Hawick made their final preparations for the coming season with a hard-fouught victory in Saturday’s friendly at Eden Park.
Player-coach Nikki Walker’s charges used the weekend as a team-building session and to reintroduce impressive youngsters Jack McColm, Sam Bandeen and Andrew Ford as second-half subs.
However, it was old head and captain Rory Hutton who set the Robbie Dyes off on the two-minute mark with a try of solo genius after good work from Bruce Campbell.
This was a wake-up call for the men from Northern Ireland and they took control for the next 35 minutes and, mainly through strong forward play, scored four expansively-worked touchdowns.
At 24-5 down with two minutes to go to the break, Hawick looked to be in trouble, but a fine Wullie Blacklock burst saw the ball recycled for Walker to scythe through for the Greens’ second try to narow the gap to 24-10 at half-time.
Strong words from the Hawick coaching staff at half-time had the desired effect, and a wonderfully inventive Lee Armstrong break set Walker galloping in for the try after 47 mins. Not to be outdone, and looking for a win in what is hoped to be an annual tie, the hosts took a 31-15 lead with a forward-driven rolling converted try.
Hawick had other ideas, however, and following breaks by Hutton and Stuart Graham, the Greens scored two well-crafted touchdowns through Armstrong and Keith Davies to reduce the deficit to just six points.
By this stage of the game, into the last quarter, Hawick were rampant and mazy running from Hutton and Armstrong put centre Gary Johnstone in for a fine try. To cries of “Kick it over for me,” from ardent travelling fan Robert Tofts, Armstrong struck Hawick’s first successful conversion to put the visitors ahead.
Ballymena began to lose their discipline a bit and Armstrong’s penalty took the visitors into a 35-31 lead, after which the peerless Hutton, playing with renewed freedom at centre and then full-back, began and finished a move that started in his own 25.
Armstrong’s conversion had barely landed before the hosts a broke through for a try out wide, but Hawick held on comfortably enough to win by seven tries to six, with Rory Scott, Shawn Muir and Neil McColm all impressing again.
All roads now lead to the Premiership and Malleny Park tomorrow (Saturday), with hopes high for Walker and his travelling troops.
Hawick: S. Peffers, N. Walker, S. McLeod, R. Hutton, N. McColm, A. Weir, B. Campbell, K. Davies, R. Scott, S. Graham, B. McNeill, N. Mactaggart, S. Muir, R. Graham, W. Blacklock. Subs: M. Landles, A. Ford, G. Johnstone, J. McColm, S. Bandeen, M. Douglas, L. Armstrong.