Battered and bruised but YM book Murrayfield final berth

Action from Saturday's Hawick YM versus Linlithgow Shield semi-final
Action from Saturday's Hawick YM versus Linlithgow Shield semi-final

THE Redskins may have been the underdogs against Linlithgow - but every dog has its day.

And as they lapped up the praise on the full-time whistle, the battered and bruised YM players rested safe in the knowledge that they’re just one step away from getting their paws on the National Shield.

Linlithgow weren’t just big, some of them were huge - their gigantic lock Graeme McCallum was the size of an ogre.

But the home side wasn’t for rolling over and they repelled almost everything that was thrown at them.

Their attacking prowess has seen them swat aside opponents all season, but it was their defensive duties that were put to the test at a sun-kissed Mansfield Haugh on Saturday.

And they passed with flying colours.

It looked like it could be a stroll early on as they burst out the traps and raced into a 17-0 lead.

Ross Gibson and Craig Robson were both to the fore and the YM were rewarded for their endeavours with a fourth minute penalty, which was stroked over by Lee Armstrong.

They continued to play the passing game that has brought them so much joy this current campaign, while Linlithgow’s kicking was aimless and decision-making poor.

And when they were given a sniff of a chance when the YM were penalised, Matt Dixon hadn’t brought his kicking boots as his effort went wide.

It was to prove costly as the Redskins notched the first try of the afternoon just minutes later. Dean McCracken turned over possession brilliantly in the middle of the park and the ball was fed through the hands of Chris Ritson to Armstrong who touched a grubber kick on for Glyn Desport to chase. The flying winger appeared to have met his match in Gordon White but his opposite number made a complete mess of matters and as the ball broke loose, Desport was on hand to touch down.

Armstrong converted and straight from the kick off they went over again. Desport was at the heart of the move once more as he charged down a chip through and hacked on for Gibson to open his legs and dribble across the line for the try.

Armstrong added the extras but Linlithgow were slowly coming into the game and when the hugely impressive Alistair Turnbull was penalised just before the interval, they kicked to the corner, won the lineout and let their heavy pack rumble forward for Billy Edment to score.

The YM were under the cosh, but terrific tackling from captain Billy Lilly, Steven Hill, Glyn Desport and Turnbull kept the visitors at bay.

After the break Dixon watched a penalty effort and an ambitious drop goal attempt go wide, before they grabbed their second score of the afternoon when White scorched down the wing.

The conversion was kicked by Dixon but the Redskins, who were becoming increasingly frustrated with the referee, hit back in the best possible way – with another try.

Linlithgow appeared to intentionally knock the ball on as the YM pressed, but the official allowed play to continue and youngster Lewis Mallin took matters into his own hands with a rampaging run that was taken on, and finished, by fellow young buck Steven Mabon.

Dixon saw another kick go wide and the YM suffered a double blow when Ritson and Mabon were both forced off with ankle and leg injuries respectively.

Still they took this in their stride and after McCracken had spilled a pass on his way to the line, Scott McLeod showed the Linlithgow rearguard a clean pair of heels only to be cynically stopped by David Goudie, who prevented a certain score. Goudie was carded for his troubles and Armstrong kept his cool amid the searing temperatures to kick the subsequent penalty.

But Linlithgow weren’t done and minutes later, when Armstrong’s attempted chip on the edge of his ‘22 was intercepted, their man mountain McCallum was only briefly stopped before surging over.

The conversion was added and the nerves on the touchline were shredded.

Fortunately that man Armstrong kept calm as he scored the try of the match, jinking one way and then the other to completely wrong-foot three Linlithgow defenders and sprint in under the posts.

That was greeted with a huge cheer and the roars got even louder soon after when McCracken launched a huge kick up the field and McLeod gathered the bounce perfectly. He was stopped but there was McCracken on his shoulder to gratefully receive the scoring pass and take his place beneath the uprights.

Now the YM are just 80 minutes away from taking their place in the history books.