COLIN RENTON @ Myreside
WATSONIANS moved into the top four of the Tennent’s Premiership – although it may be temporary depending on how Currie Chieftains get on at home to Ayr this (Saturday) afternoon – when they saw off Edinburgh rivals Heriot’s in a hard-fought encounter under the Myreside lights. The hosts have now posted four successive wins. For Heriot’s, the result is damaging to their hopes of securing a home play-off berth. However, they generated plenty of possession and delivered a performance that would probably have beaten many other sides in the league.
Neither side has consistently fired on all cylinders so far this season and once again they failed to click. The home side produced intermittent bursts of the open rugby they are seeking, but it was a tremendous defensive effort, particularly in the first half, that proved to be the foundation on which the win was constructed. And there was a similar effort from the visitors, the difference being that they failed to capitalise on scoring opportunities that came their way.
The game started at a frantic pace and there was an indication of how physical it would be when Josh Scott delivered a bone-rattling tackle on Watsonians full-back Josh Rowland that stopped the home full back in his tracks.
Heriot’s looked more lively with ball in hand. However, the hosts defended comfortably in the middle of the pitch and their first attack of note yielded a penalty that Lee Millar – captain for the night – clipped over to give Watsonians the lead.
The visitors responded with a spell of pressure and it was a sign of their ambition that they twice had penalties within the range of Ross Jones but opted to kick for touch rather than go for the posts.
Heriot’s had 20 minutes in the ascendancy without breaking through, despite the lively running of half-backs Alex Ball and Dom Martin. And they paid the price for failing to open their account when, on a rare attack, Watsonians created a solid platform and Nathan Fowles flung a long pass back to Millar, who was ideally positioned to land a drop goal.
The home stand off had a chance to extend the lead further with a long-range penalty after half an hour, but his kick drifted just wide of the target.
The hosts then applied incessant pressure for the remainder of the half and a score looked inevitable. However, a well-drilled Heriot’s defence held firm and forced an error. Ruaridh Leishman pounced to pinch the turnover for the visitors who reached the interval without conceding further points.
Watsonians made the better start to the second half and after failing to break through by moving the ball wide, they took the direct route and a powerful drive blasted a way through the Heriot’s defence, allowing Jack Stanley to touch down. Millar converted then added a further penalty to extend the lead to 16 points.
With only 12 minutes left on the clock, that was effectively that. Heriot’s were clearly determined not to be ‘nilled’ and finished strongly. Again the Watsonians defence held firm, although they had two men yellow-carded in the closing stages.
The ferocity of the Watsonians defence was evidence of their determination to keep a clean sheet. However, they were foiled in that respect when, in the final play of the game, Martin fired over a well-weighted cross kick that Craig Robertson plucked from the air for a consolation score.
“It was a big defensive effort. We needed to win that so it was important. We showed a lot of character. I thought we were quite smart in how we played,” said Watsonians coach Steve Lawrie. “Lee kicking the goals was important. It could have gone either way – tight margins – but we came out on top and that was important.”
In the away camp, Phil Smith come scarcely hide his frustration.
“You are not going to win a game if you keep giving the ball away,” he said. “We couldn’t build pressure [because] we didn’t keep the ball long enough. Watsonians, defensively, were excellent. The reality was that both defences were very good and it became a bit of a borefest for the neutral. But defences loosen up when you put them under pressure on the scoreboard and we just didn’t do that.”
Of the damage the result has done to the bid for a top two finish, he added: “We still have good games ahead to pick up the points required. It’s just a frustrating night. We felt as if we were organised pretty well this week and we just didn’t get the outcome we wanted.”
Watsonians: J Rowland; A Guthrie, R Hutton, D Innes, L MacPherson; L Millar©, N Fowles; G Jackson, R Graham, J Stanley, C McKill, C Borthwick, J Miller, C Boyle, M Fedo. Subs: F Renwick, F Hobbis, G Nelson, M Scott, P Cunningham.
Heriot’s: C Simpson; J Blain, R Jones, R Kay, C Robertson; D Martin, A Ball; J Scott, A Johnstone, S Cessford, R Leishman, A Sinclair, I Wilson©, J McLean, C Marshall. Subs: M Liness, M Bouab, C Jupp, A Simmers, D Steele.
Referee: R Campbell
Watsonians: Try: Stanley; Con: Millar; Penalties: Millar 2; DGl: Millar
Heriot’s: Try: Robertson
Scoring sequence (Watsonians first): 3-0; 6-0 (h-t), 11-0; 13-0; 16-0; 16-5.
Yellow Cards –
Watsonians: Graham, Hutton
Man-of-the-Match: Jack Stanley was impressive but he was just pipped by youngster Lomond MacPherson, who showed up well on his debut with elusive running that posed a constant threat to the Heriot’s defence.
Talking point: Two Friday night matches at Myreside this season have produced good crowds and a unique atmosphere – definitely something worth repeating.