Mansfield men show their nasty side so others should beware

Bruce McNeil battled hard against County
Bruce McNeil battled hard against County

Is this the Hawick team we have all been waiting for? After a disastrous ten-game stretch that has left Hawick languishing at the bottom of the BT Premiership, the Robbie Dyes played like the side we had all been promised on Saturday, they rediscovered their nasty side and left Stirling County wondering exactly who they had just played.

It was late in the opening half when one play signified that Saturday would end different from Hawick’s last ten fixtures, and in the process, it may have helped changed the course of the season for the Mansfield Park outfit.

As a Stirling attacker looked to stretch their legs out wide on the left touchline, a hole parted for a millisecond, only to be closed suddenly by captain Bruce McNeil, who came crashing in, hitting the County runner square in the lower body with his right shoulder.

The unlucky Stirling player flew through the air, twisting like a set of helicopter blades. It was a hit anyone would have been proud of. A highlight hit. It was a perfect cover tackle, and it set the tone.

Later, when Hawick were leading 22-17 midway through the second half Gary Munro scored by combing his speed and physical running style. As Munro dashed towards the line a path cleared for him, Stirling defenders literally running out of the way, allowing the winger to cross the whitewash.

Plays like that were sprinkled throughout Saturday’s contest. Hawick’s defence, filled with heroes last year, and villains this season, was back to being the justice league.

The physical nature of Saturday’s contest, won by the Robbie Dyes convincingly 36-17, did not just signify how this rematch would play out, Stirling won the first meeting 56-29, or how Hawick would play following impressive back-to-back wins over Selkirk and Peebles in the BT Cup and Border League, it was a signal that Hawick are back.

You could argue that they never left, sure but that wouldn’t be accurate really. Hawick’s defence has been a colander trying to stop a high tide all season. It went from a defence that allowed an average of 20.9 points per game at the same point last season to one that is giving up 40.2 this season. Until Saturday.

Hawick put an old-school beatdown on a Stirling County side aiming for the top four, and it was their defence, and it’s physicality is why. When Hawick are nasty on both sides of the ball, good things happen to them, and this defence seemed to finally find it’s nasty side.

There was something cerebral from the performance. Hawick, despite many suggesting that they are dead to rights already after a dreadful run of ten defeats, who couldn’t stop a mini-rugby side, proved that they don’t listen to their critics. How they used the external chatter to motivate them and turn in a performance like Saturday.

It is fair to ask if this Hawick performance was a fluke given that the Greens had played the week before against Peebles while Stirling sat at home.

Rust may have been a factor, but at this level where players are always ready, but it probably wasn’t.

Based on the corrections Hawick have undergone since George Graham took over from Darren Cunningham as head coach, the squad changes and philosophy alterations, this was no fluke, it was always coming, just look to their performances against Currie Chieftains, Melrose and Ayr, this is normalcy.

And if it is, the rest of the league, who were playing as if the Greens were already relegated, are in trouble.