HERIOT’S will face Ayrshire Bulls on Friday to decide the destination of the FOSROC Super Series Sprint trophy after bouncing back from a lethargic first half to exhibit the energy and pace that has been their trademark this season. The same could be said of their opponents, although the visitors left it too late to play their best rugby and were left ruing an under-par performance.
The requirement was straightforward – a win for either side would secure a top-two placing and confirm that both are well on the way to becoming genuine challengers for silverware. In the event, a poor first half meant that, somewhat aptly, it became a sprint for the win, and it was the home side that achieved the success.
“The occasion probably got to both teams, with so much on the line,”suggested Heriot’s coach Ben Cairns. “I thought the first 40 minutes was pretty dreadful from both sides – no one really got going. Then we had a good 15-minute spell after half-time. I’m proud of the way the boys got through the first half when it was a bit sticky, then turned it around in the second half.”
There were, he insisted, no harsh words at the interval. “We told them to calm down and try to stick to some of the plans we had put in place before the game. We were seeing spaces, but weren’t staying on script that well.”
Heriot’s will now travel to Millbrae, keen to underline their progress. “We talked all week about the chance to make history and reach our first final,” Cairns added. “We now want to go and do ourselves justice. We were down there last weekend so we know what it takes to go there and put in a performance.”
There was understandable disappointment in the Wolves camp, with Eddie Pollock conceding that his men had failed to reproduce some of the sparkling form they have shown so far in the competition.
“We didn’t perform very well, that’s the worst we’ve played. We didn’t do all the things we talked about doing and we put ourselves under pressure,” he admitted. “We coughed up a couple of really easy scores. That gave them momentum. In the middle period of the second half, they played pretty well and they definitely deserved to win.
“We’ve made progress, we’ve won three out of six games and we’ve been close in the other three. Competitively, we have improved, but the big learning for us is how to turn some of these close losses into wins, and to win every week.”
The opening quarter was punctuated by two lengthy stoppages, and was notable only for the inability of either side to construct an attack of any note.
It was injury time at the end of a turgid first period before the scoreboard operator was roused into action. The score was a well-worked effort, with Glenn Bryce involved in the build-up and Wolves skipper Marcus Holden taking the recycled ball and launching an immaculate cross-kick that picked out Logan Jarvie, who dotted down in the corner. Holden banged over the conversion.
By half-time, Heriot’s were level after Grant Hughes was alert to an opportunity that came his way, pouncing on a loose ball and scampering over from 35 metres to leave Houston a simple conversion that concluded the first-half scoring.
The hosts made a lively restart and their early pressure paid off when Charlie Jupp secured lineout ball and a multi-phase effort ended with Lewis Wells going over in the opposite corner for an unconverted score.
And the gap grew in 53 minutes when Heriot’s stretched the opposing defence before a clever pass from Houston sent Callum Anderson crashing over between the sticks to leave the try’s creator with a simple task to add the extras.
Wolves wasted two scoring opportunities, and the hosts capitalised on those missed chances after an hour. Wells raced through and when he was halted a few metres short of the target, the ball was fed to Euan McLaren, who ran a perfect line to blast his way over for the bonus-point try, which was converted by Houston.
Wolves looked down and out, but they were not yet ready to concede and they clawed back five points when Callum Norrie drove over after a close-range lineout. However, the visitors had left it too late and a last-minute touchdown by Jake Spurway, converted by Holden, yielded a bonus point that was little consolation.
Heriot’s: D King; M Gray (J Couper 69), G Hughes ©, A Boyle, L Wells; B Houston (R Jones 69), E McAra (C Jones 40); J Scott (S Cessford 49), M Liness (C Fenton 54), E McLaren (C Ramsay 62), C Jupp, R Seydak, C Cobbett (A McCallum 62), S Wallace (L McGrigor 77), C Anderson.
Stirling Wolves: G Bryce; L Jarvie (G Smith 71), B Salmon, M Holden ©, M Heron; C Jackson (C Jardine 42), K McGhie (F Burgess 54); G Breese (A Woods 69), G Hiddleston (R Kennedy 50), M Tamosaitis (C Norrie 59), H Ferguson, J Pow, R Knott (J Spurway 59), C Gordon (S Macdonald 69), B Grant.
Referee: Jonny Perriam.
Heriot’s: Tries: Hughes, Wells, Anderson, McLaren; Cons: Houston 3.
Stirling Wolves: Tries: Jarvie, Norrie, Spurway; Cons: Holden 2.
Scoring sequence (Heriot’s firsy_ :0-5, 0-7, 5-7, 7-7 (h-t) 12-7, 17-7, 19-7, 24-7, 26-7, 26-12, 26-17, 26-19.
Man-of-the-match: There were solid performers on both sides, with Glenn Bryce and Benedict Grant showing up well for Wolves, while the Heriot’s second-row pairing of Charlie Jupp and Ronan Seydak, but the top man was home captain Grant Hughes, for a big contribution in attack and defence, as well as the first of his side’s four tries.
Talking point: Two sides that have made massive strides this season delivered a first half that is best forgotten, but both showed enough in the second period to suggest that they are shaping up to challenge the teams that have been at the top since the inception of the super-rugby format.