Super Series: Ayrshire Bulls blow Heriot’s away in first half

Five unanswered in the first half sets up home win

Blair Macpherson touches down for Ayrshire Bulls versus Heriot's. Image: George McMillan
Blair Macpherson touches down for Ayrshire Bulls versus Heriot's. Image: George McMillan

Ayrshire Bulls 33

Heriot’s 21

LEWIS STUART @ Millbrae

THEY talk about games of two halves and this is exactly what they are referring to. Five tries and 33 points for Ayr before the break; three tries and 21 points for Heriot’s after it. In both cases, the dominant side stopping their opponents scoring a single point.

In the end, Heriot’s were almost unlucky not to get a fourth try and two points towards their Super Series Championship play-off bid, but in the end they didn’t quite get that crucial breakthrough when it mattered.

For the Bulls, it was a case of racing clear and finding the composure to stay in the game when the momentum turned firmly against them. “There was a big wind and you don’t often get that here at Millbrae,” reflected Robbie Fergusson, the assistant coach. “Our boys started really well and put Heriot’s on the back foot. They were always going to come back but we spoke about work-rate and the boys showed that.


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“The boys really got their mindset right, that was great to see. I think Heriot’s came down here with the mindset that they were going to win and that was a big thing in the boys heads before the game, the boys felt a wee bit disrespected. That definitely spurred them on.

“Then we gave away a yellow-card in the second half and with only seven forwards, Heriot’s are a good driving maul team. That’s rugby at this level where discipline is huge. I think we controlled it well when it really mattered, though.”

The big disappointment or Ben Cairns, the Heriot’s coach, was that his players let the first half get so far away from them. It wasn’t just a lousy start, but they kept conceding scores in flurries.

As he observed, every team is going to suffer setbacks, and their first defeat of the season definitely counts in that category, but what distinguishes between potential champions and also-rans is how they react.

“There will be momentum shifts within season and momentum shifts within games. There will be setbacks. We just have to deal with them better. I didn’t think they reacted well and it took us to half time to reset. Chasing 33-0 was always going to be difficult.

“We got better in the second half, controlled the ball better and were able to get into our shape. We got our set-piece accuracy right and that allowed us to play. The key message for the next game will be how we react to set-backs. We need to get momentum back better because we were out of it for too long in that game.”

He was right. Heriot’s made life tough for themselves by surrendering a record-breaking score pretty much straight from the kick off. Somehow, the pod set to catch the ball badly misjudged where it was going to land and missed it by about ten feet. All Bulls wing Luca Bardelli had to do was get a half-way decent bounce, catch the ball and with only nine seconds on the clock, he was touching down for the opening try.

The Edinburgh visitors were obviously shaken. They set about trying to redress the blunder with some clever handling but when they had a line-out maul turned over and then found themselves penalised in a scrum on the home line, you began to suspect it might not be their day.

There was a lot of classy build-up play from the visitors but they struggled to convert that into clear chances against the robust home defence and the Bulls had the cutting edge when it came to snapping up half chances.

There may have been a bit of controversy about the scrum that started the next scoring move – it looked from the sideline like Heriot’s had turned over the maul – but no complaints from the visitors about the slick handling that saw the ball whizz down the Ayr back division to give Bardelli the space to run in for his second.

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That opened the floodgates. Ayr were soon back on the attack, able to cycle through the phases until Blair Macpherson finished off. The Bulls were cruising and three quickly became four when Ryan Sweeney, the blindside, charged down an attempted clearance kick, won the race to the ball and almost made the line himself. Bravely tacked by Ross Jones, the Heriot’s full-back, Sweeney still made the ball available and his back row partner Lewis-McNamara was on hand to finish the job.

With Bradley Roderick-Evans converting three, the game was less than half an hour old and already Ayr had the scoring bonus and a 26 point lead.

It was fitting, then, that the first half ended as it had started, with Ayr scoring. This time after the hosts forced a scrum on the visitors’ line, giving Macpherson the chance to pick-up from the back and power over on the blindside.

With the wind behind them after the break, there was no way Heriot’s could be as bad when the players returned, and although they had a mountain to climb, they did give it a go. They got started when centre Grant Hughes was involved twice, including an inspired offload from the deck, before Liam Richman, the replacement full back, made the final few feet to score.

The fightback was soon in full swing, with Ayr prop Craig Miller in the sin-bin for a high tackle, Heriot’s won a line-out on the home line and replacement flanker Wallace Nelson was at the back to touch down. Bruce Houston, the fly half, converted both and suddenly, there was a glimmer of hope for the Edinburgh outfit.

Just as it had been in the brief period when they were in the ascendancy in the first half, however, Heriot’s struggled to find the continuity they needed to really make a game of it. They had lots of interesting build-up play but could not to make it pay in the red zone.

They kept at it, though, and pulled another one back when centre Matt Davidson cut across on the angle on a set-piece scrum move and went clean through. Again the Bulls defence scrambled to haul him down but he offloaded from the deck to feed fly half Bruce Houston for the try.

That made it a 12-point game but the clock ran out on their hopes of getting anything out of the game,

 

Teams –

Ayrshire Bulls: C Hyde (C Townsend, 62); T Glendinning (A Bogidrau, 28), C Elliot, R Beattie, L Bardelli; B Roderick-Evans, R Cullen (F Johnston, 51); A Nimmo (W Farquhar, 47-70), G Stewart (A McGuire, 47), C Miller (R Tanner 60-76), E Bloodworth (T Brown, 53), R Jackson, R Sweeney (R Tanner, 54-60, O Baird, 74), L McNamara, B Macpherson.

Heriot’s: R Jones (L Richman, 47); G Barber (B Evans, 63), M Davidson, G Hughes, L Wells; B Houston, S Broad (E McAra, 60); C Keen, M Liness (C Ramsay, 50), E McLaren (S Cessford, 41), R Seydak, J Campell (D Hood, 43), B Smith (W Nelson, 45), I Wilson, C Anderson (J Scott, 56).

Referee: Jonny Perriam

 

Scorers –

Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Bardelli 2, McPherson 2, McNamara; Cons: Roderick-Evans 4.

Heriot’s: Tries: Richman, Nelson, Houston; Cons: Houston 3.

Scoring sequence (Bulls first): 5-0; 10-0; 12-0; 17-0; 19-0; 24-0; 26-0; 31-0; 33-0 (h-t) 33-5; 33-7; 33-12; 33-14; 33-19; 33-21.

 

Yellow cards –

Ayrshire Bulls: Miller (50mins)

 

Player-of-the-Match: A strange game where both sides had period’s of dominance but with two tries whilst leading from the front as Bulls marched into that unassailable lead, Blair McPherson gets the nod..

Talking point: In a brutally physical game, both sides suffered a string of injuries, particularly in the second half. With squads cut to 29 players, the longer-term effect on the title race could be whether either or both teams find themselves able to field a side without having to dip deep into amateur ranks within their clubs.


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About Lewis Stuart 77 Articles
Lewis has been writing about rugby for almost 40 years, the last 18 as a freelance based in Scotland bringing his wealth fo experience to just about every publication in the country. These days you can hear him as well by tuning in to his Wednesday night show on Rocksport Radio.