DAVID BARNES @ Bridgehaugh
CHARLIE SIMPSON scored a try deep into injury time to snatch a bonus point for Heriot’s which could be crucial in their quest to secure this season’s final play-off slot. Meanwhile, Stirling were able to shrug off this defeat because Hawick’s loss at Melrose means that their top flight status next season is now assured, regardless of what happens in their one remaining match.
Heriot’s will now have to wait to see what happens in Currie’s re-arranged league encounter against Boroughmuir at Meggetland on 11th March before finding out if they are going to get a shot at making it three Premiership titles on the trot. They are currently four points ahead of their rivals with a vastly superior scoring differential, which means Currie really need to get a bonus point win out of that game.
“Boroughmuir are safe now after the way results went today but I don’t think Peter Wright will let that have any bearing on his team. He will send them out with all guns blazing. They’ve had a great win today and he will want them to finish as high up the league as they can, and he’ll love the idea of being able to ruin Currie’s day. We’ll just have to wait to see what happens. We’ve got a Cup game at Melrose in two weeks’ time and some of the boys are in the club international team next weekend, so there is plenty to keep us occupied,” said Heriot’s coach Phil Smith.
“This was a tough afternoon,” he added. “We did a lot of huffing and puffing without really getting anywhere, then we had some good bits and I thought we were deserving of the fourth try in respect of territory and possession, but it was pretty ragged at the end.”
The visitors looked set to have the win and the bonus point in the bag with fifteen minutes to go, when they were 13-24 up and earned multiple scrum penalties close to Stirling’s line, but when referee Keith Allen finally lost patience he chose to send replacement tighthead prop Craig Black to the sin-bin instead of awarding a penalty try. With Mark Hunter already off injured, it went to uncontested scrums and the visiting teams’ biggest weapon was neutralised.
Stirling were then reduced to thirteen men for the final eight minutes when number eight Ruairidh Leishman was yellow-carded for colliding with Tom Wilson after the ball was away, but this seemed to galvanise the hosts. A try for either team would get them a bonus point and losing a score would not really hurt them, so it was fast and furious during a tense finale – and eventually Heriot’s got what they came for, when for the first time in the match they were able to go wide-wide and open up an space on the right for Simpson to exploit with a neat dummy and an electrifying burst of pace.
“Having lost four key players to the under-20s – our captain Callum Hunter, our two tight-heads in Adam Nicol and Fergus Bradbury, and Craig Pringle in the centre – we are not too down about this result. We felt the game was there, but when your scrum is going backwards like that it is tough,” said Stirling coach David Adamson.
Heriot’s gave an early indication of their mind-set for this game when they opted to kick to the corner after being awarded a penalty 20 metres out and directly in front of the posts. It did not work out for them on this occasion, with Stirling managing to halt the drive and get the put-in at the resulting scrum, but the visitors kept the pressure on and eventually got their reward when John Semple put Junior Rasolea through a gap and over the line. Wilson added the extras for good measure.
Adam Sinclair showed up well with a couple of powerful carries to help Stirling build up a minor head of steam, and Jonny Hope temporarily reduced the gap to four points with a penalty from in front of the posts. But a recurring problem for the hosts all afternoon was their propensity to give away cheap points almost immediately after scoring.
On this occasion a failure to clear their lines after collecting the restart led to an offside and three easy points from directly in-front of the posts for Wilson.
To the credit, Stirling bounced right back, with their most impressive spell in the match, with their confidence bolstered by a briefly resurgent scrum which earned two penalties in quick succession. A minor scrap in which no real punches were thrown seemed to ruffle the visitors, and a loose clearance by Simpson right down Logan Trotter’s throat was punished superbly when he brushed past Robbie Mulveena and darted home from 40 metres. Trotter was one of two teenagers in the County backline yesterday, alongside outside centre Andrew McLean.
With less than five minutes to go in the half, it wasthe perfect time to score, if only Stirling had made a batter job of dealing with the restart – but they gave away a penalty for holding onto the ball on the deck, and after Mulveena was held up over the line, Heriot’s were awarded a penalty try from the subsequent scrum.
Heriot’s started the second half as they had finished the first, with Wilson scampering over after picking up at the base of another dominant scrum.
Stirling grabbed a lifeline when prop Mike MacDonald grounded the ball after a powerful line-out drive from ten metres out, but Leishman fumbled the restart and that was the beginning of that long period of pressure dominated by Heriots’ now completely rampant scrum – which eventually resulted in Black’s yellow carding, before Simpson’s late intervention gave a rather turgid encounter a grandstand finish.
Stirling: J Hope; S MacDonald, A McLean, A Black, L Trotter; R Jones, M Donaldson; M MacDonald, R Kennedy, M Hunter, A Sinclair, H Burr, A Taylor, C Fusaro, R Leishman. Subs: M Emmison, C Black, A Grant-Suttie, C Turnbull.
Heriots: C Simpson; R Mulveena, S Rasolea, J Semple, R Kay; R Carmichael, T Wilson; M Bouab, M Liness, S Cessford, R Nimmo, C Marshall, M Maltman, J McLean, S Dewar. Subs: S Mustard, C Smith, G Parker.
Referee: K Allen
Stirling: Try: Trotter, MacDonald; Pen: Hope
Heriot’s: Try: Rasolea, Penalty Try, Wilson, Simpson; Con: Wilson 3; Pen: Wilson.
Scoring sequence (Stirling first): 0-5; 0-7; 3-7; 3-10; 8-10; 8-15; 8-17 (h-t) 8-22; 8-24; 13-24; 13-29.
Yellow Cards –
Stirling: C Black, Leishman,
Man-of-the-Match: It was a day for unsung heroes and Russell Nimmo has been a tireless workhorse in the heart of the Heriot’s pack all season.
Talking Point: Andrew McLean’s last match was playing for Stirling County’s Under-18 team in their Youth Cup Final success over Ayr at Murrayfield eight days ago. In this match he was up against Edinburgh pro Junior Rasloea and did not look out of place.