2003/2004: Scottish Premiership One



S. O’Donnell15S. Low
R. Watson14C. Shaw
R. West13A. MacLay
A. Bulloch12S. Duffy
I. Kennedy11S. Gordon
J. Noonan10M. Adamson
S. Cowan9I. Monaghan
R. Nolan1E. Milligan
G. Inglis2F. Thomson
C. Hastie3G. McFadyen
I. Smith4S. Hutton
T. Carmichael5R. Maxton
A. Williamson6N. McKenzie
J. Fitzpatrick7G. Francis
A. Plastow8M. Sitch
G. Walsh16G. Mories
I. Leighton17S. Swindall
A. Scott18R. McKnight
19C. Docherty
Con Adamson
Noonan (3)PenAdamson (4)
Mr R. Dickson (Madras)

The gatekeeper at Braidholm has been keeping gates through three generations of rugby clubs on the south side of Glasgow. With the future of club rugby currently under the closest possible scrutiny, one can but sit up and take notice when he declares that Saturday’s Glasgow derby was played in front of the biggest crowd he has ever let through a turnstile. Frankly, his estimate of 1,000 people seemed on the generous side but there was certainly a decent turn-out – far more than the return fixture at Old Anniesland earlier in the season – and there was no denying the £1,300 GHA took at the gate.

Was it the prospect of a passionate local derby in which a GHA team full of one-time Hawks brought down the high-flying visitors in a feast of flowing rugby which brought them out? Or was it a quiet Saturday with nothing much else to do and a desperate need to get away from the rest of the family at the end of the holiday? Those in the second camp will have been the more likely to feel that they got their money’s worth. If you hadn’t known it had just been Christmas from all the new comedy jumpers and hats on display, you might have guessed from the slightly ring-rusty feel of much of the play. But the scoreline reflected a game that Hawks, for all their superiority, were unable to put away and there was an outside chance that a dogged GHA might break out and pull off another surprise win over fancied opposition, as they had against Aberdeen. At least they got a bonus point which will be welcome in the struggle to stay in the top flight and which, once again, was more than Hawks could manage.

There is a strong suspicion that, instead of raising their game for better opponents, Hawks lower their game against weaker ones. How else to explain a team that runs in over 50 points against Heriot’s but time and again makes heavy weather of beating teams in the lower half of the division? They don’t lose, of course, and their remarkable unbeaten run this season tells its own story. But it has not exactly been a triumphant procession. Dave Wilson, the GHA coach, knew only too well that his team had been well beaten in all but points won. “They put pressure on you all the time, very quickly,” he explained. “We found it very difficult to put together many good phases because they were always on us.” And Peter Wright, while he could hardly complain about being 12 points clear at the top of the premiership, knew too that his team should have done better.

True, a try by flanker turned centre Ally Maclay, called back for a forward pass in the last quarter, should probably have been allowed. But in many ways it was the first quarter which Hawks should look at most closely. For the first 20 minutes they were the only team in it, scarcely allowing GHA a sniff of the ball and playing the game entirely in the opposition’s half. But all they had to show for it was a couple of penalties. By contrast, the first time GHA got into Hawks’ half, itself a result of some lazy tidying up after Hawks had their line-out disrupted, they scored a try. A canny kick ahead, some determined picking and driving close-in and then an impeccably executed cross-kick from fly-half James Noonan allowed left winger Ian Kennedy to plunge over almost unopposed. Had Noonan managed the conversion, GHA would have been ahead and Hawks would have been looking a bit silly. A fine run out of defence by Steve Gordon, who was nabbed in the corner by the two GHA wingers just a couple of metres short, and a push-over by the forwards which they could not ground, typified Hawks’ “nearly-but-not-quite” afternoon until centre Steven Duffy finally took matters in his own hands in the 35th minute. Taking a pass going left in midfield after a ruck, he sized up the options and clearly didn’t think much of them, ran round the back of his forwards and simply ghosted through the remaining defence who were clearly expecting a pass outside which never came. Adamson converted the try and a another penalty leaving Hawks comfortable enough at 16-5 at half-time and more comfortable still after an early penalty in the second half.

But GHA refused to lie down and won penalties from an unconvincing Hawks defence. Even when prop Richie Nolan was yellow-carded for a very late challenge on Colin Shaw after the Hawks winger had chipped ahead, Hawks were unable to press home their advantage. Maclay might have latched onto an interception but dropped the ball in the excitement. Other passes (on both sides) were going behind runners at the crucial moment, being put down, or, worse, simply not being given at all.

It is a measure of how fine the dividing line between success and failure is that GHA have lost three of their last six games by only three points and now this latest match by only five. This result leaves them joint second bottom of the table alongside Currie, who have a game in hand after their home fixture with Boroughmuir was postponed because of an unplayable pitch. It is Peebles who remain the unenviable occupants of last place after going down 22-13 to Ayr.

For anyone to catch Hawks, they will have to start losing – and to be fair it would have been a travesty if they had on Saturday. But if they do, they may yet rue those bonus points which have gone a-begging in games like these.

Source: The Scotsman, The Glasgow Herald & The Daily Telegraph, Monday 5th January 2004

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