Hamilton 22, Selkirk 21

HUNGRY HAMILTON EDGE OUT SELKIRK IN HARD-FOUGHT BATTLE AT LAIGH BENT

LEFT – Skipper Gavin Craig bursts past two Hamilton defenders in Saturday’s National League match at Leigh Bent. Hamilton won the game 22-21. RIGHT – Wing Rory Banks dives over in the corner for Selkirk’s first try.


LEFT – Darren Clapperton hands off Hamilton centre Craig Inglis, watched by Selkirk team-mate Fraser Harkness. RIGHT - Selkirk scrum-half Michael McVie sets another attack in motion at Laigh Bent. [Photos: Grant Kinghorn]



SHOWING seven changes from the side that had lifted the RBS Border Regional Cup the previous weekend, Selkirk’s new-look team was always going to have its work cut out against a Hamilton side desperate to escape the RBS National League drop zone.
Although the visitors put up a battling display, the sending-off of lock Clément Lacour in the final quarter tipped the balance in Hamilton’s favour, with the home pack pressing home their one-man advantage to score the game’s decisive try and secure a vital victory.
The match’s 12.30 kick-off gave the contest a slightly surreal feel, but to their credit both sides soon adjusted to the early start and to the pitch’s wet, slippery surface. In the opening minutes turnover ball won by centre Craig MacDougall allowed Selkirk to gain a foothold outside the home team’s 22, but when Cata Graur was stripped of the ball, Hamilton wing Scott Whitelaw raced straight back up the field.
The ball was eventually chipped towards the Selkirk try line, and Darren Clapperton did well to fly-hack it into touch. At the resultant line-out, Hamilton openside flanker Andy Hill peeled from the rolling maul and dived over in the right-hand corner for the game’s opening try. Owen McLeish’s touchline conversion sailed wide.
Selkirk bounced back from this setback, a quickly taken free kick by Michael McVie allowing John Everitt the chance to drive towards the Hamilton posts. At the ensuing scrum the ball was switched blind to Clapperton, who was forced out of play just short of the corner flag.
With Selkirk’s threequarter line lying too flat, Hamilton capitalised on a loose pass to again launch a counter-attack from deep inside their own half, this time a crunching tackle by James Bett slowing down the home side’s momentum.
A successful penalty by McLeish stretched Hamilton’s lead to 8-0 in the 25th minute, after which Cata Graur left the field with an elbow injury to be replaced by Michael Waldron. Almost immediately Selkirk suffered another injury setback when lock Eddie Turner sustained a painful eye injury and was replaced by Kris Mitchell.
Minutes later Hamilton were awarded a penalty try by referee Kevin White following a scrum infringement, and McLeish’s conversion put Hamilton ahead by a healthy 15-0 margin.
With halftime rapidly approaching, Selkirk’s players finally got their act together to turn the game on its head. Having declined the chance to kick at goal, Gavin Craig’s confidence in his team’s try-scoring ability was rewarded in the 37th minute.
After Selkirk won a scrum on their own 10-metre line, full-back Fraser Harkness broke down the right touchline, drawing the remaining Hamilton defender in textbook fashion to release Rory Banks for a try near the corner. Michael McVie’s superb conversion bisected the posts to cut Hamilton’s lead to 15-7.
Straight from the restart McVie sent a towering garryowen back into Hamilton territory. The ball was spilled by a home player, allowing Darren Clapperton to fly-hack it towards the Hamilton try line, gather and crash over for an opportunist score. McVie’s touchline conversion narrowed Hamilton’s lead to 15-14, putting the Souters right back in the game.
The second half had hardly got under way when Selkirk struck again in remarkably similar fashion. Successive high kicks from Harkness, McVie and Banks kept the Hamilton defence at full stretch, and another spilled ball allowed Clapperton to gather and race under the posts for his second try of the match. McVie converted to put Selkirk ahead for the first time in the contest at 21-15.
Clearly stung by this sudden turnaround, Hamilton’s players proceeded to throw everything in their armoury at the visitors. A succession of scrums and line-outs within Selkirk’s 22 put huge pressure on the visitors’ defence, with Angus Duckett epitomising Selkirk’s resolve by winning turnover ball yards from his own line and powering his way upfield to clear the danger.
The visitors’ inability to send their clearing kicks into touch was adding to the pressure, and Michael Waldron’s yellow-carding in the 57th minute for collapsing a maul only added to Selkirk’s difficulties. Nevertheless the thin blue line somehow held fast thanks to some stuffy defence by Duckett, Ewan MacDougall and Steven Renwick.
At this point Selkirk hooker James Bett and flanker John Everitt were replaced by Stuart Forrest and Matt Robertson, with both newcomers having to make rapid adjustments to the pace of the game as Hamilton’s forwards began to work up a head of steam.
The game’s turning point came in the 67th minute, when Selkirk lock Clément Lacour was shown a red card by the referee following an altercation under the shadow of the visitors’ posts. Six minutes later, after relentless pressure, Hamilton’s forwards launched a rolling maul towards the Selkirk try line, resulting in a second touchdown for openside Andy Hill.
With Selkirk still leading by a single point, Hamilton fly-half Owen McLeish held his nerve to send the touchline conversion over the bar and put his side 22-21 ahead.
The remainder of the game was played out in the visitors’ half, during which time the seven-man Selkirk pack conceded successive strikes against the head. However, although Hamilton were awarded a barrow-load of penalties (the second half count was 11-3 in the home side’s favour), Selkirk’s defence refused to buckle - Angus Duckett securing yet another turnover just as it looked as though Hamilton would score their fourth try.
The relief of the vociferous home supporters at the final whistle was palpable, as the Laigh Bent team took another step towards RBS National League safety.

HAMILTON: D. Sutherland, S. Whitelaw, C. Inglis, D. Lopez, R. Inglis, O. McLeish, S. Turnbull, C. McLaughlin, D. McGrath, C. Hunter, R. Maxton, C. McGeough, K. Brown, A. Hill. J. Selfridge.

SELKIRK: F. Harkness, R. Banks, M. Rutherford, C. MacDougall, D. Clapperton, G. Craig, M. McVie, S. Renwick, J. Bett, C. Graur, C. Lacour, E. Turner, J. Everitt, A. Duckett, E. MacDougall. Reps: C. McColm, S. Forrest , M. Waldron, M. Robertson, K. Mitchell.

Referee – Kevin White.