STUART BATHGATE @ Goldenacre
AFTER losing their first two league matches, Heriot’s are now back in familiar surroundings – the play-off places in the Premiership. If they were a shade fortunate to end up on the winning side against Glasgow Hawks last week, there was nothing lucky about this crushing defeat of Hawick, who looked a sorry, disorganised bunch for much of a one-sided contest.
Heriot’s were fitter, faster, sharper and stronger than their visitors, whose defence was shredded more easily than a Peking duck time after time. The try bonus was in the bag after half an hour, the final try count was 12-1, and Hawick only avoided a bigger drubbing than last season’s record 78-13 loss to Hawks thanks to some inaccurate conversion attempts from home full-back Ross Jones.
While Heriot’s have obviously improved over the past couple of weeks, it was hard to quantify that improvement, given just how poor Hawick were. Head coach Phil Smith was clearly very happy with the result and with many aspects of his team’s play, but he was also frustrated in a sense by just how easy his team found it to score tries.
“We had some good bits, but it was all very much open-play stuff,” Smith said. “I didn’t feel as if we constructed many tries – it was turnover, couple of phases, score, rather than us saying ‘Right, this is how to create a score’.
“Which is good, in that it means for next week we’re going to have to work on some of the parts of the game that were just pretty poor. There were too many errors that just shouldn’t happen. I don’t want to be silly about it, but you’ve got to say if we can actually add to the really good stuff, and make the average stuff a bit tighter, we’ll become quite a good team.”
Defence had been the key in the topsy-turvy victory in Glasgow last week, but here the essential element was persistence in attack. Keep going forward long enough, Heriot’s knew, and sooner or later – usually sooner – Hawick would make a costly mistake.
The first try came after just three minutes, when back-row forward Michael Maltman picked up a loose ball from the base of the ruck and sprinted home wholly unopposed from 25 metres out. If the concession of that try could be attributed to a mishap, the second, which followed five minutes later, was down to the porousness of Hawick’s midfield defence. Once the initial breach was made, Heriot’s found it simple to complete the move in the right corner, with the scoring pass coming from Ross Jones to Robbie Mulveena right corner.
The signs were already ominous for Hawick, and they soon fell further behind after a big break up the right from No 8 Martin Hughes. Play was swiftly switched left, where Jones again came in as the extra man and laid on the scoring pass for Craig Robertson.
Hawick enjoyed a fair amount of ball in the middle period of the half, but were perhaps ill-advised when they sent two kickable penalties to touch. At that stage, getting on the scoreboard was surely the priority, something they failed to achieve from either lineout. When Hawick centre Dom Buckley was yellow-carded for an offence close to his own line, Heriot’s laid on a demonstration of how to score from a penalty kicked to touch, driving a maul which ended with Tom Wilson touching down.
That gave the home team the bonus point, and matters did not improve for Hawick between then and half-time. An attempted clearance from behind their own line was charged down then touched down by substitute Jack Turley for Heriot’s fifth try, and then a couple of minutes later the same player made it six, swan-diving delightedly over the line after some trickery from Mulveena had cut the visiting defence open.
Buckley’s return did nothing to stop the rot, as on the brink of half-time Struan Cessford scored from close-range off second-phase ball after another penalty was kicked to touch.
Hawick fared a little better in the second half, conceding only 27 points and getting on the scoreboard themselves. But the improvement, if that is what it could be called, was only from the abysmal to the abject, and they owed a lot to Heriot’s losing their cutting edge.
Robertson got the first score of the second half two minutes after the restart, touching down in the left corner try as yet again the Hawick defence was found wanting in the basics. More solid work in midfield laid then on the next score for substitute Alex Ball, and that took Heriot’s past the half-century.
Hawick got off the mark at last after an hour when Lee Armstrong intercepted on Heriot’s 10-metre line and touched down between the posts, and, while it was a fortuitous score, the centre deserved it for having remained the most competitive, defiant and diligent member of his team. Heriot’s soon hit back, however, and Turley, making a triumphant return to the side after a year in England, completed his hat-trick when another penalty was kicked to touch and Hawick had no answer to the lineout drive.
Charlie Simpson got the next one, skipping clear of a despairing tackle by Hawick scrum-half Gary Munro to touch down in the right corner, and then Wilson got his second to complete the try-scoring after some more half-hearted tackles. With Jones off the field, the try-scorer added the two points himself to make it a round 70.
“Jack Turley’s input was absolutely unbelievable,” Smith added. “He brings more than his rugby, though – he brings a lot of composure and direction to the team. The first couple of weeks we just hadn’t had a good enough pre-season to be as strong as we should have been.”
The next challenge for Heriot’s comes on Friday night at Myreside, when Smith is up against his former assistant Stevie Lawrie, who is now in charge of Watsonians. “It’s something different under lights, and we hope we can get a decent crowd. It will be interesting. He had to be a head coach, it was in his make-up, and I think he will be looking to dominate long parts of the game.”
Heriot’s will clearly go into that match with their morale at a high, whereas Hawick, still winless after four fixtures, make the difficult journey to Hawks. George Graham, newly appointed assistant coach at Mansfield Park, has his work cut out as he tries to restore some structure and solidity to his new team.
Heriot’s: R Jones; C Simpson, R Mulveena, R Carmichael, C Robertson; S Edwards, T Wilson; M Bouab, M Liness, S Cessford, C Marshall, A Sinclair, M Maltman, J McLean, M Hughes. Substitutes used: J Turley, L Sinclair, R Kay, A Ball, J Ward.
Hawick: A Weir; G Johnstone, L Armstrong, D Buckley, L Ferguson; K Brunton, G Munro; S Muir, M Carryer, K Bryce, C Hamilton, D Redpath, G Graham, S Graham, B McNeil. Substitutes used: N Little, R Gibson, G Welsh, F Renwick, D Lowrie.
Scorers: Heriot’s: Tries: Maltman, Mulveena, Robertson 2, Wilson 2, Turley 3, Cessford, Ball, Simpson. Cons: Jones 4, Wilson.
Hawick: Try: Armstrong. Con: Weir.
Scoring sequence: 5-0, 7-0, 12-0,17-0, 22-0, 24-0, 29-0, 34-0, 36-0, 41-0, 43-0 (H-T) 48-0, 53-0, 53-5, 53-7, 58-7, 63-7, 68-7, 70-7.
Yellow card: Hawick: Buckley.
Referee: L Linton.
Man of the match: Back-row forward Jack Turley returned to Heriot’s after a year away and scored a hat-trick after coming off the bench.
Talking point: Having now got a couple of wins under their belt, can Heriot’s find real consistency and go on to mount a sustained challenge for a play-off place?