Stirling Wolves 31
HERIOT’S finished a game they had under control for large spells hanging on by their fingernails, and only an intense defensive effort on their line and Stirling profligacy secured this narrow victory.
The hosts opened both halves with a brace of maul tries, and with stand-off Bruce Houston pinging fine kicks deep into the Wolves’ half, the visitors endured a frustrating afternoon of phases and phases of hard work being snuffed out and finding themselves sent back to their 22 to start again. But when they held on to possession more effectively Stirling showed grit and no little skill to bring the scores back to three points at half-time and again with five minutes of the game remaining. And the chance was there to win it at the death but Heriot’s did just enough to keep them out.
Head coach Ben Cairns, who swapped Stirling for Goldenacre this year, paid tribute to his side’s steely resolve, and the defensive mindset honed by his assistant and fellow former Scotland player John Hardie. “Our plan was on point for the first 15 minutes – we played in the right areas, showed control in attack and our defence was good,” said Cairns. “But then we fell off it massively in that middle third and put ourselves in a hole. But we managed to dig ourselves out.
“At the end we defended well to keep them out, with massive heart and effort, and the boys are frustrated because we expect more, but at the same time we talk about enjoying every win. It’s hard to win games at this level so we’ll enjoy this.”
Inevitably, Stirling’s experienced head coach Eddie Pollock was less sanguine, biting his lip as he said: “There is a fantastic work ethic, you can see that, but we are still just making too many mistakes at crucial times.
“We didn’t start well but we did well to come back and get it close at half-time, and in the second half after a bad start we played very well and fought back with some very good plays, and had about three chances to score in that last play.
“We have played the two finalists in the sprint and lost by two to Ayr and three today, so there are a lot of good things happening, but we have to look at ourselves and move on to that next step in our journey, and turn these close things into wins.”
There was little to disagree with from the coaches’ summations, and it made for an entertaining match on a sunny Edinburgh evening. Heriot’s opened the scoring after just eight minutes with skipper Cammy Fenton starting the series of maul tries, but the opportunity owed everything to slick hands from Grant Hughes, who sent his centre partner Matt Davidson scything into the Wolves’ 22.
With the packs enjoying a good set piece and a feisty turnover battle, the Wolves worked tirelessly to stay in the game. But Houston kept them penned in their half and while Stirling repelled another maul, Heriot’s moved ball swiftly left where wing Lewis Wells jinked his way through two tackles and stretched a long arm to the line.
Successive penalties for ruck infringement and offside finally handed the Wolves a platform to score their first try, and No 8 Ed Hasdell sniffed out a gap to dive over, Marcus Holden converting.
The seven-point gap lasted just four minutes, as Houston slotted an easy penalty in front of the posts, before the Wolves started to hold onto ball better. Wing Mikey Heron was first denied in the right corner, just failing to get downward pressure on a crossfield kick from stand-off Craig Jackson, but play came back for a penalty, and the familiar lineout maul finished with lively Wolves hooker Gregor Hiddleston touching down. Holden converted from well out on the left to send the teams inside at the break with Heriot’s early dominance reduced to just three points.
Heriot’s had lost captain Fenton and then Ruairidh Leishman, the former Stirling player, by that stage, but two more lineout mauls early in the second half finished in tries for scrum-half Sinjin Broad and skipper Iain Wilson to reclaim command, with a Holden penalty seeming a paltry response for Stirling.
However, with the visiting pack taking on the Heriot’s eight and scrum-half Eric Davey and centres Ryan Southern and Holden continuing to ask questions with strong and mazy running, Stirling produced a fine attack over halfway and this time finished off with wing Ross McKnight drawing defenders on the left wing before slipping a pass to Davey, who picked a perfect line infield towards the posts. Holden converted and the gap was back to five points.
Replacement back-row Ben Smith seemed to have snuffed out the Wolves fightback with a well-worked try after good Heriot’s continuity, but the Wolves were not finished and another Hasdell try off a scrum penalty and Holden conversion cut the gap to three points. Stirling laid siege to the home line for the final five minutes and teed up a dramatic win, but too many players put the head down and charged into Heriot’s bodies when overlaps were on, Hiddleston the worst offender, and the hosts held on for victory.
Heriot’s Rugby: Tries: Fenton, Wells, Broad, Wilson, Smith; Cons: Houston 3; Pen: Houston.
Stirling Wolves: Tries: Hasdell 2, Hiddleston, Davey; Cons: Holden 4; Pen: Holden.
Scoring sequence (Heriot’s first): 7-0, 14-0, 14-7, 17-7, 17-14 (h-t) 24-14, 24-17, 29-17, 29-24, 34-24, 34-31.