Hawick won promotion into RBS Premiership when they beat Dundee HSFP 39-38 in an 11 try thriller that was a superb advert both for play-offs and for Summer rugby.
Both teams brought a large support, and with the terracing opposite the main stand at Meggetland bathed in sunshine, the players enjoyed loud vocal support throughout 80 tense minutes. If, in the end, the pattern of the tries was much as expected beforehand – 5 of the 6 Dundee tries coming from forward efforts – the game itself swung back and forward, and it was Rory Hutton, the Hawick stand off, who stamped his class on the match with involvement in 4 of the 5 Hawick tries; kicking a long range penalty against the wind at a crucial point in the second half, and crucially, moving the Hawick game from a fast and free flowing game at the beginning to one based on territory in the last frantic minutes.
Hawick came out of the traps first, with Greg Cottrell & Hutton springing winger Scott McLeod free for a try after just 4 minutes. Dundee, looked a little bashful – maybe they had turned up expecting to win, while Hawick came TO win – but that early try stung them into life with first Richie McIver (presently training with Edinburgh) then sniping scrum half Andy Dymock, scoring tries that with one successful conversion by Jack Steele, put them ahead 12-5 after 15 minutes. Back came Hawick with 3 tries of their own before half-time. First, Graham Hogg, put through a gap by a flat pass from Hutton; then Matt Landells, emerging from a ruck to charge over from 5m, and finally Hutton himself, selling a dummy, then staying strong in the tackle to score just to the right of the posts. With Ali Weir kicking all 3 conversions Hawick led 26-12 at the interval.
Ian Rankin must have delivered his final half-time team talk in the Dundee dressing room to telling effect because within 15 minutes of the restart Dundee had levelled the scores at 26-26 thanks to two penalty tries awarded by Referee Peter Allan, when Hawick simply couldn’t cope with the powerful scrum of the Dundee forwards.
Just as it was looking like they may exert a winning stranglehold on the game, Hutton again waved his wand to change the course of the match to telling effect. Firstly, he set off on a mazy 40 metre run that took him from inside his own half to the within 10m of the try line, where he offloaded to the ever supportive Keith Davies who crashed over for Hawick’s fifth score, and then when Hawick were awarded a penalty just over halfway he stepped up to take over the kicking duties from Weir, and slotted a long penalty against the wind to give a Hawick a 10 point gap. By this stage Hawick had brought the hugely experienced Landells and Keown in an effort to stem the juggernaut Dundee pack, but they lost Rory Scott to the sin bin (who with young Stuart Graham had been tireless in tackling all day) and immediately Dundee hit back with another try, this time from prop Alan Brown. The referee was to award them a third penalty try in the closing minutes, which would have been enough to win them the game, had Ali Weir not stepped up between these two scores to extend Hawick’s lead with another penalty. So it was that we reached the end of the league season with Hawick ecstatically celebrating promotion thanks to a one point win in a 77 point game, and Dundee suffering the agony of relegation, at the end of a long season, which has had plenty of high points for them, notably in the British & Irish cup, and a few narrow losses, which at the death of the season, sent them into this play off.
Hawick will bring a big crowd back to the premiership; Phil Leck, their coach, who was hospitalised and not at this game, will be a good addition to the coaching fraternity in the top league; and Rory Hutton will again grace the minimum standard he should be playing at. Dundee HSFP meanwhile will need to re-group under new coach Colin Robertson, stave off efforts from other Premiership clubs to cherry pick their best players, and seek to keep developing the stream of talent in Caledonia, in an attempt to return to the top flight at the first attempt.
Premiership 1 has been excellent value this season with consistently competitive games, try scoring attack-minded teams, and some seriously under-rated players exhibiting good skills and fitness. All we need now is weather like this on play-off Saturday and we will have a first class product to enjoy.