DAVID BARNES @ Goldenacre
IT looks as if Murray McCallum might be at the start of a long and exciting career in professional rugby, but during the years ahead it is highly unlikely that he will have an afternoon in the game quite as bizarre as this one, which consisted of: starting at tighthead prop for Heriot’s at 3pm; barrelling over for his team’s first try at 3.03pm; being part of a Heriot’s scrum which was marched back ten metres before conceding a penalty at 3.05pm; being pulled off the pitch at 3.06pm; leaving Goldenacre in his father’s car at 3.08pm – on his way to Murrayfield as a late replacement for Rory Sutherland, who had pulled out of the Edinburgh squad which was taking on Harlequins in the European Challenge Cup with a 3.15pm kick-off.
The 20-year-old came off the bench for the last three minutes of Edinburgh’s 36-35 victory, meaning that he managed a grand total of nine minutes for the day in two different grounds on opposite sides of the city.
“I got a phone call at two minutes past three from Edinburgh saying that they need him at Murrayfield. They told me to chuck him in a taxi. I pointed out that he was playing in a Premiership match, he’s actually just scored, and if I take him off we don’t have another prop to sit on the bench. So I had to go ask Stirling if they were comfortable with the possibility that if another prop goes down then we would have to go uncontested, which wasn’t great. He is under contract [as part of the BT Sport Academy], but the reality is that he had started a game of rugby so it wasn’t a great feeling,” said Phil Smith, the rather bemused Heriot’s head coach.
“Publically, a huge thank you should go out to Phil Smith and Heriot’s. It’s not easy for them and it certainly wasn’t easy for us, but Murray slots in, Allan Dell does fantastic and the guys didn’t really blink about it. Normally on Friday nights we’ve got all the guys here with their boots. It happened to be Saturday 3pm, and everyone’s trying to get rugby,” said Edinburgh coach Duncan Hodge.
This episode may have served as a slight road bump to Heriots’ progress, with hooker Reyner Kennedy grounding the ball after a powerful line-out drive from the visitors, but normal service was soon resumed when Edinburgh pro Cornell du Preez, stand-off Alex Hagart and inside centre John Semple all went over for the rampant hosts as they claimed the bonus point before the half-time.
The home team were playing with confidence and flair. Junior Rasolea, another Edinburgh pro, was a bag of tricks in midfield, and the players around him were all willing accomplices.
Stirling County were holding on for dear life, although they managed a brief assault on the Heriot’s line when Ruairidh Leishman and Craig Pringle combined up the left touchline at one point, but an excellent cover tackle by Andrew Simmers derailed that promising attack.
The game looked sewn up by the break, and that certainly seems to be the attitude adopted by Heriot’s, who were a completely different side after the resumption. From the moment Hagart kicked his restart out on the full it was clear that the hosts had lost their focus.
Stirling were the dominant side for almost all of the rest of the game and showed an admirable willingness to emulate their opponents’ first half example in keeping the ball alive and looking to explore the wide open spaces of Goldenacre – although their accuracy was an issue at times.
They grabbed their second try of the afternoon in the 47th minute when Matt Lamb collected Ross Jones’s flat cross kick and had the pace to evade Harry Boisseau and Hagart on the way to the line, and then scored their third just after the hour mark when 18-year-old Logan Trotter received the ball on the far touchline after several minutes of sustained attack and managed to fend off two defenders on his way to the whitewash.
Heriot’s had an opportunity to slow Stirling’s momentum, but Hagart’s long range penalty didn’t have the legs, and the visitors were soon back pressurising the home team’s line – only to cough up possession with a loose pass or a ruck turnover at the key moment
The final ten minutes were fairly scrappy, with both sides far too loose. Stirling were clearly desperate to snatch another score which would have secured them both a four try and a losing bonus point, while Heriot’s were just not at the races.
“It was a rubbish second half. Absolutely rubbish. The guys have admitted to a bit of complacency because they played some really good stuff in the first half and I think the expectation was just to roll it out again but they didn’t do the core things well enough,” was Smith’s frank assessment.
He might have been frustrated, but with his team having now won three games in a row to cement their position in the top four, life is looking a lot rosier at Goldenacre than it was a month ago.
“We’ve got Watsonians at home next week which should be exciting. We seem to be doing a bit better with players coming back – we were able to rest Struan Dewar today because Cornell [du Preez] was released which was great – and the boys are beginning to get an understanding of what’s going and are gelling much more than they were early season when we threw away a couple of games through naivety. Now it seems like there is a little bit more intelligence in the group,” he agreed.
For Stirling head coach, David Adamson, there was a real sense of frustration that his team came away with nothing after rallying so well after the break.
“Heriot’s didn’t have to work hard for their tries at all in the first half. We just made it really easy for them. Our defensive shape was good but individual errors and our desire to make the tackle cost us,” he said.
“The coaches gave a few technical points but most of the chat at half-time was player led, and the target was to get a bonus point in the second half, which we came close to achieving. At the start of the season we were going into the second half points up and losing from that position and in the last few weeks we’ve come back from behind to win, but 24 points against Heriot’s is almost insurmountable. We could do with becoming an 80 minute team, or even a 60 minute team would help.”
The usually reliable Jonny Hope passed up 12 points for his team with three missed conversions and two wayward penalties, which could have made all the difference – but Adamson pointed out that it would be harsh to lay all the blame at the full-back’s door.
“It would have kept momentum going, and the old cliché about the scoreboard ticking over is true – it starts putting a bit more pressure on opposition – so that did cost us, but there was other things as well, like a few line-outs we would usually expect to score from and a couple of loose passes which also let them off the hook,” he said.
Heriots: G Parker; C Simpson, S Rasolea, J Semple, H Boisseau; A Hagart, A Simmers; M Bouab, G Turner, M McCallum, C Smith, C Marshall, M Maltman, J McLean, C Du Preez. Subs: M Liness, S Cessford, R Nimmo, A Ball, J Rae.
Stirling: J Hope; M Lamb, N Grigg, F Lyle, C Pringle; R Jones, N Kenatale; M MacDonald, R Kennedy, A Nicol, H Burr, C Hunter-Hill©, R Leishman, A Taylor, H Henderson. Subs: M Emmison, C Hutton, S MacDonald, C Turnbull, J Creswell.
Referee: F Brown
Heriot’s: Try: McCallum, Du Preez, Hagart, Semple; Con: Hagart 3; Pen: Hagart.
Stirling: Try: Kennedy, Lamb, Trotter.
Man-of-the-Match: When most of his team-mates fell off the pace in the second-half, Jack McLean kept battling away to secure a number of crucial turnovers to stem the Stirling tide.
Talking point: Should a professional rugby player with 39 international caps for Fiji ever throw two passes as wild as the couple launched by scrum-half Nemia Kenatale in the second half of this match?