Super Series: Ayrshire Bulls secure home play-off draw with comeback win over Heriot’s

Millbrae men will face Stirling Wolves with the title on the line next Friday night

Fergus Johnston of Ayrshire Bulls is tackled by Seamus Smith of Heriot's. Image: Malcolm Mackenzie
Fergus Johnston of Ayrshire Bulls is tackled by Seamus Smith of Heriot's. Image: Malcolm Mackenzie

Heriot’s 19

Ayrshire Bulls 26

DAVID BARNES @ Goldenacre

JUSTICE was served on a glorious afternoon at Goldenacre, with Ayrshire Bulls roaring back into this contest from 19-7 down early in the second half to book home advantage in next Friday night’s Super Series Sprint 1st/2nd place play-off, where they will face Stirling Wolves.

Based on this 80 minutes of rugby alone, it wouldn’t have been a travesty if Heriot’s had held on to secure the big win they needed to sneak into the final showdown, but over the course of the full campaign and the Super Series project as a whole – it is only right that the Millbrae men have the opportunity to bow out in style.

“We got there in the end,” sighed Pat MacArthur, the relieved Bulls head coach after a tumultuous 80 minutes in which both teams  produced moments of magic and calamity in almost equal measure. “In the first half we didn’t come out firing so had a good chat at half-time and once the energy levels increase it actually creates more space.


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“If we can free up our back three we are dangerous, but if we don’t put the effort into opening up that space we get stuck. It is not a bad thing to have an experience like that before the final. Hopefully it helps focus the minds,” added MacArthur, who has now guided Bulls to five finals from five Super Series campaigns at the helm.

“It’s a massive week ahead now. If you look at Super Series as a whole and what Ayrshire Bulls have put into it, and the support it has had within the club, and the number of boys who have come through our club into the professionals ranks, it is a crying shame that this is the end of it. So, if we can put the effort in then we can make sure this last Super Series game is a positive reflection of what the league has done and what Ayr has put into it.”

Heriot’s grabbed the lead on 12 minutes from their first meaningful attack, with the initial ground being made on the right before possession was transferred across the park, with Dan King‘s over the top pass finding Sam Wallace who held on to the ball until just the right moment before sending Ruairidh Leishman over.

The hosts came close to doubling their account when Jack Blain got a sniff  but the big winger lost the ball forward as he stretched for the line. It proved to be only a temporary hold-up for Heriot’s with Wallace bustling over from close range on 28 minutes, and Christian Townsend successfully converting this time to make it 12-0.

That happened just after both teams had just been reduced to 14 men for 10 minutes, with Heriot’s replacement winger Lewis Wells and Bulls hooker James Malcolm both seeing yellow for some tit-for-tat playing of the ball on the deck.

The half ended in drama and farce. After cranking up the pressure through over a dozen phases inside the home 22, Bulls initially let their opponents off the hook when Bobby Beattie was uncharacteristically sloppy trying to take a quick tap-penalty. But Heriot’s failed to clear the danger from the scrum and almost paid a hefty price when King’s clearance was charged down by Malcolm, but the Bulls man then misjudged the bounce of the ball as he tried to dive on it inside the Heriot’s in-goal area.

Finally, Bulls rediscovered their composure, and worked the ball across the park to create the opportunity for Luca Bardelli to scramble over, and Richie Simpson‘s conversion made it a five point game on the stroke of half-time.

 

 

Heriot’s raced out of the blocks and back into a two-score lead at the start of the second half when Blain slalomed home at the end of an excellent passage of fast-moving and intelligent play from the hosts, and flustered Bulls then handed their opponents an easy entry back into their half from the restart when a pass along the deck from replacement scrum-half Reiss Cullen was knocked on by Malcolm.

But with both teams clearly feeling the pace under the beating sun and towards the end of a gruelling campaign, neither side was really able to turn the screw, until Riess Cullen made ground from a quick tap to take play back into the Heriot’s 22, eventually leading to a mis-match on the right which saw powerhouse Jamie Shedden bump past a despairing tackle from Seamus Smith and over the line, although Simpson couldn’t add the conversion this time.

Heriot’s then shot themselves in the foot. From an excellent attacking position, they first surrendered 70 yards when Charlie Jupp misjudged a round the back offload out of contact and Bulls hacked the loose ball down field, then Sam Pecqueur threw a loose pass at Wells’ feet and the winger volleyed possession straight into Lewis McNamara‘s hands, and the all-action flanker took full advantage with a 25-yard run to the line. Simpson’s conversion levelled the scores.

