WHEN Nikki Walker was crashing over the Murrayfield line to help secure extra time in the dramatic 2002 BT Cellnet Cup final, a primary school pupil cheered in the stands little realising he would be a member of the next Hawick side to reach the final and the try-scoring hero would be his coach.
Scotland Under-20 hooker Ross Graham will be in the “Robbie Dyes” team that former Scotland wing Walker sends out to deliver BT Cup final success not only for themselves but an entire town. It has been 13 years since that victory over Glasgow Hawks – Gavin Douglas scoring the winning drop goal in extra time – and thousands of proud Teries will descend on the capital from the Borders town, with more than 20 coaches heading north on the A7 this morning.
Graham was among the crowd in 2002 but this evening he will take centre stage as Hawick face Boroughmuir in the club showpiece at BT Murrayfield.
“I was six and my mum and dad took me,” said the 19-year-old. “It just makes it more exciting for me as I know what a win would mean to Hawick. We are delighted to even reach the final as we had a tough road. We just took our opportunities to get this far and need to show what we can do in the final. We have the ability to go all the way and win.”
That “tough road” included a heart-stopping, low-scoring semi-final as Heriot’s were edged 6-3 to clinch that first final place since Ian Barnes’s double-winners of 13 years ago.
“That semi-final was probably one of the most physical and tense games I have ever played in,” recalled Graham. “The last ten minutes were incredible. Nobody wanted to miss a tackle or make a mistake. It was so tense and what a game to win. Hearing that final whistle was incredible, realising how all the hard work had been worthwhile.”
Graham still lives in his native west end of Hawick and is a student at Borders College in the BASE rugby coaching course.
He won the Brewin Dolphin Schools Plate with his Hawick High School under-16 team and has captained both South Schools under-18 and Borders under-18. He has represented Scotland at under-17 and under-18 level, and made his under-20 debut off the bench against Ireland in the Six Nations opener in January 2014.
Graham appeared in all five of Scotland under-20s’ games in the recent junior Six Nations, in which the Scots won three games.
The hooker was only a few months old when Hawick lifted the first-ever Scottish Cup in 1996 in front of more than 20,000 at the national stadium. There may not be as many there today, but it is certainly the case that having a team from the Scottish game’s Borders heartland involved always adds to the atmosphere on finals day. “The excitement in the town is absolutely incredible,” said Graham. “There are lots of buses coming up and I am hearing former Hawick players like Stuart Hogg are going to be there to cheer us on.
“We have been trying to treat this game as any other and have been looking at the technical side of things so everybody knows their roles. With it being a cup final we know we need to bring physicality to the game from the first whistle. We haven’t changed our routine and have gone with Tuesday and Thursday for training as usual.”
Boroughmuir captain Andy Rose, meanwhile, insists there is no less of a buzz in the Meggetland ranks.
“For me personally, it’s been a dream to play at Murrayfield,” said the Zimbabwe-born flanker, who played schools rugby with Scotland No 8 David Denton. “My mum is Scottish, she was born in Aberdeen, and all her side of the family will be coming down and it will be such an honour for me to run out. The boys are all very excited. It’s not often you get a chance to play here at the national stadium and as long as the occasion doesn’t get to us there should be some good rugby played. We know there will be a lot of Hawick people up but hopefully our support will turn out in numbers and really enjoy the day. I’d just say to them to come out, wear your colours, and support the boys. I’m sure they’ll make themselves heard.”
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