Heriot’s Blues 13
DAVID BARNES @ Stoneyhill
IN a tense tussle on a blustery and bitterly cold afternoon in East Lothian, Heriot’s managed to adapt their game to cope with the challenging overhead and underfoot conditions, and battled back from the sending off of stand-off Rory Carmichael just after the half-hour mark, to pick up a hard-earned win which significantly eases their relegation concerns.
The Goldenacre side are not quite clear of the threat of the drop yet, they are now nine points above bottom place with three games remaining, but the pressure is definitely off.
“You might say it was a classic relegation decider in terms of the spectacle, which is a shame because I do think these are two teams who like to play, but the conditions were just too difficult,” said victorious head coach Phil Smith.
“Credit to our boys, they played 50 minutes with a men less and they problem-solved with regard to the shape of defence. We knew how Musselburgh would attack and we managed to rotate the back three to cover the back-field.
“I thought the bench – particularly Sam Wallace, Danny Dineen and Graham Wilson – brought some really important energy,” he added. “We said at half-time that what we needed was two good set-pieces back-to-back, and that could change the game. Well, we did that with about an hour played and we got the try, which was the difference in the end.”
On such fine margins do season-defining matches swing. For opposite number Derek O’Riordan, there was little comfort from the late Danny Owenson penalty which salvaged a losing bonus-point, but he was adamant that all is not yet lost in his team’s fight for survival.
“It felt like we had a fair degree of control towards the end of the first half and going into the second half we were confident that if we just turned the screw we would do all right,” he reflected. “But a bit of experience and nous got Heriot’s over the line.
“They milked the penalties that they needed to, and they didn’t play anything expansive, but focussed on dominating possession and field position.”
O’Riordan did express disappointment that his team were not awarded a try when they rumbled a line-out maul over their opponents’ line just a few minutes before Heriot’s scored the games solitary and decisive try in very similar circumstances. “It is what it is,” he sighed. “We’re not getting the rub of the green with the referees at all.”
“We’ve got 15 points up for grabs over the next three games and we’ve got a run-in against three teams who are in or around us,” he added. “So we just need to knuckle down again and try to pick up as many of those points as we can, to hopefully take it right down to the wire.
The tenor of the game was established from the very start, with both teams fumbling during the first passage of play, but it was Heriot’s who initially looked the likelier of the two sides, capitalising on a spate of Musselburgh infringements to set up camp deep inside the home 22.
Rory Steele hit the post when his 30-yard penalty attempt from almost directly in front of the kindling caught in the swirling wind, and another chance to open the scoring slipped by when a line-out drive was stopped just short of the try-line and Musselburgh managed to scavenge a holding-on penalty.
Then, when Musselburgh made it out of their half for the first time on 14 minutes, they immediately made it count where it really matters, with a lazy Heriot’s runner handing Danny Owenson the chance to fire home three easy points.
The home side were beginning to find their feet. Their discipline had tightened up and they were attacking the Heriot’s line-out with some profit. And after Carmichael saw red for a dangerous tackle, Musselburgh looked like they were ready to kick-on.
But that’s not the way things panned out. Veteran scrum-half Wilson – who was supposed to start this match but missed kick-off because he was helping deal with an injury suffered by a school kid in the game he was coaching in the morning – came off the bench immediately after Carmichael’s dismissal to provide vital rugby smarts and composure as Heriot’s wrestled back control of the contest.
He continually turned Musselburgh with his intelligent and accurate kicking game, and kept his forwards trundling forward on hard, tight-lines. With just five minutes of the second-half played, he nudged home a going-to-deck penalty to tie the contest.
Musselburgh rallied briefly and thought they had claimed the game’s first try when they bulldozed a line-out all the way to Heriots’ line, but referee Calum Worsley wasn’t satisfied that he could detect a grounding, and Blues were soon back in control.
They kicked a penalty to Musselburgh’s 10-metre line, which they mailed all the way to their opponents’ 22, before it collapsed and they got another penalty. Once again they went to the touchline, and this time, with 14-men involved, the maul went all the way to the try-line, with Dineen getting the all important downward pressure.
Wilson then fired home a nerveless penalty from wide on the left after another collapsed maul to ease his team 10-points clear with just eight minutes to go.
It had been a tetchy affair throughout, and a mass fracas saw Dineen of Heriot’s and William Fleming of Musselburgh sent to the sin-bin for the final five minutes, before Owenson slotted a late penalty which secured a losing bonus-point for the hosts – which might yet be important in the final shakedown.
Musselburgh: M McMillan; T Foley, R Watt, P Cunningham, S Watt; D Owenson, F Call (C Marshall 49); C Owenson (R Hanning 23), F Duraj (R Stott 67), N McNairn (F Duraj 70-72), W Fleming, M Badenhorst, P Bogie, M Outram, L Hutson.
Heriot’s Blues: C Simpson; R McKnight, O Quinn, R Kay, R Steele; R Carmichael (P Christie. 15-23), R Thomson (G Wilson 32); M Bouab, M Toward (D Dineen, 48), A Bogle (J Lascelles 61), C Jupp (I Hill 42, M Toward 75), C Bell, M Hughes, I Hill (S Wallace 40), A Johnston.
Referee: Calum Worsley
Musselburgh: Pen: Owenson 2
Heriot’s Blues: Try: Dineen; Con: Wilson; Pens: Wilson 2.
Scoring sequence (Musselburgh first): 3-0 (h-t) 3-3; 3-8; 3-10; 3-13; 6-13.
Yellow cards –
Musselburgh: Fleming (75mins)
Heriot’s Blues: Dineen (75mins)
Red cards –
Heriot’s Blues: Carmichael (32mins)
Man-of-the-Match: A late arrival at the match, Graham Wilson got stripped and strapped up on the touchline fore coming off the bench immediately after Rory Carmichael’s red-carding and brought poise and purpose which was key to Heriot’s Blues ruthlessly efficient second-half performance.
Talking point: Musselburgh’s fate is not yet sealed. They have three winnable games left against now second-bottom GHA away, Jed at home and Glasgow Hawks away. Meanwhile, the teams within catching distance face some tricky assignments. The Stoneyhill men showed plenty of fight in this contest and have enough about them to have already beaten both Marr and Selkirk this season. What odds they manage perhaps the greatest escape in Premiership history?