Double-century veterans Shawn Muir, Stuart Graham and Lee Armstrong help keep Hawick four points clear at top of rugby’s Scottish Premiership table
Only three members of the match-day squad that beat Currie Chieftains 21-18 at home at Mansfield Park in March to win the premiership for the first time in over 20 years had more than 100 appearances for the Greens to their name – captain Shawn Muir, fellow prop Nicky Little and back-rower Stuart Graham.
All three featured in the starting XV that saw off Edinburgh Academical 26-16 at home on Saturday – Muir now being on 226 appearances, Little on 147 and Graham on 201 – but this time round those older heads were joined by centre Lee Armstrong, making his 200th appearance, and full-back Kirk Ford, another veteran of the team that won the final but now with 101 outings to his name, as opposed to 85 back then.
It being as much the passage of time to thank for the extra experience Hawick can bring to bear these days as squad additions, two other veterans of March’s final aren’t far off the century mark either now, centre Andrew Mitchell being on 91 appearances and flanker Calum Renwick on 93, with a third, back-row Connor Sutherland, hitting the 50 mark just over two years after making his first-XV debut.
Sutherland, 22, wasn’t the only youngster deployed on Saturday either, with Eli Hamilton making his debut from the bench and fellow replacement Marcus Brogan getting his third run-out.
Those treble-figure appearance milestones are testament to what the club’s green jersey means to players, according to Douglas, and he’s also heartened to see that same loyalty among the youngsters he first took charge of in July 2021.
“A couple of years ago, when I first took over, a lot of people used to comment on what a young squad we had and so on, but we’re getting to a stage now where we’ve got a lot of experienced players,” he said.
“On the other hand, Connor Sutherland made his 50th appearance for Hawick on Saturday and he’s only 22.
“It’s those sort of players we brought in just after covid who are starting to get lots of appearances under their belts and that’s showing in how we’re able to pick a consistent squad week after week but also are still able to introduce young players.
“That works for us. It might not work for other clubs but we’ve got a good system at Mansfield.
“On Saturday, for instance, taking nothing away from Accies as at times they were really good and put us under pressure, we were able to empty our bench quite early and get a lot of young players on, including Eli Hamilton making his debut, and boys that didn’t get on at Kelso the week before got at least 25 minutes, so that’s pleasing and will help them understand what the task at hand is this weekend.”
Looking back over Saturday’s win, Douglas said: “We’re starting to play some good rugby.
“Accies are a top-quality side but we were clinical with the opportunities we got.
“I think we’re starting to get on a roll a bit, if maybe not for as long as I’d like because I’d like us to play for a little bit longer at that higher tempo, but we never looked like getting beaten at the weekend.
“In terms of form and what we’re looking for, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t want us to be playing our best rugby at this time of the season – not in a bad way, but we’ve still got some big games coming up and hopefully we can continue to win as the play-offs are a goal for us.
“Last season, I think we probably dipped in form heading into the play-offs, but now I feel we’re getting back to where we need to be and I’m happy with where we’re at.
“We’re winning and we’re getting bonus points. Compare that to the start of the season – we didn’t get a bonus point against Glasgow Hawks, we got beaten by Marr and we didn’t get a bonus point at Accies – but I think we’ve reversed all that.
“In the first four games of the second half of the season, we’ve got 19 points out of a possible 20, having only dropped a point against Marr, so I can’t complain really. We’re in a good spot.”
Their 12th win in 13 games so far this term leaves Hawick on 56 points, four clear of second-placed Marr at the top of the table, nine off the cut-off point for a home play-off semi-final and 20 off the divide between the top four and bottom six, with five fixtures of the regular season to go, but Douglas says he’s looking ahead rather than over his shoulder at the chasing pack.
“We don’t really look below us. We just keep looking up and we go from week to week,” said the 28-year-old.
Next up for Hawick is a trip to Edinburgh’s Malleny Park to take on Currie Chieftains, with kick-off at 2pm, and they’ll be looking to pull off a winning double, having beaten the third-placed capital side 35-13 in the reverse fixture at the end of September.
“We’ve got a tough game this weekend,” said Douglas.
“It’s a really tough place to win. Last season was the first time we’d won there in 12 years. That shows how tough a place Malleny is to win at, so we’re definitely not underestimating the challenge we face, but we know what it takes to win there and it’s going to demand a lot of effort, so we just have to stick to what we’re good at and go into it with the right sort of attitude and mindset.
“We don’t fear it. We’ll go there and give it our best shot and hopefully everything will click.”
Mitchell scored two of Hawick’s tries at the weekend, with flanker Jae Linton and winger Charlie Welsh also touching down and Ford adding three conversions.
Accies’ only try was scored by winger Callum Ramm, with stand-off Ben Appleson kicking a conversion and three penalties.