A draw would have been enough to secure a play-off place but one last run-out at Millbrae was the Bulls’ target, and they made that goal a reality when Shedden sucked in the defence then released Thomas Glendinning for the match-winning, bonus-point securing final try with just three minutes left on the clock.

“It is a hard one to take,” reflected beaten head coach Ben Cairns. “We thought we’d get stronger as the game went on but I think they overpowered us towards the end of the game.

“We went six-two on the bench then lost our captain, Liam Richman – who was already playing out of position because Matt Davidson was a late call-up to GB 7s – after just five minutes, so that made it bloody tough. But I thought the guys rallied really well off the back of that and we deserved to be in the position we were in at half-time. Then, to score that try just after the break which was the blueprint of how we want to play the game, we felt we were in control and ready to kick-on from there.

“But we just lost some accuracy when we got tired and the type of game we want to play, we are going to risk things, and if our skill execution isn’t good then we are going to be punished. Ayr did a good job marshalling us and we didn’t cope with it very well. There were quite a few opportunities out there which we failed to capitalise on.”

The net result is that Heriot’s will now be back at Goldenacre next Saturday to take on Watsonians in the 3rd/4th place play-off.

“The dream scenario was to get the big win we needed to make the top two in our last ever Super Series game at Goldenacre, but it wasn’t to be,” concluded Cairns. “It does mean we get another chance to play here and it’s the last week ever of Super Series so I’d expect all the boys to be desperate to play and to go hard so that we can sign off in style on our own patch.”

 

Teams –

Heriot’s: D King; S Pecqueur (S Broad 74), L Richman (L Wells 5), A Hunter, J Blain; C Townsend, S Smith; J Scott (C Keen 41), M Liness (R Jackson 74), E McLaren (L Porter 74), C Jupp (C Anderson 78), R Seydak (P Spence 60), W Nelson (J Hill 54), S Wallace, R Leishman.

Ayrshire Bulls: M Kershaw (T Glendinning 41); L Bardelli, J Shedden, R Beattie, M Cullen; R Simpson, F Johnston (R Cullen 41); J Drummond (R Tanner 53), J Malcolm (A McGuire, 56), C Henderson (C Miller 60), E Bloodworth (O Baird 53), R Jackson, G Stewart (T Brown 53), L McNamara, B Macpherson.

Referee: Hollie Davidson

 

Scorers –

Heriot’s: Tries: Leishman, Wallace, Blain; Con: Townsend 2.

Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Bardelli, Shedden, McNamara, Glendinning; Con: Simpson 3.

Scoring sequence (Heiot’s first): 5-0; 10-0; 12-0; 12-5; 12-7 (h-t) 17-7; 19-7; 19-12; 19-17; 19-19; 19-24; 19-26.

 

Yellow cards –

Heriot’s: Wells (26 mins)

Ayrshire Bulls: Malcolm (26 mins)

 

Man-of-the-Match: He capitalised on some sloppy Heriot’s play to score the try which pulled the match level, and Ayrshire Bulls flanker Lewis McNamara was a thorn in the home team’s side all afternoon.

Talking point: After last weekend’s stumble against Glasgow Warriors ‘A’, Bulls took a while to shake off their hangover, but were back close to their ruthless best by the end of this gripping and at times chaotic contest. Can the competition’s most consistently strong team sign off on Super Series in style next weekend? They certainly feel they have a score to settle after a surprise loss to Stirling Wolves in the Super Series Championship Final earlier in the season.


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About David Barnes 4026 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.

2 Comments

  1. With Thompson moving across to Edinburgh and the lack of enthusiasm generally for the combination offered by Hastings, Jordan and Weir at 10 I look at the Ayrshire Bulls games for some crumbs of comfort in the way that Richie Simpson is shaping up. It’s hard to tell, really, from the reports whether he is a really influential figure in the way the team play or whether he’s dropped in to a very well-oiled machine now he’s back fit. It seems a lot to expect that he comes into the Glasgow side and really starts pulling strings, but if he’s of the level then kicking around as 3rd or 4th choice behind that group isn’t going to develop him either, is it? I don’t get to see alot of the games so I’d be interested to know, given the general level of excitement that seemed to follow him…the extent to which he seemed a kind of talismanic figure for the u20s sides he played in…and the lack of enthusiasm for the likes of Healy after his first season at Edinburgh…whether people are properly optimistic or just kind of hopeful that he is really of the potential to fill the kind of Russell-shaped hole we’ll be staring into in a few years time!

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