Selkirk 22, Glasgow Hawks 15

Hawks battle hard for precious points, but Selkirk hold nerve to keep third spot in table

GO JOE! Selkirk number eight Ryan 'Joe' Crockatt bursts on to Fraser Harkness' off-load as the home team launches another attack into Hawks' territory at Philiphaugh on Saturday. Team-mates Sean Crombie, Rory Aglen and Michael McVie get ready to lend support. (Photo: Grant Kinghorn).

WITH freezing fog swirling around Philiphaugh for the duration of Saturday's match, the character of this gutsy Selkirk team nevertheless managed to shine through bright and clear as Neil Darling's players bounced back from the previous weekend's disappointments to register a hard-fought win (and complete the double) over Glasgow Hawks.

The victory not only preserves the Souters' unbeaten home league record, which now stretches back to September 2007, but it keeps Selkirk in third place in Premier One - a remarkable achievement for a side whose chances had been written off by many rugby pundits and commentators prior to the start of the 2008/2009 campaign.

After the match Selkirk coach Kevin Barrie said he was very pleased by the manner in which his players had responded in the aftermath of the defeat at Malleny Park. "I thought a lot of the criticism directed at the players after the Currie game was unfair. I have great faith in the talent and character of this team, and for people to cast aspersions on the players' abilities after one bad result is out of order.

"It's no fluke that we're sitting in third place in Premier One - we're there on merit. We're there because Selkirk's players have worked incredibly hard since the season began to win nine out of their first 13 matches, and that's a huge achievement in anyone's books.

"Hawks came here desperate to build on the momentum generated by their win over West, and it says a lot for our boys that they were able to keep them in check and come away with the win. Selkirk's players deserve respect for their efforts in Premier One this year, and today's victory over Hawks underlines this fact."

Another bumper crowd at Philiphaugh saw Selkirk make a bright start to Saturday's game, but it was the visitors who put the first points on the board when Ian Noble landed a fifth minute penalty after Eddie Gauché had strayed offside. Penetrating runs followed from Fraser Harkness, Scott Hendrie and Sean Crombie as Selkirk battled to get on terms, but a succession of penalties frustrated the home side's efforts to open its account.

The breakthrough came in the 16th minute when Michael McVie picked up from a scrum just outside the visitors' 22 and broke right down the blindside. His pass found Scott Hendrie, with the winger cleverly chipping over the try line before beating Hawks full-back Craig Gossman to the touchdown after the ball took a wicked bounce. McVie's conversion kicked sailed over to put Selkirk 7-3 ahead.

Frustratingly for the home supporters Hawks hit back almost immediately, when yet another offside penalty against Selkirk was sent straight between the posts by Noble. The Glasgow team stepped up a gear after this, wheeling Selkirk's scrum and pinning Souters back on their own try line. Ross Armstrong finally relieved the pressure with a fine line kick, with number eight Ryan Crockatt then combining well with Neil Darling and Fraser Harkness to move the home team back into enemy territory.

After 32 minutes a clever box kick by Hendrie was knocked on by Stevie Gordon, and when Hawks were penalised for offside moments later, McVie stepped up to expertly curl his 35-metre kick just inside the right-hand post. Noble replied in kind on the stroke of halftime, making the interval score 10-9 in Selkirk's favour.

When Callum Johnston retired to the sidelines with a twisted ankle five minutes into the second period, pro. scrum-half Ben Meyer showed his versatility by taking his place at openside. However, the Kiwi found himself back on the touchline shortly afterwards when he was shown a yellow card for a deliberate ruck infringement. Hawks replacement Robbie Hair kicked the resulting penalty to put the visitors 12-10 ahead.

In the 56th minute it looked as though Selkirk had regained the lead after a terrific piece of inter-passing between Gavin Craig and Eddie Gauché pierced the Hawks defence and saw the latter player dive over for what looked a perfectly good score. Referee Robert McKinnon had other ideas, however, ruling Craig's final pass forward.

This setback only seemed to stiffen Selkirk's resolve, and when Hawks' Matt Whittleston was yellow-carded, the home side took full advantage to regain the lead. Rory Aglen's clean line-out take was quickly converted into a rolling maul, and it was Rob Taylor who managed to burrow under a pile of bodies for Selkirk's second try.

Unable to clear their lines cleanly, Selkirk paid the price when Robbie Hair neatly dropped a goal in the 70th minute to level the scores at 15-15. A period of aerial ping-pong ensued as both teams battled to establish territory, but it was McVie who had the decisive say when his superb kick took play inside Hawks' 22.

From the line-out Selkirk won possession, with Neil Darling and Martin Murray both making telling drives towards the visitors' line. When the ball was eventually moved wide, it was that man Harkness who sliced through on the angle before popping a pass inside to Alex Dunbar, with the centre diving over for a great try under the posts to set the seal on a successful comeback appearance. McVie's conversion stretched Selkirk's lead to 22-15.

The final five minutes of the match saw Hawks hammer away at the home team's line with everything bar the kitchen sink. Even with skipper Neil Darling in the sin-bin, 14-man Selkirk courageously withstood the onslaught, a hard-won turnover allowing McVie to boot the ball over the grandstand to end a gripping contest.

SELKIRK - F. Harkness, S. Hendrie, A. Dunbar, R. Armstrong, L. Jones, G. Craig, M. McVie, G. Patterson, S. Crombie, M. Murray, R. Aglen, E. Gauché, N. Darling, C. Johnston, R. Crockatt. Replacements: R. Nixon, B. Meyer, S. Forrest, S. Willet, R. Taylor.

Referee - R. McKinnon (East Kilbride).