COLIN RENTON @ Goldenacre
A PENALTY TRY deep into injury time in a superb encounter gave Heriot’s a deserved win and all five league points after they appeared to have blown it. Watsonians showed plenty of character to bounce back from a lacklustre first-half effort with a stunning second-half performance that gave them what looked like a winning lead. But they came up just short on their game management and were left with only a narrow-defeat bonus point for their efforts.
“It was a fantastic game of rugby for a neutral – both teams really going at it and bringing a lot of entertainment for a good crowd,” said home coach Phil Smith. “The boys worked out that, at that time in the game, they just had to tighten up a wee bit and stop being silly.”
In the away camp, Smith’s counterpart Steve Lawrie was quick to admit that lessons will be learned from the performance, saying: “We had a very heavy penalty count in the whole game. You’ve got to be disciplined. It’s disappointing and there is a bit of learning around how we close the game out. We will get better.”
A well-attended pre-match lunch ended with a Q&A session featuring Heriot’s director of rugby Neil Meikle and his Watsonians counterpart Chris Hunter. The duo confirmed their enthusiasm for the Super 6 project as a pathway to professional rugby and were particularly positive about the prospect of cross-border matches against Welsh clubs.
Several questions from the audience reflected the general uncertainty over where players will be recruited, and the thorny subject of player payments for those involved in Super 6 and those remaining amateur. There was also some chat about facilities and fixture lists, but it is evident that much of what will happen remains a work in progress.
The overall tone was generally upbeat and it is clear that both clubs are relishing the opportunity to be involved when the new competition is initiated next season. However, it is difficult to see how the entertainment under the new banner will better what has been in evidence over the first two rounds of the Tennent’s Premiership.
When it came to matters on the field, Heriot’s had the better of the opening exchanges and deservedly took the lead in nine minutes when Craig Robertson made the initial dent down the right flank and sparked a move that included slick handling, a ricochet from a Watsonians man and three simple passes that sent Jack Blain in at the right-hand corner. Ross Jones banged over the conversion.
The hosts continued to dominate but failed to add to their points tally until the 25th minute when Dom Martin picked out Robertson with an exquisite chip, allowing the winger to race in for try number two. Jones again added the extras.
The momentum remained firmly with the home side and a sniping run by Andrew Simmers preceded a Martin Bouab surge over the line, but Craig Borthwick played a captain’s part as he held the ball up.
A five-metre scrum offered a glimpse of the power in the home pack. However, as they shunted the Watsonians back over the line, with Simmers poised to pounce, the referee blew for another penalty. An offence at the next scrum led to a yellow card for Nathan Borel and the next set piece ended with Borthwick making a last-ditch tackle on Martin.
Another score was inevitable and it came a minute before the break when another scrum saw the visitors driven backwards – this time the official had had enough and he awarded a penalty try.
Having defended heroically but failed to piece together any move of note, Watsonians ended the half with a flourish. Ewan Fox darted deep into opposition territory and, although he was collared as he attempted to offload, he was on hand a couple of phases later to fire out a long pass that was gathered by Josh Rowland, allowing the Irish sevens international to dot down. Lee Millar’s conversion left a deficit of only 14 points at the interval.
Having grabbed that lifeline at a vital point in the match, Watsonians came out firing after the restart. Millar banged over a straightforward penalty to edge his side three points closer.
Heriot’s steadied things with another spell in the ascendancy that proved fruitless, and Watsonians regained the initiative just before the hour mark when Angus Guthrie sprinted in at the corner. Millar’s conversion crept over, leaving the gap at four points.
The tide had turned and Millar spurned a kickable penalty, opting to go for touch. Jamie Hodgson caught the resulting lineout and when the ball was switched to the opposite wing, Charlie Simpson was deemed to have knocked on deliberately and was despatched to the sin-bin. With the next move, the visitors snatched the lead. A drive by the forwards splintered the home defence and from the heap of bodies, it was Jack Stanley who emerged last. Millar’s sweetly struck conversion left the Myreside men three points clear.
The hosts were not yet ready to surrender the bragging rights to their city rivals and a series of penalties carried play deep into the opposition half. Borthwick was yellow- carded for his part in that mounting tally and with the clock ticking past the 90-minute mark another powerful surge was halted illegally and the referee awarded the home side a second penalty try of the afternoon, giving them the victory.
Heriot’s: C Simpson; J Blain, R Jones, R Kay, C Robertson; D Martin, A Simmers; M Bouab, M Liness, S Cessford, C Jupp, A Sinclair, R Leishman, I Wilson, J Hill. Subs: A Johnstone, J Scott, F Munro, A Ball, D Steele.
Watsonians: J Rowland; R Steele, A Guthrie, L Millar, S McLeod; E Fox, A Harris; N Borel, R Graham, J Stanley, J Hodgson, C Borthwick, G Nelson, C Boyle, J Miller. Subs: F Renwick, F Hobbis, F Simpson, N Fowles, P Cunningham.
Referee: S Grove-White.
Heriot’s: Tries: Blain, Robertson, two penalty tries; Cons: Jones 2.
Watsonians; Tries: Rowland, Guthrie, Stanley; Cons: Millar 3; Pen: Millar.
Scoring sequence (Heriot’s first): 5-0, 7-0, 12-0, 14-0, 21-0, 21-5, 21-7 (h-t) 21-10, 21-15, 21-17, 21-22, 21-24, 28-24.
Yellow cards –
Watsonians: Borel, Borthwick.
Man of the match: For his leadership, work-rate and decision making, home skipper Iain Wilson emerged with immense credit.
Talking point: A decent-sized crowd, suggesting that, while the talk about Super 6 may have divided opinion, it appears to have sparked some interest among Edinburgh’s rugby-watching public.