Currie Chieftains 10
STUART BATHGATE @ Goldenacre
HERIOT’s had suffered narrow defeats in both of their regular-season games against Currie Chieftains, but when it mattered most they won with something to spare. Phil Smith’s team were never behind in this Premiership semi-final, and only briefly, at 23-10 in the second half, did they ever appear in danger of having their lead hauled in by opponents who had ample possession but laboured to find a way through a resolute defence.
It was an attritional battle, in which four front-row forwards had to be replaced in the first half, three of them Currie players. And, as well as having the better of the up-front exchanges, Heriot’s also enjoyed a greater cutting edge in the backs, epitomised by the two Charlie Simpson tries which gave them a 13-5 lead at the break.
“I thought we defended really well,” Smith said after a result which will send his team to Ayr for the Premiership Grand Final on 6 April. “Our attack was a bit stop-start, but you’re going to lose a bit of momentum after three weeks off.
“This was our third semi-final against them, and it’s always been within a score, but today I felt we were in control. We’ve got a good group, and add Mark Bennett, Jack Cuthbert and Murray McCallum . . . ”
The three Edinburgh professionals slotted in well, with the first two starting and McCallum making his presence felt off the bench, but Smith reserved most of his praise for one of his regulars, back-row forward Jack McLean. “I don’t understand why you keep running at him. There’s a guy with a blue cap who’s just tackling everything – maybe avoid him for a while.
“Anyway, there were many others who played really well. I just think there’s more to come. We’ve got a run of fixtures now – we’ve got Hawick here in the cup semi-final next week – and maybe that will help us nail a few things. Our restarts were disgusting – they were rubbish – so we’ll fix that, and some of our set plays just need to be a bit tighter.
“They’re a good rugby team. But I felt our defensive organisation was comfortable throughout.”
Heriots’ execution in attack was similarly effective, as was shown by the opening score. A maul from a lineout close to the Currie line drove infield and sucked in too many defenders, leaving space for Simpson to score in the right corner when play switched direction.
Full-back Ross Jones added a penalty, then Chieftains opened their account with a similar try to the one they had conceded, loosehead Matias Argiro finishing off from a lineout drive. Ben Robbins then just failed to pick off an interception that could have given him a clear run to the Heriot’s line to put Currie in front, but after that escape Heriot’s deservedly stretched their lead before half-time, with Simpson popping up on the left this time to dive on to a diagonal kick by Stuart Edwards into the Chieftains’ in-goal area.
The home side resumed their dominance in the second half, and went further ahead from a powerful scrum which saw Jason Hill pick up and force his way over the line. Jones converted, and soon added a penalty, and at 23-5 down Currie had to do something fast. They did, grabbing the next score when Thomas Gordon peeled off the back of a lineout for their second try, and they soon threatened again through Jamie Forbes only for the full-back’s break to be snuffed out.
That was as good as it got for the visitors, and Heriot’s rounded the game off with tries four and five. Robert Kay got the first, converted by Jones, when he cut back against the grain after some heavy pressure. And substitute Alex Ball got the second, picking up a loose ball just outside his own 22 and running the distance.
Such a convincing defeat was a hard blow for Currie to take after a season to which they have contributed so much in the face of some adversity. But they can be proud of a campaign in which they were by some distance the best of the four non-Super-6 sides in the division, and in which they feel they have been on the receiving end of some unbalanced decisions. “It’s been a tough week for us – the change of policy in releasing two internationalists who had been with different clubs was a bit of a blow,” said Chieftains coach Mark Cairns, referring to the fact that Bennett and McCallum had not previously been drafted to Heriot’s.
“Then Charlie Shiel was not released by Edinburgh even though he’s only played about 18 minutes in the last six weeks. He was able to be released for the sevens a week before – a bit weird.
“We would have had [Glasgow pro] Kiran McDonald, but he had a back spasm. Then in the match itself we lost our captain [hooker Fergus Scott] at the first scrum and our tighthead [Fraser Watt] at the second scrum, and it unravels from there.
“As a club we’ve had to be pretty resilient the whole season. It’s a shame that on the last outing for this team together that we’ve had all those things impede what could have been a much closer game.
“We’ve been competitive with the top four teams for the last five years. We’re bitterly disappointed not to make the final.”
Heriot’s: R Jones; J Cuthbert, M Bennett, R Kay, C Simpson; S Edwards, A Simmers; J Scott, M Liness, S Cessford, R Leishman, C Marshall, I Wilson, J McLean, S Dewar. Subs: A Johnstone, M McCallum, A Sinclair, M Hughes, J Hill, A Ball, R Carmichael.
Currie Chieftains: J Forbes; B Robbins, J Reynolds, R Nelson, M Hooks; G Hunter, C Davies; M Argiro, F Scott, F Watt, V Wright, M Kelly, M Vernel, T Gordon, L Crosbie. Subs: G Carson, A McWilliam, A Nicol, S McGinley, R Davies, A Hall, S Hamilton.
Scorers: Heriot’s: Tries: Simpson 2, Hill, Kay, Ball. Cons: Jones 2. Pens: Jones 2.
Currie Chieftains: Tries: Argiro, Gordon.
Scoring sequence: 5-0, 8-0, 8-5, 13-5 half-time, 18-5, 20-5, 23-5, 23-10, 28-10, 30-10, 35-10.
Referee: D Sutherland.
Man of the match: The tireless Jack McLean was a bulwark in defence for Heriot’s, breaking up wave after wave of Chieftains attacks to help his team gain a vital edge at the breakdown.
Talking point: At half-time, a plaintive plea over the PA for “anyone with a key to the referees’ room” prompted fevered speculation that the match officials had been locked inside and would not re-emerge for the second 40. It appeared, however, that getting in, not getting out, was the soon-resolved problem.