Morpeth Colts 27 Hawick Colts 16
MORPETH Colts faced an unfamiliar test on an unpredictably warm Saturday afternoon as they welcomed Scottish outfit Hawick for the first round of the Borders Cup.
With the sun out, it was the hosts who started the brightest, gathering the kick-off and immediately stringing several phases together.
The Hawick defence looked vulnerable out wide against the pace of Tait and Stewart, which fly-half Telford exploited before scrum-half Jack Elliot dived over for the first try. The conversion was missed for a 5-0 lead.
This seemed to spark the visitors into action, however, as their pressure told on the Morpeth defence when they conceded a penalty for indiscipline at the ruck. The three points were slotted to reduce the deficit and make it 5-3 after five minutes.
Despite Morpeth having much of the possession and territory, it was the away side that got the next score.
The home defence kept it tight around the fringes and were strong in midfield but they couldn’t prevent the Hawick forwards from eventually bundling over. The extras were missed but they took a 5-8 lead.
The away side then won another penalty 35 metres out as Morpeth were again frustrated by a lack of discipline. The Hawick fly-half had a speculative shot at goal, but he didn’t struggle with the distance as the ball dissected the posts for a 5-11 lead.
The breakdown was always going to be where the game would be won and lost against this strong rucking side. The impressive back-row unit of Donnelly, Ward and Lyall dominated their Scottish counterparts to spoil opposition ball and help maintain fast ball in attack.
Yet another Morpeth attack broke into the opposition 22. However, not for the first time they lacked the required final incision.
When the Hawick defence was caught offside, Telford gladly accepted the opportunity to slot the three points from straight in front. The match had an evenly-contested 8-11 scoreline at half-time.
Morpeth blasted straight out of the blocks in the second half, with the impressive centre Callum Duncan powerfully carrying over the gain line with ease and regularity.
But it was Hawick who scored against the momentum as a powerful run from their centre broke the defensive line and he had a free run in to score from 30 metres out. The extras were missed for a 8-16 lead.
Those were to be the last points of the afternoon for the visitors though as the home side significantly upped their game and began to show why their winning record has been so impressive of late.
Fly-half Telford continued to pull the strings, with an effective kicking game allowing the team to play in the right areas of the pitch.
From quick hands, Brent Stewart then evaded two tackles as he surged down the right-wing, fittingly ending the attack a few phases later as he scored in the right corner. The tough conversion was missed, the deficit reduced to 13-16.
Morpeth now had the lion’s share of possession and unstoppable momentum. The forwards set a firm base for half-backs Elliot and Telford to give the back-line the quick ball and space they have seized upon for much of the season.
Centre Duncan broke the line once again on the hour-mark to score under the posts, with Telford adding the extras to regain the lead at 20-16.
Morpeth’s robust defence and supremacy at the breakdown was summed up by an excellent turnover from prop Ian Grieve to thwart an attack from the visitors.
The Hawick challenge was then effectively ended with 10 minutes to go when their flanker was sin-binned for an irrational knee to the face in full view of the referee.
Wing Stewart then capped a fine team performance as his pace was too hot to handle for the visiting defence as a scything run off an excellent move in the centre allowed him to score to the left of the posts. Telford added a well-deserved conversion (27-16).
Despite all the hard work taking its toll on some players under the warm winter sun, the Morpeth side battled with unyielding attrition to hold on until the final whistle.
This hard-fought victory means they now have a Borders Cup quarter-final to look forward to on Saturday and they’ll certainly be hoping to emulate this performance and make further progress in the competition.
Man-of-the-match went to scrum-half Jack Elliott, who tackled well above his weight and was a constant thorn in the opposition’s side. Special mention should also be made of Dan Lyall, who has continued to improve his game over recent weeks and run himself into the ground for the Morpeth cause.