Hawick Linden 35 Dalkeith 0
Although on a run of nine league wins, the Linden’s last defeat had been a huge 62-14 loss to Saturday’s visitors to the Volunteer 3G, Dalkeith, back in September.
To turn around such a gulf between the sides into a Linden victory would take a monumental effort.
Not only did the Royal Blues do so, they did it in style with a convincing 35-0 margin that proved the turn round in their fortunes is no fluke displaying skill, organisation, tempo and masses of heart and desire.
With both teams having played all of their 13 matches in East League 2, the Linden had finished nine points behind Dalkeith as they embarked on the first game in the top six split.
Any thoughts of a home win were dealt some early blows. Both stand-off Gavin Stirling and prop Jordan White broke down with injury in the warm-up to be replaced by Barry Sutherland and Simon Spalding whilst Conor Gracie and Craig Smith were rushed into bench duties.
Following these set-backs the Linden were pushed off their own ball at the first scrum so the omens certainly didn’t look good.
However, with Dalkeith spilling the ball whilst on the attack in the home 22, Sutherland chipped ahead and Matthew Mallin showed his pace to be first to the ball and hack on twice with Kieran Murphy up in support to dive on the ball to open the scoring after five minutes.
Two minutes later, they looked sure to score again from deep. Graham Colville turned the ball over in his own 22 and made good ground.
The No. 8 linked with Murphy who took on his man on the outside and was round and seemed away to score but a desperate diving tap tackle just connected enough to deny the winger.
The Royal Blues did score a second try though after 17 minutes. Stuart Hair peeled round the front of a line out and, when Sutherland received the ball, he put in a measured cross kick.
John Frew flew up the touchline to collect and pass inside for Murphy to touch down. Sutherland’s astute boot kept his side playing in the right areas of the field as the Linden continued to boss the game.
Dalkeith were then on the attack but a poor kick was picked up by Frew 10 metres from his own line and the 19-year-old showed great pace to go the distance. For the third time the try was too far out for the conversion but a 15-0 lead was no more than the home team deserved.
The Kings Park side should have responded just before the break.
Firstly, from a period of pressure, they eventually went wide and their full-back looked to be over for the try but was hit in a double tackle and Frew somehow held up the ball to prevent the score.
Unfortunately that meant the Linden had a scrum five to defend, the one area Dalkeith had been dominating. Secondly, as the scrum moved forward, the visitors, perhaps unwisely, picked and went wide but a poor pass meant the chance was gone.
Early in the second period, the Volunteer side went on the attack and a chip ahead by Sutherland in the 22 saw the stand-off taken out but the ball sat up nicely for Murphy to go over at the posts for what he thought was his hat-trick.
Alas, the referee had already blown for a penalty and the Linden settled for three points as Sutherland’s kick split the uprights.
The Linden now seemed to be in control of the game and its outcome.
In 48 minutes, however, this took a twist as winger Gary Alexander was spotted throwing a punch and was shown a straight red card.
There was now concern that this would give a way back into the game for Dalkeith. From here on in, if anyone was in any doubt about the spirit of this rejuvenated Linden team, they were quickly dispelled.
Dalkeith kicked the penalty to touch deep in home territory. Colville stole the lineout and linked with Sandy Walker, Murphy and Frew. The full-back went on the outside then in and out to weave his way to the line for a stunning try which Sutherland converted and the Linden were now 25-0 to the good.
Eight minutes later and Colville was at it again pinching ball from a Dalkeith lineout on half-way, passing on to Euan Hair whose return pass saw Colville head off on a storming run with two hand-offs on the way to his 58th try in a Linden jersey.
Five minutes later and Rory Graham turned over Dalkeith possession to set Spalding off on the hoof and Frew was on hand to slice his way over to complete his hat-trick.
Thirty-five up with 17 minutes to go, the Linden emptied their bench and there was no further scoring when a Dalkeith player was knocked out in a tackle necessitating a call for an ambulance and the referee sensibly called full-time with only a few minutes remaining.
From the low of the thumping defeat at Dalkeith, never mind the murky depths of last season, this display showed the stunning turnaround of the Linden.
Against a bigger pack, the young Linden eight fronted up and were heroes all taking their lead from the experience of Graham Colville and skipper for the day Keith Mabon, celebrating his 200th Linden appearance in style.
There was no way through the centre partnership of Graeme Anderson and Sandy Walker whilst John Frew was full of determination in both his running and defence.
Barry Sutherland brought huge control to his team’s possession whilst half-back partner Rory Graham had probably his best ever performance for the Royal Blues.
Linden: J Frew, G Alexander, G Anderson, S Walker, K Murphy, B Sutherland, R Graham; S Spalding, R Hartdegan, K Mabon, S Hair, E Hair, M Parker, M Mallin, G Colville; Subs: E Wood, C Gracie, M Bell, C Smith, L Sharkey, J Hogg, C Friell.