Super Series: Heriot’s outlast Ayrshire Bulls in frantic 12-try tussle

Ex-Edinburgh winger Jack Blain scores four on his return to the home ranks

Heriot's got the better of Ayrshire Bulls at Goldenacre. Image: Jonathan Cruickshank
Heriot's got the better of Ayrshire Bulls at Goldenacre. Image: Jonathan Cruickshank

Heriot’s 49

Ayrshire Bulls 36

STUART BATHGATE @ Goldenacre

WHAT’S NOT to like about an entertaining and  incident-packed encounter which produced 85 points and 12 tries – four of them for Heriot’s winger Jack Blain – and in which the lead changed hands multiple times? That was surely the reaction at full-time of Heriot’s supporters and neutrals alike, not to mention any Ayrshire Bulls adherents for whom an afternoon of running rugby mattered more than the final score.

Unsurprisingly given that score, however, the head coaches of both teams were unhappy about a key aspect of their teams’ performance: defence.

The result itself may not matter come the end of the season. The Bulls are still just ahead of Heriot’s at the top of the table – although that could change in midweek when the Edinburgh club visit Stirling Wolves – and both teams are sure to be in the play-offs. But that was no consolation for Pat MacArthur, who argued that his players had forgotten some of the basic tenets of the game.


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“I don’t enjoy games like that,” the Ayrshire coach said. “As a coach, I want to base it around defence putting pressure on in the right areas and then grinding out results.

“If you don’t build a defence that puts pressure on oppositions, you don’t get the turnovers and you don’t get the opportunity to play in the correct areas. Scoring first-phase tries is not what you coach: you coach a pressure game to get into the right areas.”

Ben Cairns offered a more upbeat assessment, but he too saw a lot of cause for dissatisfaction. “We’ve got to be really happy scoring 49 points against Ayrshire Bulls, for sure,” the Heriot’s coach said. “But we’re really disappointed with how easily we’ve made it for them to get back on the scoresheet straight after us. 

“I would suggest their tries came easier than ours. We shot ourselves in the foot a little bit in that regard. We need to tighten that up.”

The first half was a little more structured than the second, and saw Heriot’s build up a lead, lose it, then regain it on the brink of the break. Wallace Nelson opened the scoring from a driving maul and Ross Jones added the first of his seven successful conversions.

Jamie Shedden opened the Bulls’ account with an unconverted try following a tap penalty, but Ruaridh Leishman finished off a midfield break to stretch the home side’s lead to nine points. Chris Hyde replied, and Brad Rodrick-Evans converted then added a penalty to give the visitors a lead, but then Blain scored in the last move of the half, beating two men to score in the left corner.

It had taken Heriot’s around five minutes to turn sustained pressure into that score for the former Edinburgh winger: it took them around 30 seconds after the restart to surrender their hard-won lead as Bulls scrum-half Reiss Cullen intercepted then scored.

Blain got his second two minutes later, and the conversion put Heriot’s 28-22 up, but Bulls captain Blair Macpherson then scored from the base of a scrum and Rodrick-Evans’ added points got the visitors back in front.

The last quarter continued in like fashion, with both teams going toe to toe in the hope that they would be the ones to land the last, decisive blow. Blain’s third and fourth tries came either side of a Thomas Glendinning score, and then finally Fin Campbell finished off by rising highest to collect a wayward attempted clearance in the Bulls’ in-goal.

In such an action-packed match, few individual moments will last in the memory, with Blain’s overall contribution on his return to Heriot’s colours being the abiding impression. “Jack has just come back from Warringah,” Cairns said of his winger, who was released by Edinburgh at the end of last season.

Ben Evans was ruled out for the rest of the season, we can bring in a long-term injury replacement, and Jack was keen to get back involved. I think he enjoyed his rugby today.

“He’s a big, physical specimen. He’s a quality rugby player. He’s at his best when he’s really enjoying it and I thought he did that well today.

“He can definitely be a pro rugby player, there’s no doubt about that. I think at the moment his priority is just enjoying his rugby again. And I think he wants to finish his university course too. He’s not going to stay with us too long playing like that. I expect if he wants to he’ll have opportunities to go.”

 

Teams –

Heriot’s: L Richman; G Barber, M Davidson, G Hughes, J Blain; R Jones, F Campbell; J Scott, M Liness, E McLaren, R Seydak, J Campell, R Leishman, W Nelson, C Anderson. Substitutes: D Hood, C Keen, S Cessford, S Wallace, C Jupp, E McAra, D King, S Pecqueur.

Ayrshire Bulls: C Hyde; J Shedden, C Elliot, B Roderick-Evans, L Bardelli; C Townsend, R Cullen; A Nimmo, A McGuire, W Farquhar, E Bloodworth, R Jackson, L McNamara, T Brown, B Macpherson. Substitutes: R Tanner, J Drummond, C Henderson, E Hamilton-Bulger, O Baird, F Johnston, T Glendinning, O Horne.

Referee: Ian Kenny.

 

Scorers –

Heriot’s: Tries: Nelson, Leishman, Blain 4, Campbell. Cons: Jones 5, King 2. 

Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Shedden, Hyde, Cullen, MacPherson, Glendinning. Cons: Rodrick-Evans 4. Pen: Rodrick-Evans.

Scoring sequence (Heriot’s first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5 12-5; 14-5; 14-10; 14-12; 14-15; 19-15; 21-15 (h-t) 21-20; 21-22; 26-22; 28-22; 28-27; 28-29; 33-29; 35-29; 35-34; 35-36; 40-36; 42-36; 47-36; 49-36.

 

Yellow card –

Heriot’s: Leishman (47mins).

 

Player-of-the-Match: Sometimes there are multiple contenders for the award, but not today. Heriot’s winger Jack Blain clearly merited the title, not just for scoring four tries but for the danger he posed to the Bulls defence every time he got the ball.

Talking point: Was this a dress rehearsal for next month’s final? Neither head coach would care to tempt fate by contemplating that possibility at this stage of proceedings, but it is an increasingly plausible outcome.


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About Stuart Bathgate 1392 Articles
Stuart has been the rugby correspondent for both The Scotsman and The Herald, and was also The Scotsman’s chief sports writer for 14 years from 2000.