Rory Carmichael, both converted by Stuart Edwards, nudged the Nails into a 23-17 lead.
That six-point advantage would last until the 77th minute, when Graham struck and Armstrong converting in front of the posts to give the Robbie Dyes a 24-23 bonus-point victory.
“George said it before the game – if the good Hawick team comes out, we’ll beat this side and, if it doesn’t, then we’ll get beaten. The boys definitely came out with intent and showed what we are capable of,” added McNeil.
“Of course, the red card helped us but, sometimes, when teams play with that man-disadvantage for so long, they rally around and all start playing better. That’s what eventually did happen and they grabbed a lead. We sort of went into ourselves and got a bit scared of making mistakes, letting them take over.
“Boys went into their shells and I needed to get them all riled up, show them what was needed to get back into the game. The boys responded by getting into position and Darcy got under the sticks. It was a great performance. It wasn’t an 80-minute performance, and we are improving every week.”
Hawick – D. Graham, Munro, Davies, Buckley, Combe, Armstrong, Cottrell, Muir, Carryer, Little, Redpath, Hamilton, G. Graham, S. Graham, McNeil. Replacements: Renwick, Landles, Baillie, Weir, McLelland.