LORNE sausage and Nando’s are the twin secrets to his team’s success, reckons Heriots’ double winning head coach Phil Smith.
“For the last three weeks I’ve been going down to Leith to get a bag of rolls and some Lorne sausage from the same butcher. I did it again this morning. I thought, I can’t stop. Sure enough, all the family got Lorne sausage and we have won again. I know the team went out for a Nando’s last Friday and they did it again this Friday – all 25 of them there having a ball – so you do get into this idea of doing the same thing,” he beamed, after Saturday’s nail-biting success over Ayr at Millbrae.
There might be one or two other factors at play as well as these rather uninspiring pre-match dining routines when it comes to trying to explain what has allowed this team to get what they needed out of four incredibly tense, high-stake matches [against Glasgow Hawks in the Cup semi-final, Currie in the league play-off semi-final, Melrose in the Cup final and now Ayr in the league ‘Grand Final’] inside a month.
For example, a devastating driven line-out which brought them three tries in Saturday’s thrilling Premiership ‘Grand Final’ success over Ayr at Millbrae, on top of the two they scored in the Cup Final win over Melrose last weekend, definitely helps.
Their discipline and composure has also been crucial in their emergence as the top club side in Scotland during the last two seasons, with the Goldenacre men confident enough in themselves to run the clock down inside their own half during a nervy last five minutes without fear of making a silly mistake which would hand Ayr a lifeline.
In Jack Turley and Jason Hill they have two relentless warriors who will keep leading from the front regardless of what is thrown their way, and they have a backline which makes up for a slight lack of bulk through quick-wit and tenacity. Calum McNeish at stand-off has a little bit of everything going for him.
If life was fair then Ayr would have won this game after being the best team in the Premiership during the previous eight months – but the play-off system was not introduced to ensure justice, it was brought in to create excitement, and this game certainly lived up to the billing.
Breath-taking swings towards one team and then without warning back to the other throughout the 80 minutes meant that the contest was always balanced on a knife edge.
Heriot’s grabbed an early lead with their first line-out drive score through Struan Dewar, but Ayr bounced back with a try in the corner for Grant Anderson, quickly followed by an fine score from the excellent Ross Curle, after great link play from Danny McCluskey and Craig Gossman.
The lead changed hands again before the break when Charlie Simpson stepped inside Junior Bulumakau to score in the corner and Neil Cochrane dotted down after another driven line-out.
Ayr came out with all guns blazing in the second half and were soon back in front when Blair Macpherson gave Heriot’s a taste of their own medicine by scoring from a driven line-out.
When Curle intercepted Hugh Fraser to dart home from the halfway line, it felt like the home team’s date with destiny was pretty close to be confirmed.
But Heriot’s were never going to skulk off quietly into the night and they roared back into contention with a second try from Simpson after great work down the left touchline by Liam Steele.
Ayr were now only four points ahead with less than ten minutes to go. The last thing they wanted to do was give Heriot’s a line-out anywhere near their own line, but that’s what they did when being penalised for handling in the ruck, and things went from bad to worse for the home team when referee Graeme Wells awarded a penalty try against Pete McCallum for coming in from the side in an attempt to derail the inevitable maul.
The Millbrae faithful were apoplectic and the players were losing their rag as well. They conceded two more penalties as they desperately tried to salvage their season during the final few minutes, and the way they protested to the referee suggested that their focus had gone.
“It’s hugely disappointing. We played a lot of the better rugby, but it was our own errors which brought penalties which allowed them to get to the corners and build the pressure from there. We know they are very good at that because they did it last week as well. We played a lot of good rugby, but discipline let us down in key areas of the pitch,” said Calum Forrester, the Ayr coach.
Opposite number Phil Smith was rather more upbeat, for obvious reasons.
“I thought it was a brilliant. Forget about us winning, as a game it must have been fantastic to watch because it was end-to-end. There were mistakes, obviously, but sometimes they contribute to the highs,” he said.
“With some of the mistakes we are making, we just kind of lose our heads a bit. It is a cup final with a big crowd, so for the younger lads it is an experience that they haven’t really had. We just have to remind them to stick with what they’ve been doing because it’s really, really good. And that’s the thing – they just go again. I can’t ask for more.
“We’ve had three weeks of really tough fixtures, with the maximum deficit of just a few points. They must have got something out of that.”
“I was glad we got two tries out wide. It showed we are trying to pass the ball. We scored two good tries from continuity play; it wasn’t just about blasting over the line. I want the whole club to know we have more than just that, and we do.”
Ayr: G Anderson (H McPherson 21); J Bulumakau, R Curle, D McCluskey, C Gossman; F Climo, D Armstrong; G Hunter, J Malcolm, J Sebastian (D Rae 70), R McApline, S Sutherland, B Macpherson (A Dunlop 70), W Bordill, P McCallum.
Heriots: J Semple; C Simpson, L Steele, C Ferguson, J Rae (G Bryce 30); G McNeish, T Wilson (H Fraser 54); M Bouab (M McCallum 25), M Liness (N Cochrane 25), S Cessford, R Nimmo, J Turley, S Dewar, A Henderson (R van Heerden 70), J Hill.
Ayr: Try: Anderson, Curle 2, B Macpherson; Con: Climo 3
Heriot’s: Try: Dewar, Simpson 2, Cochrane, Penalty Try; Con: Semple 2.
Man-of-the-Match When the chips were down, skipper Jack Turley led the Heriot’s revival.
Referee: G Wells