NIKKI Walker scored a crucial try when Hawick last lifted the Scottish Cup back in 2002 – and now, in his role as player-coach of the club, nothing would give him more pleasure than helping the Greens back to a finals day.
This afternoon, Hawick welcome holders Heriot’s to Mansfield Park in the BT Cup semi-final for what should be a cracking encounter. Thirteen years ago, Hawick were losing 17-10 to Glasgow Hawks in the final with not long left when Walker, who went on to earn his first Scotland cap later that year, ran in for a try which stand-off Neil Stenhouse converted.
In extra-time, a drop goal by centre Gavin Douglas took the trophy back to the Borders 20-17, but Hawick have not reached a final since. Walker, who turned 33 this week, will start on the wing today and he said: “Everyone is buzzing to play in a cup semi-final to try to get the club to the final for the first time in over ten years.
“We can’t underestimate our opposition, though, as they have their eyes on the double and they are the only team to have beaten us in both home and away league games, meaning it will be a tough challenge.”
Heriot’s defeated Glasgow Hawks in the final last year at Broadwood Stadium and are slight favourites going into this one given the form they have shown in the BT Premiership.
Their head coach Phil Smith said: “As holders the boys are desperate to defend their trophy. Training in the snow earlier this week may not have been ideal preparation, but the return of key players will hopefully see us challenge Hawick to the end.”
In the other BT Cup semi-final, last year’s runners-up Glasgow Hawks host Boroughmuir at Old Anniesland. The sides met just two weeks ago at the same ground when a last-gasp conversion from Chris Laidlaw from the touchline won the game 20-19 for Boroughmuir and kept their hopes of not finishing second bottom in the BT Premiership alive.
It also meant that Hawks could still finish in that spot, so the home side will be out for revenge in this one. George Horne, Scotland under-20s talisman from scrum-half in recent weeks, comes in for Hawks in his usual club position of stand-off.
Experienced centre Ally Maclay, who won the cup with the club in 2004 and 2007 and played in the final 12 months ago, is on the bench and could make his first top-team appearance of the season.
Hawks assistant coach Peter Laverie said: “Our training sessions have been very competitive and intense over the last ten days, with everyone desperate to put their hands up for selection and there is no doubt in the coaches’ minds that our lot are up for it.”
This week, Boroughmuir club stalwart Allan Mackay passed away and a number of the players have spoken in recent days about playing this game in his memory. Head coach Bruce Aitchison said: “It is a great chance to get to a final at Murrayfield. This is the third encounter of the season between the sides and, if the other two are anything to go by, it will be another tight match.”
Meanwhile, in the BT Premiership this afternoon, Currie take on Ayr, with the former needing a win to keep their top-four hopes alive.
Currie are currently sixth, but a victory would see them leapfrog Hawick and keep the battle for fourth between those two and Gala going. Ayr, who are safely in the play-offs, are still battling it out with Melrose to finish in second and earn a home semi-final.
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