Glasgow Hawks 27
THE ski slopes of Europe may have been missing some Glasgow visitors this year, and the west-end bars a few midweek regulars, but Scotland’s largest city finally has its first Division 1 rugby champions.
Glasgow Hawks grasped the most prized club trophy in the land with an eventually comfortable win over Heriot’s, and the longevity of their champagne-spraying celebrations, predicted to continue until Wednesday, underlined the satisfaction felt at ending a wait of 30 years for a team from the west to finish top of the official championship ladder.
Their strength in depth has been crucial to the success, and proving as much, Hawks’ 2nds, inspired by Cammy Little - a player who has done as much for Hawks in the past seven years as any other - routed Heriot’s second-string 96-0 to win the 2nd XV league in the curtain-raiser.
Coach Peter Wright, ably assisted by another former British and Irish Lion in Rob Ackerman, said afterwards that he hoped the mickey-taking of Glasgow rugby could begin to slide away.
He admitted: "I was one who used to laugh at Glasgow clubs - I used their reputation in team-talks at Boroughmuir and elsewhere, telling players they might be talented, but Glasgow guys couldn’t cut it and didn’t have the bottle to go all the way.
"There were all the stories of Glasgow boys going skiing when the weather got bad here, and to be honest I found it to be true when I came here, so Rob and I deliberately set out to change that culture. I think the problem was that they couldn’t see success at a Glasgow club. Nobody had had that ultimate success of being the official Division 1 champions, so they didn’t think being the best was achievable.
"But this season guys have been staying at home during the winter and training when they might otherwise have been on the slopes or elsewhere on holiday, and they have, despite initially moaning about it, been in doing extra training on Monday nights. You could see around the point where we’d won 16 or 17 games that there was a sense among the players that they felt they could actually be the best team in Scotland. They really have worked for it, and I would say we have been the best and most consistent side in the championship, just.
"I think it will still take a bit of time for the guys to believe they are the best in Scotland, which is I feel just the Scottish thing of a lack of self-belief, but they fully deserve this and should believe it and take confidence from it. I hope it’s a starting point for Glasgow rugby as a whole. If we can get the marketing right and build on this confidence we could see a new beginning for Glasgow rugby."
Twice cup winners, Hawks will now turn their attention to the ultimate double: the Division 1 and BT Cup titles. The next step is overcoming Currie at Malleny Park in the quarter-finals in two weeks’ time, and considering Currie beat Watsonians 54-27 at Myreside on Saturday, that will not be taken for granted.
However, Saturday’s match which secured the Hawks their place in Scottish rugby history, did have an inevitability about it, especially when Heriot’s lost their skipper and talisman Craig Harrison to an injury suffered after coming off the bench for Edinburgh the night before. Already without fly-half Ander Monro, who also played for Edinburgh, his understudy Jonny Sim due to work commitments and age-group back-rows Jon White and Alan McDonald, it was a loss too far.
Yet, showing tremendous fight, Heriot’s almost surprised a nervous Hawks with a stirring battle in the set-piece which held the champions-elect to a 10-6 interval lead, tries from scrum-half Richard McKnight and Colin Shaw failing to release the grip of two penalties from home fly-half Ian Stent.
Heriot’s inability to find a clinical finish, however, and loss of Steven McNeil to the sin-bin ensured Hawks always looked the more likely winners, and when the visitors finished the third quarter with powerful centre Ally Maclay steaming over for a third try, it was a question of when, not if, they would score the fourth try, and so secure the bonus point to take them beyond the reach of Boroughmuir and clinch the title on the day. The joyous celebrations - aided by the colourful Howwood Inn drummer - were uncorked with 13 minutes remaining when Steve Begley, a second-half substitute for the irrepressible Scott Hutton, finished off a rare piece of momentum-building phase play. Even the uncharacteristically off-target fly-half Michael Rainey found his touch, slotting his first conversion of the day from the right touchline.
With the nerves eased, the Hawks produced some of their more typical, exciting rugby in the final stages, with Neil McKenzie, outstanding skipper Mark Sitch - standing in for the injured Chris Docherty - and backs Shaw, Steven Duffy and Stuart Low leading the way, while prop Gordon Macfadyen dived over for a fifth try.
Even a late score by Heriot’s wing Marc Teague, converted from wide out by Stent, failed to dent the celebrations.
Promising young referee Alan Williamson, the depute rector at Hawick High School, encouraged a notably free- flowing match. His enthusiasm for advantage, communication with players, clear authority and encouraging smile throughout ensured the game had an entertaining ebb and flow belying the plethora of mistakes and turnovers seen.
The smiles being worn by all connected with the Hawks at full-time, notably their founding chairman Brian Simmers even after he had been almost drowned in champagne, were the most significant, however, highlighting the day when club rugby in Glasgow finally stepped out of the shadows and on to the elite stage of winners.
Scorers. Heriot’s: Try: Teague. Pens: Stent 2. Con: Stent. Glasgow Hawks: Tries: McKnight, Shaw, Maclay, Begley, Macfadyen. Con: Rainey.
Heriot’s: N De Luca; M Teague, N Armstrong, D Arneil, F Smeaton; I Stent, I Wilson; C Sinclair, D Linton, G Talac, J Osbourne, A McIntosh, T McVie, J Syme, S McNeil. Subs: E Milligan for Mories, S Begley for Hutton, both 52min, I Monaghan for McKnight, S Forrest for Francis, both 67.
Glasgow Hawks: S Low; S Gordon, A Maclay, S Duffy, C Shaw; M Rainey, R McKnight; G Mories, F Thomson, G McFadyen, R Maxton, S Hutton, G Francis, G Francis, M Sitch, N McKenzie. Sub: A McLaren for Linton 74.
Referee: A Williamson (Hawick).