Premiership: Heriot’s Blues hit back from early deficit to deny Musselburgh

Bonus point win for hosts closes the gap behind play-off rivals to a single league point

Heriot's Blues secured a comeback win over Musselburgh at Goldenacre. Image: John Durham
Heriot's Blues secured a comeback win over Musselburgh at Goldenacre. Image: John Durham

Heriot’s Blues 24

Musselburgh 22

COLIN RENTON @ Goldenacre

HERIOT’S BLUES ensured they remain in the shake-up for a play-off spot with a five-point haul from a hard-fought win built on a solid second-half showing. They were pushed all the way by a Musselburgh outfit that currently occupies fourth place and is increasingly difficult to beat. Indeed, both sides deserve great credit for serving up an encounter brimming with endeavour and plenty of skill, despite the tricky conditions.

Naturally, the happier of the two coaches was Phil Smith, who said of the Heriot’s performance: “Four tries to one was great, because it was difficult to play. Musselburgh are a good side – they are above us in the league and they play a game that means you’ve got to be on the ball all the time. So we’re delighted that we’ve been able to problem solve where we were, because first half we didn’t play well at all.

“We did the right things at the right time, but we need to do it more often. We’re back in it and that’s what we want – we want to be competing at the end of the season.”


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Though disappointed with the result, Smith’s counterpart, Derek O’Riordan, is driving progress at Musselburgh and sees that as reward for hard work.

“We snatched defeat from the jaws of victory,” he said with a wry smile. “We played really well in the first half and gave ourselves an opportunity to put a big win in, then momentum swung the other way come the second half. We had opportunities to transfer pressure with our kicking game in the mid-third but we didn’t take them and paid the price in the end.”

And, of the evolution of the squad, he added, “If you look at the goal-line defence, we’re definitely improving in that area. It doesn’t happen overnight, it’s taken us two seasons to get to where we are. We still conceded four scores, so it’s not great, but I would have snatched your hand off for a bonus point here last year.”

The visitors made the better start and earned a reward for their early pressure when Danny Owenson banged over a penalty after five minutes. Musselburgh continued to press and received a boost when the referee showed Cammy Meager a yellow card for obstructing Rory Hindhaugh as the pair raced for the ball following a kick ahead. Despite a sustained period on defensive chores, the home side held out a series of attacks and managed to hold up Craig Owenson who had made it over the whitewash.

The score was only delayed by a couple of minutes, however, and it came from Michael Badenhorst, who thundered in from 35 metres, brushing off the final defender then racing round behind the sticks to leave Danny Owenson a simple conversion that took the lead into double figures.

The introduction of veteran back-rower Jason Hill and Meager’s return injected fresh energy into the home ranks and they enjoyed a lengthy spell of pressure. However, the Musselburgh defence was equal to the task and the score was unchanged after half an hour.

The momentum had shifted, though, and the hosts finally found a way through seven minutes before the break. They opted for the scrum at a close-range penalty and when Ali Johnston was thwarted just short, the recycled ball was popped up for Niall Doherty, who crashed over. Luke Townsend’s conversion cut the deficit to three points.

Almost immediately, Owenson struck back with a penalty and he added three more points with the final action of the half to send his side in at the break with a 16-7 lead.

 

Heriot’s resumed in determined fashion and they soon clawed back five points. Musselburgh lock Jack Haynes received a yellow-card for illegally halting a drive, but the score came from the ensuing penalty when a powerful lineout surge ended with Rory Jackson dotting down.

The hosts snatched the lead after 51 minutes when Rory Steele spotted a gap behind the final two defenders and chipped over their heads then won the race to the line. Townsend added the extras to create a three-point lead.

Back came Musselburgh and a scrum penalty presented Owenson with a chance to square matters. Despite the conditions, he hammered over the kick from 45 metres, leaving the match perfectly poised entering the final quarter.

The hugely reliable Musselburgh kicker posted his first miss of the afternoon with 15 minutes to play when he pushed his kick wide of the target, but he made no mistake from close range with his next effort as the visitors seized back the lead.

Heriot’s were awarded a penalty from the restart. Townsend booted it into touch and the line-out drive allowed Jackson to plunge over for a second time and secure the bonus point.

Musselburgh had a chance to respond immediately, but Owenson was again wide of the mark, and Heriot’s saw out the game to take five points and ensure that they remain firmly in the race for the play-off berths.

 

Teams –

Heriot’s Blues: R Steele; P Christie, T Storen, K Kutsuna, C Meager; L Townsend, K Singleton; A Munro, R Jackson, S Cessford, N Doherty, M Keough, R Kirkpatrick, M Dillon, A Johnston©. Subs: D Westwood, J Lascelles, J Hill, G Wilson, R Jones.

Musselburgh: P Cunningham; R Hindhaugh, R Watt©, R Smith, S Watt; M McMillan, D Owenson; N McNairn, C Owenson, E Bonthron, M Badenhorst, J Haynes, M Maltman, M Crawford, P Bogie. Subs: D Miller, R Brown, J Lister, B Heber, F Call.

Referee: S O’Neil.

 

Scorers –

Heriot’s Blues: Tries : Doherty, Jackson 2, Steele; Cons: Townsend 2.

Musselburgh: Try: Badenhorst; Con; D Owenson; Pens: D Owenson 5.

Scoring sequence: 0-3; 0-8; 0-10; 5-10; 7-10; 7-13; 7-16 (h-t) 12-16; 17-16; 19-16; 19-19; 19-22; 24-22.

 

Yellow cards –

Heriot’s: Meager

Musselburgh: Haynes

 

Man-of-the-match: Paul Cunningham, Danny Owenson and Michael Badenhorst all played well for Musselburgh, and Jason Hill made a big contribution for Heriot’s in his hour-long appearance, but his team mate Rory Jackson earns the nod for bouncing back from a problem at the first line-out to deliver an excellent all-round performance capped by a try double.

Talking point: Heriot’s suffer from inconsistency at times but they have a spine of experience that could be key over the coming weeks as the pressure intensifies. Musselburgh continue to develop a hard edge that makes them tough to beat, and they will not look out of place if they go on to secure a play-off spot.


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About Colin Renton 281 Articles
Colin has been a freelance writer on various subjects for more than 20 years. He covers rugby at all levels but is particularly passionate about the game at grass roots. As a fluent French speaker, he has a keen interest in rugby in France and for many years has reported on the careers of Scots who have moved across the Channel. He appreciates high quality, engaging writing that is thought provoking, and hopes that some of his work fits that bill!