The knot undoubtedly tightened on Hawick’s chances of defying the drop after the Greens lost out to Stirling County at Mansfield Park in a contest both sides had targeted as a must-win match.
Hawick did salvage a four-try bonus point but that was little consolation in a game that all went wrong in the third quarter when, in quick succession, two of the Greens’ key players collected yellow cards.
First, Lee Armstrong was binned for preventing a possible scoring pass by slapping down the ball and then, two minutes later, Bruce McNeil joined his colleague on the sidelines for a ruck offence.
Up until that point, Hawick had more than held their opponents. Indeed, at half time, having won the first-half try count by 2-1, with touchdowns from Stuart Graham and Ali Weir, the Greens had a 15-11 lead.
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That four-point margin remained 10 minutes into the second half, with the scoreline at 18-14, but then came the Armstrong sin-binning.
From the resultant penalty, Stirling, for the second time in the match, used their heavier forwards to drive the line-out and score a converted try, giving the visitors the lead.
Then, when McNeil was shown the yellow card, Hawick’s 13-man side were unable to resist the pressure exerted by Stirling, who added a penalty and two tries, one of them converted. In all, the sin-binnings cost Hawick 22 points and ultimately the match.
When Hawick were restored to full complement, they showed their capabilities with two excellent tries by Greg Cottrell, showing good form on his return from injury, and Wesley Hamilton, that took the Greens to within six points of Stirling, only for the visitors to deny Hawick a losers’ bonus point with a try at the death.
After what had been a encouraging first-half performance by Hawick, the mood at the end of the game was sombre as the Mansfield Park faithful reflected on their side’s now perilous position.
“It’s going to be difficult but we’ll just have to keep going,” said Hawick president, John Thorburn. “ There are eight games to go and anybody can beat anybody, but it was a difficult one to take.”
He added: “At half time, I thought we looked reasonably comfortable. Obviously, the two yellow cards made a huge difference by putting big pressure on us. That’s where the damage was done.
“They were workmanlike and took their tries well. There was nothing flash about them. Their big men and their bench did well when they came on.
“There are eight games to go but the Stirling match was definitely a target game. We came off worse but we got a bonus point. And that, at the end of the day, is better than nothing.” concluded Thorburn.