STUART BATHGATE @ GOLDENACRE
IN A league where most teams are expected to be of a very similar standard, wins like this can be very precious. Stirling County were behind at half-time, and never ahead by much, but had enough of an edge in key areas of the game that they were able to head home with a bonus point in the bag.
Although the visitors’ vital scores only came in the final quarter after Heriot’s stand-off Stuart Edwards was yellow-carded for a no-arms tackle, it would be unfair to give too much of the credit for their victory to that one decision. Instead, the outcome was largely due to the patience and persistence in attack which eventually produced their fourth try, and to a defence which tightened up considerably in the second half, in which Heriot’s were restricted to just three points.
“We knew it was going to be a tough challenge,” Stirling player/coach Peter Jericevich said. “Heriot’s have definitely improved on the team they had last year, but I’m so proud of the boys today.
“We were disappointed with the tries we gave away in the first half – I thought they were quite soft. We were just shooting out the line, making it too easy for them, so at half-time we talked about keeping our shape in defence, keeping our line, and hopefully they wouldn’t get through.”
For all that County deserved to win, it was still touch and go until the end. Awarded a couple of penalties in a final flurry deep into stoppage time, Heriot’s were perhaps just one pass away from snatching the winning score, and at one point their entire front row were lined up on the right wing hoping to grab their moment of glory.
It would not have been the greatest miscarriage of justice had the home team claimed a last-ditch victory, and they certainly deserved their bonus point for a narrow defeat, but Stirling’s defensive solidity held up when it mattered most. “To keep them to three points in the second half – I’m very happy with that,” Jericevich added. “It’s always difficult to come down to Goldenacre, but I’m happy to kick the season off with five points.”
Although they had been forced into a late reshuffle of their pack when lock Hamilton Burr was called up to be Glasgow Warriors’ 24th man in Connacht, County settled into their stride quickly, and drew first blood in the second minute of a seesaw first half, with Craig Pringle charging down a clearance and putting Bruce Sorbie in on the left. Pringle soon had to go off injured, and Heriot’s were not long in getting back on terms: from a lineout and rolling maul on the left, they switched play to the right, where winger Charlie Simpson managed to outstrip the cover after good work by Ross Jones and Liam Steele.
That pattern of punch and counter-punch from the two teams continued when Kerr Grossman restored Stirling’s lead with an excellent jinking run from midfield after coming into the line, only for Craig Robertson to reply with Heriot’s second try thanks to a bulleted pass from Steele.
Jones and County captain Jonny Hope exchanged penalties, before the last score of the half saw Tom Wilson pick off a loose pass to run in unopposed for a try which Jones converted. That put Heriot’s seven points to the good, and at the break it was reasonable to expect more of the same – a high-scoring contest in which both teams excelled in attack while still displaying defensive deficiencies.
Instead, the energy levels ebbed for a time. Hope narrowed his team’s deficit with his second penalty, and then Ruaridh Leishman won the race to the line after Sorbie had kicked ahead. The score was unconverted, which allowed Jones to put Heriot’s back in front with his own second penalty, but that would be the last time the home team bothered the scoreboard.
When Ross Curle went down under Edwards’s tackle, referee David Sutherland was in no doubt that a sin-binning was the correct sanction. That was with 62 minutes on the clock, and four minutes later the bonus point was secured when County shrewdly made use of the extra man to stretch the Heriot’s defence to breaking point and beyond. Substitute Andrew Grant-Suttie, a back-row forward playing on the wing, was the extra man in the right-hand corner, and while Hope’s failure to convert added to Stirling’s anxiety in the closing stages of the game, the try proved just enough to keep them in front – an outcome that Heriot’s coach Phil Smith conceded the visitors deserved.
“It could have gone either way, but when your set piece isn’t functioning properly you’re not going to win many games,” he said. “Our lineout was poor. I don’t feel we had that much ball to attack with in the second half.
“Even at the end I thought we were going to score. I would have been quite happy with that – I don’t think we would have deserved it.”
Heriot’s: R Jones; C Simpson, L Steele, R Carmichael, C Robertson; S Edwards, T Wilson; M Bouab, M Liness, S Cessford, C Smith, A Sinclair, M Maltman, N Henderson, J McLean. Subs used: H Fraser, R Kay, L Sinclair.
Stirling County: J Hope; B Sorbie, C Pringle, R Curle, K Grossman; L Bonar, P Jericevich; M Macdonald, R Kennedy, G Holborn, C Hunter-Hill, J Pow, L Wynne, C Fusaro, R Leishman. Subs used: G Gilliland, M Emmison, A Grant-Suttie, C Clark.
Heriot’s: Tries: Simpson, Robertson, Wilson. Cons: Jones 2. Pens: Jones 2.
Stirling County: Tries: Sorbie, Grossman, Leishman, Grant-Suttie. Con: Hope. Pens: Hope 2.
Scoring sequence: 0-5, 5-5, 7-5, 7-10, 7-12, 12-12, 15-12, 15-15, 20-15, 22-15 half-time, 22-18, 22-23, 25-23, 25-28.
Yellow card –
Referee: D Sutherland.
Man of the match: In a tight battle up front, Ruaridh Leishman had a big say in tipping the balance in County’s favour.
Talking point: The main question throughout an evenly matched contest was which team would end up on top.