Hawick Linden 24
It was a long time in coming. Not since February 2015 had the Linden won a league fixture but they finally unloaded the proverbial monkey from their backs as they secured a hard-fought but deserved victory over Portobello in the sunshine at Wilton Lodge Park.
A great drive by the Linden forwards led to a penalty award which Gavin Stirling slotted over in the third minute. Five minutes later Portobello drove from a line out and No. 8 Graham Culbertson peeled off to touch down.
The Royal Blues were having a torrid time in the scrum regularly being driven off their own ball. However, when they had a put-in inside the Portobello 22, the Royal Blue scrum was solid, Craig Smith picked, went blind, drew in the winger and slipped Matthew Bell over in the corner for a simple but well executed try.
After a good long kick from Graeme Anderson a serious of penalties to the home team ended in Stirling kicking his second of the match to stretch the lead to 11-5 after 16 minutes. Not long before the break the Linden tried hard to add to their tally. Following a line out, Anderson put Bell flying through a gap and the young winger looked likely to score until a half-tackle affected his momentum and he was held up at the posts. The Royal Blues pounded the line too often through the forwards and they were eventually penalised which relieved the danger for Porty.
Linden started the second half with a bang as some great driving by Craig Smith led to another penalty which Stirling converted. On 49 minutes Stirling put a neat kick through to the in-goal area and John Frew just won the race to touch down. Stirling added the conversion from wide out and his team were now 21-5 in front.
Portobello had the edge on possession and territory in the second period but some resolute Linden defending soaked up the pressure before Stirling popped over his fourth penalty goal to ease any home nerves.
Some great work by Anderson put the Linden on the front foot again and, when Bell did well to keep the ball alive tight to the touchline, Smith surged to the line and put Frew over to dot down but Smith had already put a foot in touch.
From the resulting line out Portobello threw caution to the wind and the pace of Cameron Johnstone finished off a lovely length of the field try. The visitors weren’t finished as they went all out for a losing bonus point. With the last play of the game Ali Bain crossed in the corner despite Linden claims for a foot in touch and looking like he may have lost control before grounding. Alas for Portobello the difficult kick didn’t find the target and they left empty handed.
The Linden have shown promise in recent games in spite of some hard to bear results. The potential came together in a fantastic team performance where real structure and togetherness were evident for which credit is due to coaches Kevin Brown, Lee Stewart and Barry Sutherland.
Every single Linden player deserves plaudits with the experience of Graeme Anderson, Pete Drysdale and Craig Smith ensuring the younger players were given a superb lead. Smith revelled at No.8 and had an outstanding match. Gavin Stirling had one of his best games in the fly-half role and John Frew was once again full of determined running.
Up against a much bigger pack, the Linden forwards were fantastic. Previously unbeaten Portobello contributed to a great game of rugby and the lift given to the Linden by such a hard earned win can hopefully lead to more of the same in the weeks ahead.
Linden: J Frew, G Welsh, G Anderson, S Walker, M Bell, G Stirling, E Wood; J White, P Drysdale, C Tofts, E Hair, A Hume, M Parker, M Mallin, C Smith; Subs: S Spalding, K Mabon, K Walley, M McRae, M Knight, S Hair, S Grant.