A View from the Touchline – National Cup, Quarter Final: 25.1.20.

Currie Chieftains 19 pts (3 t, 2 C) v Hawick RFC 12 pts (t 2, c 1)

Although it was overcast and grey, this must have been the first Saturday since early December that sports fixtures were not under threat from the weather. The dry and reasonably firm Malleny pitch looked ideal for a competitive open contest that the Border visitors always guarantee. Hawick were the first ever club to lift the National Cup when the competition started back in the mid-1990s, and following a string of recent successes, which included a narrow victory over the home team before Christmas, their confidence was high.

A pretty good crowd, that included plenty of ‘Greens’ supporters, added to the Cup-tie atmosphere, and spectators certainly got excellent value for their all-pay entrance fee. The rip-roaring game was eighty minutes of blood and thunder, end-to-end entertainment played with mutual respect in the true spirit of rugby football. To no surprise, the outcome was in the balance until the referee, who had an excellent match, blew the final whistle.

Currie had an early chance when Gregor Christie and Fergus Scott ripped through the visitors’ defence to set up a series of attacks that the well organised Hawick defence repelled. Even after 20 minutes with chances at both ends, including a dynamic run from Fraser Sayers, there was still no score. Hawick did have a long spell of possession as they built pressure in the Chieftains’ 22 with some attractive rugby; if it was not for an avoidable knock-on, they would have scored. The Currie defence held out and finally cleared their lines, reversing the direction of play that subsequently led to the opening score. Hawick were very quick to any breakdown and their line-speed was causing Currie a few problems. With little time and space in which to operate, Gregor Christie conjured some. He threw a terrific dummy and raced 20 metres through the gap created; his inside pass to the racing Fergus Scott took play to within 2 metres of the line, where a desperate tackle temporarily halted progress, but the skilful hooker magnificently popped the ball to impressive Wallace Nelson who dived over to break the deadlock. Adam Hall kicked the difficult conversion.

Currie now had their tails up, and from the re-start Roy Vucago careered down the stand side wing knocking would-be tacklers out of the way on his journey into the Hawick 22. The omens looked promising, but when possession was lost to a wobbly scrum, which was becoming an increasing problem against a sturdy Hawick front five, the resulting penalty kick put the Greens on the front foot again. Cheered on by their enthusiastic supporters, Hawick now produced some scintillating rugby that eventually produced an outstanding try for centre Andrew Mitchell just before halftime; Ali Weir converted. There was still time for the Currie pack, led by a tremendous charge from Mike Vernel, to send shivers through the Hawick camp as they romped towards the visitors’ line. Unfortunately, an infringement halted the drive and the referee brought an end to the action-packed first half.

Halftime Score – Currie Chieftains 7 pts, Hawick 7 pts.

The Chieftains made an excellent start to the second half, and following a well-controlled lineout and 20 metre driving maul, they set up camp deep in Hawick territory. The visitors’ ferocious tackling was commendable, knocking down a couple of devastating runs from Steven Hamilton and Fraser Sayers only metres from the goal line. The pressure finally told as the Currie pack battered away, sucking in the oppositions loose forwards and stretching their defensive backline. Even when the ball was released after an overlap had been created, it still took a nifty pickup and a leg-pumping drive from Ryan Southern to breach the defensive wall and score wide out; the try was not converted.

The end-to-end action continued, but slowly the visitors made full use of their rugged forward play to dominate both scrum and lineout, which in turn set up good attacking positions inside the Chieftains’ 22. Several driving mauls went close, resulting in a number of arm-wrestles on the goal line. Eventually the burly figure of loose head prop, Shawn Muir picked up and was propelled over the line by the weighty effort of the Greens pack. The wide out try was not converted but once again the scores were even.

The final quarter had everything expected of a cup tie. Exciting play, unforced errors and frustrations near the goal line, plus the introduction of fresh legs off the bench. Rhys Davies, Mike Vernel and Reece Patterson all had good carries into Hawick territory, but it was the backs that made the winning try with a polished move straight from the Ali Donaldson/Mark Cairns training manual. Following a couple of phases, Adam Hall threw a long pass to Ryan Southern who popped the ball back inside to the speeding James McCaig; it ended in the hands of Steven Hamilton and the field opened out before him. A try looked certain, but once again a tremendous tackle stopped the move just short of the line. The Hawick defence was heroic, but a patient Currie pack were clinical in their approach. Graeme Carson, Matt Poole and Fergus Scott were to the fore, and It was difficult to see who got the touchdown, but Rhys Davies was the last man to rise from the pile of bodies, and he held the ball. Adam Hall converted the try from in front of the posts.

There was still 10 minutes remaining and Hawick made the most of it. They threw everything at their hosts, kept possession and battered their way into the Currie red zone. If a penalty kick into the corner had found its mark, the outcome of the match may have been different, but Currie survived the onslaught and they were awarded a penalty on halfway after an attempted breakout surprised the visitors. The long-range kick at goal was unsuccessful, but it did use precious minutes and kept play at the right end of the pitch. In the final minutes, in their efforts to inflict a turnover, the exuberant rampaging visitors infringed again, and as the Chieftains’ penalty kick went way over the stand, the referee’s whistle concluded the enthralling hard-fought match.

Currie Chieftains now go into the Semi-Finals draw; these matches will be played sometime in late March. With the Six Nations Championship and other representative matches taking place over the next few weeks, Currie’s next match is away to Aberdeen Grammar RFC on 15th February.                                                         I.J.S – 26.1.20.

Currie Chieftains Team –

15 Fraser Sayers, 14 James McCaig, 13 Steven Hamilton, 12 Ryan Southern, 11 Cameron Meager, 10 Adam Hall,

9 Gregor Christie, 8 Rhys Davies, 7 Wallace Nelson, 6 Roy Vucago, 5 Mike Vernel, 4 Matt Poole, 3 Matias Argiro,

2 Fergus Scott, 1 Graeme Carson.

Bench –

Reece Patterson, Sam Edwards, Josh O’Brien, Alex Harley, Archie MacLean.

Match Officials –

Referee – Graeme Ormiston

AR 1 – Michael Milner

AR 2 – Digby Thomas