​Kelso hoping to follow in Stirling Wolves’ footsteps in Scottish Premiership rugby title play-off semi-final at Hawick

Hawick handing out a 61-7 hiding at home at Mansfield Park to Kelso in September (Photo: Malcolm Grant)Hawick handing out a 61-7 hiding at home at Mansfield Park to Kelso in September (Photo: Malcolm Grant)
Hawick handing out a 61-7 hiding at home at Mansfield Park to Kelso in September (Photo: Malcolm Grant)
They might not have appreciated it much at the time but Kelso now regard their 61-7 walloping away to Hawick in September as a turning point in their first Scottish Premiership rugby season for decades, according to their director of rugby, Neil Hinnigan.

​They were just three games into their first top-flight campaign since 2000 at the time and still waiting for their first victory, but after that, they only suffered five further losses, racking up nine wins en route to a top-four finish, with 53 points from 18 fixtures, three clear of fifth-placed Heriot’s Blues.

“It was undoubtedly a wake-up call for us,” said Hinnigan ahead of what will either be their penultimate or last game of their national XVs season a week tomorrow, depending how it goes.

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“Our first two league games looked winnable on paper, Musselburgh away and Heriot’s at home, and we felt we could do that, though we didn’t as we drew both, but we were looking at Hawick away as a bit of a free shot at that time.

“We went down there with two or three boys missing and it was just a complete and utter collapse from us, and Hawick were going into it on the back of their first defeat in over a year, so it was probably a perfect storm.

“We learned a lot from it. It was definitely the biggest lesson we’ve been given this season.

“Ever since then, we’ve just got better every week.

“It really focused our minds on not going straight back down after coming up. We didn’t want to be humiliated again.

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“It did give us a real shot in the arm. You might have thought it would have the opposite effect, but it really drove us on to get better.

“It was a sink-or-swim moment. I was really pleased that we turned it around rather than going the other way.”

Kelso’s fourth-place finish in the table earned them premiership play-off semi-final away to table-toppers Hawick at Mansfield Park on Saturday, March 2, with kick-off at 3pm, and they’re fully aware they’ll go into that game as underdogs, having finished their regular season three places and 24 points worse off than the Greens, but they’re not regarding pulling off an upset as mission impossible.

Heartened by Stirling Wolves’ 29-19 Fosroc Super Series Championship final win against Ayrshire Bulls in November after concluding their pre-play-off season two places and 14 points behind them, Kelso will be hoping to make amends for the way their last visit to Hawick and the one before, an 18-14 Border League final defeat in April 2022, went, says Hinnigan.

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“Stirling have proved that the lowest-ranked team in the play-offs can do it, even if it doesn’t happen very often,” he said.

“Considering that Hawick haven’t lost a game at Mansfield since covid, I don’t think, and have hardly lost any games anywhere recently, we’re going to be hugely up against it, but our players have got a lot of belief now.

“We were 17-0 down to Currie a few weeks ago and they were all over us and outplayed us but we managed to come back and beat them, and that’s fuelled our belief a bit more.

“There’s no reason why, if we get it right and want it a bit more than them, that we can’t cause an upset.”

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Kelso’s scheduled Border League game away to Gala tonight has been postponed to a date yet to be fixed.

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