Hawick recorded their fifth successive win in the annual sevens tournament at Mansfield Park after a thrilling display to dump short-game specialists Jed-Forest in the final.
The Greens amassed 140 points in their four ties, and dismissed Berwick, Peebles and Selkirk with ease en route to the showpiece finale.
The tournament came to a swift conclusion for the hosts’ fellow Teries, YM, who found themselves on the wrong end of a 31-0 defeat to Watsonians in the opening exchanges of the competition.
Gary Johnstone, Neil Renwick (2), Rory Hutton and Greg Cottrell all touched down – with Renwick and Hutton notching two conversions apiece – in the Greens’ 31-7 win over Berwick.
Tries by skipper Bruce McNeil (2), Craig Russell, Cottrell and Hutton were capped by Renwick’s impressive score following a clever exchange with Johnstone in the subsequent 38-10 victory over Peebles, where Hutton (3) and Renwick added the extras.
Meanwhile, Melrose waltzed past Whitecraigs and Watsonians to set up a repeat of the previous week’s Melrose Sevens semi-final against Jed, who worked hard to see off Kelso before thrashing Hamilton. Selkirk swept aside Langholm and Falkirk with a degree of ease to earn a last-four tie against the hosts.
The Souters’ carried their considerable swagger into the opening exchanges against the Greens, and Ciaran Beattie touched down to give the underdogs an advantage. Bruce McNeill had earlier been adjudged to have played a forward pass to Keith Davies as the hosts came close to breaking the deadlock.
Hutton charged over the line then converted after a Davies try to edge Hawick ahead, and scores by Cottrell and Davies ensured a proflic period of try-scoring that saw the hosts build a 24-5 lead by half-time. Selkirk countered early in the second half, but Renwick went over at the other end to redress the balance, and Hutton added a late try and conversion to make it 35-10.
The Mansfield pitch resembled a soggy ploughed field by the time Hawick and Jed, who conquered Melrose by 17-7, and Hawick took to the field to contest the final.
Jed had entered the tournament in scintillating form having triumphed in the Gala sevens and been runners-up at The Greenyards, where they were beaten only by English pro side Saracens, and the Riverside Park men were favourites among many to emerge victors over the Greens.
The sun emerged from behind the thick clouds and fans and catering staff poured from the corporate facilities, and from the moment Davies ran through for a third-minute try, it was all Hawick.
Cottrell danced through and Hutton converted to increase the home advantage, then McNeil stormed over to continue the Greens’ deluge before Hutton gained the extras for 19-0.
Barely seven minutes were on the clock when Cottrell’s second try of the game made it 24-0. Gary Johnstone sprinted onto a forward kick and Hutton struck an impressive conversion from wide on the left to make it 31-0 within a minute of the restart, and McNeil fed Cottrell for his hat-trick to make it 36-0.
The volume of the home crowd increased with each score, and Jed’s consolation try and conversion late on was barely noticed amid the euphoria that tumbled from the stands.
Greens captain McNeil savoured a proud moment in holding the trophy aloft.
He told the Hawick News: “Winning anything with Hawick is always up there. We were confident the way we went out and did things. It’s a lot to do with showing a bit of respect to people who come down at support Hawick. It’s your home sevens and you want to win it. We had a good squad.
“It’s always nice to give Hawick supporters something to cheer about given what they give to the club. Probably the highlight of winning something for Hawick is being able to do it for the fans and the town.
“It was good to achieve something at the end of the season after being relegated. We’ve not spoken about relegation much, apart from wanting to come straight back up.”
The Greens players were seen before their match against Jed chatting and relaxing with fans. Head coach Phil Leck explained to the Hawick News the thinking behind his players conducting a lap of the pitch prior to the final, revealing his players drew strength from interacting with the crowd.
“We warmed up at the far side and I wanted them to walk past the crowd and get the chat from the sidelines. They do feed off the crowd quite well, and when the crowd gets behind them they are difficult to beat.
“There was a lot of good banter with the YM lads, because we have a better relationship with them now.”
Leck said he would not usually have condoned one of his teams talking to fans before a crunch game but that the “sociable” nature of his group of players convinced him to indulge in a one-off. It’s not normally something I would allow my team to do, as I would like them to stay focused,” said Leck.
“But, they’re not that type of players – they’re very sociable and it wasn’t a bad thing for them to speak to the supporters.”
Jed may have appeared a shadow of the team who had dominated their Border rivals in recent sevens tournaments, but Leck was keen to focus on his side’s strengths rather than his opponents’ failings.
“You play as well as the opposition lets you play,” said the Hawick coach. “We knew if we gave them any time and space on the ball, they’d cut us to pieces because they’re a good sevens side. But, they don’t react well under pressure. That was the game plan.”