WHAT is a club rugby player worth? At Meggetland on Saturday, we were left to ponder that question as the mercurial talent that is Rory Hutton led the “Green Machine” back to the RBS Premiership.
Scorers: Dundee HSFP: Tries: McIver, A Dymock, Penalty (3), Brown. Cons: Steel 4. Hawick: Tries: McLeod, Hogg, M Landels, Hutton, Davies. Pens: Hutton, Weir. Cons: Weir 4.
Referee: P Allan
The 25-year-old could be playing professional rugby for he has the talent, but he is one of several to have fallen between the cracks in Scotland’s two-team pro set-up. After Edinburgh released him three years ago, many still believed he would be playing at the top of the club game. Craig Chalmers certainly believed so and, after Hawick were relegated last summer, tried to persuade him to join Melrose. Others offered sizeable cheques to the self-employed electrician; one from ambitious club Biggar was reputed to be well into five figures. He turned them all down.
“It wasn’t a lack of ambition; it was for this,” he said on Saturday, smiling broadly and indicating Hawick supporters including Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg celebrating in the sun at Meggetland. “We lost a few boys when we went down, who went for money elsewhere. Good luck to them but that’s not what I’m about.
“I feel loyal to Hawick. I’ve come up through the grades, from Drumlanrig school, to the Albion, the Wanderers and Hawick, and I feel that you have to give something back. I think something that’s missing in rugby now is playing for a bit of pride, playing for your town. But from what I know about winning teams from Hawick’s past, and successful teams at any level, pride and playing for something that means a lot is a huge part of it.
“Dundee were favourites but you’ve just seen a team of boys wanting to win for the jersey, the town, the supporters and their families. That’s a big driver. The other thing is I play to enjoy my rugby, and I enjoy it here.”
It is a bit unfair on his teammates, but in simple terms this SRU Premiership Play-off between the second bottom in the Premiership and second top in the National League became the “Dundee pack v Rory Hutton” show.
The Taysiders came with a gameplan to ram home their dominance up front, reduce Hawick to jelly, and then move the ball across the field, but they never got past the first bit. Their big forwards did dominate the smaller Teries, reflected in the fact that five of Dundee’s six tries came from scrums, including three penalty tries in the second half, which pulled the favourites back from a 26-12 half-time deficit to 26-26 and ultimately to within a point in a frantic denouement.
But their lack of intensity and failure to go to the backs more often proved their undoing. They have struggled to replace Kiwi fly-half Brandyn Laursen, and while Jack Steele is a talented youngster, he is a centre and does not have game management and attacking variety in his repertoire.
Hutton, by contrast, is a veritable box of tricks. He opened with a cute chip over the Dundee defensive line, followed up with a slick dart for space that sucked in the remaining defenders and reached to pass behind the last one to send Scott McLeod careering in for the game’s opening try.
He launched hanging Garry- owens and 50-metre kicks downfield, and kicked well to touch to relieve pressure. He struck panic in Dundee defenders merely by hinting at a break and tackled well. He also dropped the odd ball and fluffed a kick and tackle or two, but his positives were game-changing.
Hutton delivered a skilful miss-pass that put Graham Hogg into the gap for the second try and, after 35-year-old prop Matt Landels finished some Hawick forward work with a score, sliced Dundee open himself for the fourth before half-time.
There was more to Hawick’s second-half display than Hutton, with a pack working hard despite being under the cosh, and Greg Cottrell, John Coutts, Neil McColm and Ally Weir showing flashes of brilliance in the backs. But Hutton’s deeds were the difference in propelling Hawick back to the top flight.
With the game back to 26-26, he intercepted a pass and broke 40 metres at terrific speed, before finding the superb No 8 Keith Davies inside for a fifth try. He then stepped up when a penalty was outside Weir’s range and kicked through the wind from 40 metres. Dundee pummelled on right to the end, but that kick proved decisive.
What is the price of success? Hutton added: “People ask me what’s happened to Hawick, but money in club rugby now is a big factor. We lost six boys to Biggar last year, some to Kelso and Gala, and elsewhere. We still have the talent, but lack the depth now.
“Some boys might go this year, some might want to come back now. That’s up to them, but you can’t put a price on this for me. This has been a tough year, but we got there. Hawick YM have struggled this season but they’re playing at the highest level they ever have, Linden and Quins have just been promoted, Hawick Wanderers have won their league and we’ve now been promoted. There is a buzz in Hawick again, and hopefully if everyone can join together and push on we’ll see Hawick competing at the top of Scottish rugby again. That’s my belief anyway.”
One senses that if more players bought into Hutton’s belief, club rugby would be all the richer for it.
Dundee HSFP: J Urquhart; A McLean, H Duthie, R Lavery, C Bowie; J Steele, A Dymock (capt); N Dymock, D Russell, A Brown, A Redmayne, C Cumming, D Levison, I Wilson, R McIver. Subs: S Longwell, G Robertson, A Linton, H Livinsgtone, R Lemon, O Dyer.
Hawick: A Weir; S McLeod, J Coutts, G Hogg, N McColm; R Hutton, G Cottrell; S Muir, L Gibson, L Launders, N Mactaggart, K Willison, S Graham, R Scott, K Davies. Subs: M Landels, H Scammell, B Keown, R Smith, D Landels.