AYR lost top spot in the race for the Premiership in a remarkable game on Saturday at Mansfield Park, where Hawick raced into a 24-0 lead after only 14 minutes and then survived an intense, second-half onslaught.
Hawick played with a fire and passion that is traditional of their performances and cemented their credentials in the top flight to complete an amazing double over the visitors.
Naturally, the result disappointed Ayr coach Calum Forrester, whose team fought back magnificently after the interval.
“We had a mind-set of how we wanted to play, but when you start the way we started, you are never going to win a game,” he said. “The start mirrored the way we began the last time. Hawick played the conditions very well and made it difficult for us.
“Every time they came down to us in the 22, they came away with points. It was the nature of the scores which we conceded that was disappointing. Hawick made us work hard for our tries more than we did for their scores. Next Saturday will be the last game before Christmas [at home to Stirling] and it will be hard if we do not win.”
Ayr fought back with determination, but came up against a Hawick side that dug deep while facing the wind and the rain.
Kevin Reid, team manager at Hawick, said: “In the first 20 minutes we played some outstanding rugby. It was a gutsy performance. We hung out for a wee bit in the second half, but our defence played really well.
“Ayr have a big pack and can grind down teams, and I think we deserved a win in the end due to that determination and guts. We are not a big pack, but were able to keep the ball for long periods in the second half and frustrated Ayr. The players showed what they have got and long may it last.”
All round, it was an impressive performance from a Hawick team, coached for the first time by Nikki Walker, who played an instrumental role in driving his side ahead.
Jack Cuthbert contributed a huge part and converted all three of his side’s tries as well as two penalties, missing only one.
Hawick also played for a spell with 13 players, French referee Pierre Brousset sending Bruce McNeil and Matt Landels to the sin-bin as well as Ayr’s Will Bordill.
Hawick surged ahead in five minutes when captain Rory Hutton outstripped the Ayr defence to score under the posts and Cuthbert converted. Ayr could not get out of their own half and a surging break saw Scott McLeod complete a superb move with a try, which again Cuthbert converted. Three minutes later John Coutts swept the defence aside and stormed over the line and again Cuthbert added the extras.
Ayr had their best spell with the man advantage, but Kerr Gossman was stopped in his tracks by a resolute home defence.
Ross Curle broke the Ayr deadlock with a try from Dean Kelbrick’s pass and Curle added the conversion five minutes from the interval.
On the stroke of half-time, Curle intercepted a loose pass and ran from his own half for a try, despite the valiant attentions of the Hawick cover, and the same player converted.
But, with the last kick of the half, Cuthbert kicked a penalty for a 27-14 half-time lead. Ayr began the second half strongly and Curle cut the deficit with a penalty. Their forceful play then paid off as Robbie Ferguson touched down in the corner.
With three minutes left, Hawick at last attacked the Ayr defence, and they kept their cool not to give away a penalty, but had to settle for a losing bonus point.
Scorers: Hawick – Tries: Hutton, McLeod, Coutts. Cons: Cuthbert (3). Pens: Cuthbert (2). Ayr – Tries: Curle (2), Ferguson. Cons: Curle (2). Pen: Curle.
Hawick: J Coutts; N Walker, J Cuthbert, J Dominguez, S McLeod; R Hutton, G Cottrell; S Muir, R Graham, M Landels, M McKee, B McNeil, N Mactaggart, M Robertson, R Gibson. Replacements: L Gibson, W Blacklock, K Davies, S Goodfellow, L Armstrong.
Ayr: C Gossman; R Fergusson, R Curle, D Kelbrick, K Gossman; D McCluskey, D Armstrong; G. Hunter, F Scott, D Rae, R. McAlpine, S. Sutherland, C. Templeton, B. McPherson, W Bordill. Replacements: J Malcolm, F Watt, A Dunlop, G Fisken, G Anderson.
Referee: P Brousset (France)