This was a bizarre match that swung first one way and then the other, with neither side able to shake the opposition off their coat tails, and the two sides went into the final ten minutes neck and neck, tied at 20-20. With two tries, two conversions and two penalties apiece, the two teams could not be separated.
The momentum was with Hawick and when Accies conceded a dumb penalty to give them an easy exit from their own 22, it stayed with the Borderers, who saw this one out and will play Premiership rugby next season, which may be a blessing or a curse.
Lee Armstrong had carried the ball effectively all afternoon and the Hawick centre did so one last time as the clock wound down. Accies full-back Robbie Chalmers was penalised at the breakdown for sealing off and appropriately enough, it was Armstrong who jumped to his feet to kick the winning penalty, 25 yards out, dead ahead.
Even then the drama wasn’t over as Accies had one last chance to nick promotion with one final flourish down the right flank when Alex Glashan almost sent winger Matthew Coupar the length of the field. Instead Hawick somehow got numbers back to plug the hole, won another penalty at the breakdown and hoofed the ball off the field, much to the relief of their vocal supporters.
“We were a bit rusty,” said Hawick’s departing coach, an emotional Nikki Walker, “but I think we deserved it. It’s been a really tough season, the toughest we have ever had, but I think we did just enough to win.”
Accies will rue two missed penalties in the first half of this match and two attacking lineouts where they failed to execute, but to be honest it seems unlikely that this squad of players would thrive in top-flight rugby and they are losing a few over the summer. Amongst those leaving the club is long-serving stalwart Greg Campbell, who put in his usual selfless 80-minute shift yesterday.
Accies had the best of the set scrum but Hawick’s back line always looked the more dangerous, especially when Rory Hutton moved to No.10 in the second half. Darcy Graham gave Armstrong good support from full-back and showed why Edinburgh have signed him for next season.
Hawick had enjoyed the best of the opening half with two early penalties from the boot of Armstrong giving them a nice cushion. It didn’t last long, as the Accies scrum-half single-handedly carved out the first try of the afternoon. Glashan made a textbook scrum-half snipe from the base of a breakdown to give Accies high field position and then, as if he hadn’t warned them, the little scrummy did exactly the same to score.
When replacement Lawrie Seydak scored Accies’ second from a five-metre scrum early in the second half Accies had a 20-6 lead and complete control of this match – or so you imagined.
Instead Hawick summoned up reserves of resilience to bounce back with two tries in the space of 11 minutes to tie the game. Their success was built on the simple strategy of holding on to the ball for long periods and making Accies do all the hard work in defence.
First of all winger John Coutts finished off what seemed like endless waves of green attacks, easily over 20 phases of play, by bashing his way over the Accies’ line just before the hour mark.
Not long after, with his side back on the attack, Hawick skipper Bruce McNeil turned down an easy three in favour of a try. It looked like a mistake when Hawick failed to execute but they stayed on the attack and just a couple of minutes later McNeil took a quick tap penalty himself, in the shadow of the posts, and barrelled his way over.
Armstrong’s conversion tied the scores and while Accies had one brief sortie into the Hawick red zone, most of the play took place inside the Accies half so when a penalty came Armstrong wasn’t going to make a mistake from that range.