ALAN LORIMER @ Netherdale
HERIOTS BLUES took a giant step towards achieving Premiership status next season after overtaking the National One leaders, Gala, at Netherdale to establish a one point advantage in the league table. Both sides still have one match to play i, Gala away to Dundee and Heriot’s Blues facing Cartha QP in Glasgow, but in many minds the destiny of the National One title has already been determined and with it the promotion calculus.
In what was effectively the league decider, Heriot’s triumphed through heavier artillery up front that allowed them to be secure in the set-piece and dangerous in the driving maul, while behind the scrum the visitors’ backs moved the ball effectively albeit thwarted repeatedly by trenchant tackling from their Gala opponents.
Such was the ultimate closeness of the game that Heriot’s head coach Phil Smith’s immediate reaction was: “Wasn’t that another great advert for club rugby”, adding more analytically: “We controlled the game for most of the first half and into the second half. But I thought their defence was phenomenal. We attacked really brilliantly but they defended so well to keep us out.
“We really got almost nothing from out first half efforts but we got a few scores in the second half. Then the yellow card [15 minutes from the end] seemed to knock us off our stride. I thought they would tire but that was not the case. Then a second yellow and I thought our confidence went. If there had been time for another kick-off it would have been touch and go,” suggested Smith after watching Gala score two tries late.
As for Gala, their head coach, Fraser Thomson, believes that his side should have put earlier pressure on Heriot’s.“If you look at the game realistically, we defended for most of the first half and yet we were in the lead at half time,” he said. “But it took as 65 minutes to fire a shot. We should have tried to get our shape much earlier on. When we did, we caused them real problems. If it has been a 90 minutes game of rugby we would have had a good chance of winning, but it’s not a 90 minute game.
“But you can’t fault us as a club particularly considering where we were 18 months ago. And it’s not done and dusted yet. We have to go to Dundee and they have to play Cartha. But we’re disappointed. Hopefully we can finish on a high in Dundee.
Heriots’ non-stop pressure should have generated a shoal of points in the first half but inaccuracies close to the line and heroic defence by Gala kept the scoreline at 0-0 with over 30 minutes played. Finally, the deadlock was broken and somewhat in defiance of the possession and territory stats it was Gala who took the lead after a move triggered by a powerful run by Rex Jeffrey. Then from a five metre line-out Gala’s forward initially set up a maul before Jeffrey again blasted at the Heriot’s defence. Angus Dun took the ball to the line but it required the bulk of Gala’s Lithuanian prop Marius Tamosaitis to force the ball to the ground. Craig Dods added the conversion points to give the home crowd hopes that it could be Gala’s day.
These thoughts were shattered when, on the stroke of half time, Heriot’s drove a penalty-created line-out for hooker Rory Jackson to claim his side’s first try. Graham Wilson missed the conversion kick but the veteran scrum half put his side ahead with a penalty goal early in the second half before adding the extras to a well constructed try by wing Charlie Simpson from a maul move.
Heriot’s appeared to have made sure of victory with a third try, this time by No 8 Ali Johnstone, from a kick by Simpson and a fast follow-up by the back-row. Again the reliable Wilson goaled the try to put Heriots’ into what seemed an unassailable lead.
Unassailable, that was, until a penalty-prone Heriot’s side had yellow cards within the space of six minutes, shown to centre Oisin Quinn and then Johnstone as the Goldenacre men tried to stop a late push by Gala.
Gala took advantage scoring though their hard-working flanker Liam Scott, converted by Scott Peffers. Then, in a late flurry, the home team found their handling skills to construct an impressive move that ended with full-back Murray Wilson crossing for an unconverted try leaving the Maroons tantalisingly short of matching the men from Goldenacre.
Gala: M Wilson; F Johnston, J Turnbull, R Jeffrey©, B Gill; C Dods, L, Johnston; J Williamson, J Easson, M Tamosaitis, R Irvine, E Dods, T Wilson, L Scott, A Dun. Subs: K Scott, S Cairns, J Irvine, T McKavanagh, S Peffers.
Heriot’s Blues: R Steele; C Simpson, O Quinn, J Semple, C Robertson; R Carmichael, G Wilson©; A Munro, R Jackson, R Hutchison, C Anderson, S Johnstone, L Govenlock, I Hill, A Johnston. Subs: D Dineen, A Bogle, M Hughes, S Simmers, J Rae.
Referee: C Clark
Gala: Tries: Tamosaitis, Scott, Wilson; Cons: C Dods, Peffers.
Heriot’s Blues: Tries: Jackson, Simpson, Johnstone; Cons: Wilson 2; Pen: Wilson.
Scoring Sequence (Gala first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5 (h-t) 7-8; 7-13; 7-15; 7-20; 7-22; 12-22; 14-22; 19-22.
Yellow cards –
Heriot’s Blues: Quinn, Johnstone
Player-of-the-Match: He scored a crucial try for Heriot’s and made a third score, and so from an influential point of view, wing Charlie Simpson deserves the man-of-the-match accolade.
Talking point: One round remaining for both teams but this game was de facto the National One decider albeit that Dundee and Cartha could still have a decisive say in who wins the title. If the pecking order remains as it is after the Netherdale shoot-out then Heriot’s will become the first club to be represented in both Super6 and the Premiership. Gala will be disappointed but the Maroons are still in a rebuilding phase and perhaps need another season to regroup after a difficult few years.