“THIS was an experiment which went wrong for us,” admitted Hawick coach Phil Leck at the end of last Friday night’s Border League encounter which saw a much-changed Greens side beaten by an in-form Peebles outfit.
It is thought that this was the first time Peebles had won at Mansfield Park, but their victory was thoroughly deserved. Leck insisted he was interested in the bigger picture at Hawick, even if it meant sacrificing a crack at the Border League title. That meant giving younger players exposure in this competition.
The match started well enough for Hawick with an early Neil Renwick penalty, added to later by a Keith Davies try – his tenth of the season for the Greens – when Renwick cross-kicked from the touchline for Davies to run onto. Renwick’s conversion put them into double figures.
Peebles, who currently sit top of the Championship B table, had lost just one of their last 10 matches and were very much on a roll. Their young side, under the direction of former Scottish international prop, Peter Wright, are brimming with confidence and the 10-point gap didn’t phase them at all.
On 26 minutes, Conor Blyth beat two tackles to go in for the visitors’ first try, which was converted by Greg Raeburn, and six minutes later, their exciting full-back Martin Cruickshank burst through the Hawick defence with a blistering run for another Peebles touchdown. Again the extras going over courtesy of Raeburn.
Hawick suffered the loss of young Finlay Simpson in the back row and there was a further blow to the Greens before the interval when fly-half Ali Weir went off injured. Ross Armstrong also took a head knock going off in the game.
The Greens had the chance to score a try in injury time when a Scott McLeod break took play up to the Peebles 22. Recycled ball found its way to Renwick who almost made it to the line. He then passed to Gary Johnstone but the final feed was knocked on by Graeme Anderson and the chance was gone.
Renwick reduced the deficit to a point with a penalty before Raeburn cancelled it out with one of his own. It was still close going into the final ten minutes, and it was certainly competitive on the park, and the more things started to go Peebles’ way the more they believed that they could create their own piece of history.
Off the bench came Ruaridh Clinch who has been on top form for the visitors in recent matches. He is deceptively fast and his 30-metre run took him into the left-hand corner where he touched down for what turned out to be the winning try – that means Peebles, Melrose and Hawick are all locked on five points.
If Hawick beat Melrose in their final Border League game and Peebles turn over Kelso at The Gytes (which is not impossible), Peebles could yet qualify for the Border League Final ahead of the two big teams from one and two divisions above them, which would be extraordinary.
Hawick prop Shawn Muir said afterwards: “Fair play to Peebles. They were the better side if I’m honest. They came out and put us under pressure. Fair enough we had some new boys in the squad but it’s still a game we expected to win.”
Mutterings could be heard on the touchline from disgruntled Greens fans who said that the team selection showed disrespect to Peebles, but there were others who sided with the coach and felt blooding new players was “a must” if the team are to progress.
While the Border League is more of a priority for clubs such as Hawick YM and Peebles, the same cannot be said for some of the bigger sides. Two pools of four teams is not an ideal format for the oldest league competition in rugby, but it doesn’t look as if the system will change anytime soon.