THERE can be no disguising the mood of foreboding at Raeburn Place as Edinburgh Accies face the prospect of, at worst, automatic relegation or, at best, securing the second-bottom place and the chance of a second life that comes with the play-off.
Accies had hoped to give themselves breathing space by defeating Glasgow Hawks on Saturday but the men from Old Anniesland proved too strong in the scrum and more adept and opportunistic in their back play in a stodgy but, ultimately, winning performance.
Phil Leck, the Accies’ coach, now has the task of taking his side to Mansfield Park for their penultimate league match to play a Hawick side unwilling to do their former mentor any favours. If that is formidable, then playing Stirling County at Raeburn Place also presents a challenge, but, while Accies will be concentrating on doing their best to maximise points from the last two rounds of the Premiership, they will also be hoping that relegation rivals Boroughmuir slip up in the run-in.
Accies’ survival chances could depend on the availability of several experienced players, among them Ian Berthinussen, who is recovering from an illness, prolific try-scorer Sam Pecqeur and the former Jed stand-off Ian Chisholm, who has returned to Raeburn Place. What is not instantly solvable is finding a specialist stand-off. Alex Glashan, a first-class scrum-half, fellow nine James Munro, and Berthinussen have all filled in at outside half, but none has the skills of a player more accustomed to the role.
“We had three tens at the beginning of the season but, at the 11th hour, we lost two of them [James King and Alex Blair] and a third [Chisholm] had to move away for work,” said Accies’ director of rugby, Bob Easson, adding: “We now find ourselves without a specialist goal kicker and a player able to gain us yardage down the touchline. We scored four tries against Heriot’s but lost because of goal kicks.”
All of which should in no way detract from what was a deserved win by Hawks, even if the Glasgow side failed to take full advantage of their scrum superiority in a performance that lacked fluency.
“We made heavy weather of it. Unfortunately for both teams there were a lot of errors. We were ring rusty as a result of our last two games being called off. It’s not an excuse, though. We made a lot of errors, spilling ball and showing inaccuracy in the contact area. But our defence held up well,” said Hawks coach Peter Laverie.
On the matter of scrums, Hawks were certainly well equipped to boss the set-piece battle. Warriors’ tighthead, Zander Fagerson played the first half before being replaced by Brendan Cullinane, a one-time member of the Munster Academy. On the other side of the front row, a fully-fit Gary Strain showed why, as a teenager, he was identified as a national prospect.
Hawks’ physical dominance and nous in the scrum forced Accies to concede a second-half penalty try and a first-half penalty and it was the cause of a ten-minute residency in the sin-bin for home prop Liam Launders. Accies also suffered another yellow card when hooker Michael Liness was pinged for a field foul, offset by a spell in the bin for Hawks No 8 Tommy Spinks.
Behind the scrum, Hawks half-backs Paddy Boyer and George Horne constantly tested the Accies’ fringe defence, Horne showing deft footwork and completing a good display with a second-half interception try and kicking five goals from five attempts.
Hawks’ only first-half try came courtesy of a spilled pass by Accies that allowed the visitors’ Scotland sevens cap, Neil Herron, to dash to the line for a try under the posts. Accies, however, were able to reply to Hawks’ early score after the visitors tried to run out of defence. Replacement Andy Fleming was stripped of the ball, providing a try for teenager Callum Ramm, who converted his own score. But that was all the points Accies could muster and they can only hope now that their two remaining games produce better outcomes.
Scorers: Accies – Try: Ramm. Con: Ramm. Hawks – Tries: Herron, Horne, penalty try. Cons: Horne (3). Pens: Horne (2).
Accies: R Young; J Farndale, J Marples, R Wilson, C Ramm; A Glashan, R Godsmark; L Launders, M Liness, G Campbell, E Stuart, R Seydak, J Sole, R Snape. Subs: D Bates, D Morrison, J McCarthy, J Munro, G Pecqeur.
Hawks: J Steele; E Oag, N Herron, D Milne, P Ramsay; G Horne, P Boyer; G Strain, J McFarlane, Z Fagerson, S Cummings, A Davidson, A Kirkland, F Gillies, T Spinks. Subs: S Findlay, B Cullinane, S Leckey, M Bartoszek, A Fleming.
Referee: J Makepiece.