Head coach: Phil Smith
Current league position: 4th
The story so far:
An opening day defeat at home to Stirling County followed by another loss away to newly promoted Marr was an inauspicious start to the season, but Heriot’s recovered from those set-backs to claim four league wins on the bounce and edge back into the play-off race.
But then defeats to Ayr away and Melrose at home reinforced the impression that this team is still a work in progress.
They have, however, managed to pick up impressive victories on the road to play-off rivals Currie Chieftains and Stirling County, which leaves Heriot’s well poised in fourth place for a charge down the home straight.
Former captain Jack Turley, who returned north during the summer after a year in England, has been something of a talisman for the Goldenacre side despite being involved in only six out of ten games so far. He has scored ten tries, including two-hat-tricks, to reach joint second in the try-charts for this Premiership campaign.
Heriot’s are second in the overall try-scoring table, with 43 (heavily boosted by the 12 picked up against hapless Hawick in Round 4) – but are still a long way behind leaders Melrose with 64.
Discipline has been good, with only four yellow-cards picked up so far – which is less than any other club in the competition.
Coach’s comments –
Rate your season so far:
I would rate us 6.5 out of 10, based on the fact that we didn’t start well. In the first couple of games, we just didn’t see it out; then we built some good momentum; before another wee lapse against Ayr; but now we are back on the right track and there is definitely a feeling that we are really beginning to find our groove.
Rate your coaching so far:
I’d have to give myself, and the rest of the coaching team, 6.5 out of 10 as well, because what we do has to reflect how the team does – we’re all in it together.
Bruce Douglas has taken over from Stevie Lawrie as forwards coach and the players have had to adjust. They are very similar in terms of their knowledge of the game and the respect they command, but Stevie was a bit more in their faces, whereas Bruce is trying to set pictures for the players to react to.
We also tried to structure pre-season a bit differently this year which didn’t really work, and we’ve had a few injuries here and there, but now we hope that we’ve got past all that and we’re ready to have a real crack during the second half of the season.
Most important player:
Jack Turley would be the obvious choice with his ten tries in five-and-a-half games, but I’d say Struan Cessford because once again he is the leading tight-head in his work-rate and his set-piece. He doesn’t speak much but his contribution to games every single week is massive.
We are able to play Jack [Turley] and Callum Marshall as essentially back-row players in the second-row because of the solidity Struan provides at the scrum.
Most improved player:
Robbie Mulveena came over to play from New Zealand in the middle of last season and we hardly saw him because he had injured his ribs, so we were at the point of saying to him that we would understand if he decided just to jack it in and head home, because neither the player nor the club were getting much out of it. But I had seen something in the little rugby we did get from him which made me believe that there was a player in there, so I pushed for him to stay on, and he’s proving me right – thankfully – in a big way.
Martin Hughes is worth mentioning, too. He’s an under-20s player and smashing it every week – keeping some pretty experienced back-rowers out the team.
Saturday against Stirling County. There has undoubtedly been a momentum shift since the Ayr game three weeks ago. There is real intent at training, even a hint that they are enjoying it, and it just feels like we are rolling in the right direction.
There is obviously a determination and an ambition that we want to win the league, so we knew that Currie Chieftains and Stirling County during the last fortnight were massive games in terms of making the play-offs, and the boys were absolutely fantastic. Even when we lost at Melrose the week after the Ayr game we played quite well.
There’s been a few – but probably the Ayr game. We went into it on the back of four wins, we prepared well, we analysed well, the players felt we warmed up well, so everything leading up to the game went well – then the whistle blew and we absolutely caved in. It took me a few days to get back on track after that.
Against Ayr, I felt like every time they got the ball it was going to be a try. I didn’t feel like that as much against Melrose.
Realistic aim for the second half of the season:
The boys know that Goldenacre is not the fortress it should be because we’ve lost two of our home games, but they want to restore that reputation and I think we are in a position to do that off the back of those wins over Currie and Stirling. We’ve got five home games out of our remaining eight so it is a great opportunity to really push on.
We’re expecting to have Adam Sinclair, Robbie Mulveena, Liam Steele and Struan Dewar back in the next couple of weeks – so, suddenly, there is a massive amount of competition for the boys, and that will drive it all forward as well.
The primary target is to secure top four, and beyond that it is to finish second – because we are not going to finish top. Nobody is finishing top apart from Melrose.