Boroughmuir Bears 12
STUART BATHGATE @ Goldenacre
HERIOT’s only needed a point to go back to the top of the table following Ayrshire Bulls’ defeat by Watsonians on Friday night, but from the early minutes of this contest it was clear they were set to earn all five.
It would be overstating things to say that the home side outclassed Boroughmuir Bears, but they were certainly that little bit better in just about every department of the game. And those minimal superiorities, when taken together, made for a major difference on the scoreboard.
Indeed, since taking over as head coach, Ben Cairns appears to have ensured that just about every Heriot’s player is that little bit better than he was last season, and that the team as a whole is more relentless in defence, more patient in attack, and simply more competent all round. It is an across-the-board improvement that has turned them into genuine title contenders.
“We’re pretty happy with that,” Cairns said after his team’s seven-tries-to-two victory. “They’re generally good at making it uncomfortable, so to have a comfortable win against them is a big plus for us. I thought our attitude all day was very good, our performance levels were pretty high, and we’re pretty happy with the result.
“I thought the performance was good across the board. We spoke this week about not really feeling like we had put in a proper performance at home, but that’s as close to a proper performance we’ve had at Goldie.
“We’ve got a bye week next week, so it was so important to get the win today, because we didn’t want to come off the bye week and be down in third or fourth. Yeah, to get that bit of a cushion going into the bye week is a good place to be.”
Heriot’s suffered a couple of minor mishaps in the opening minutes: first a penalty failed to find touch, then an attack ended when the ball was lost forward mere metres from the Boroughmuir line. But that only delayed the opening score, which came when, following a lineout on the edge of the Bears 22 and solid work by the home forwards, scrum-half Finn Campbell finished off from very close to the line.
The Bears had the odd threatening moment in the first quarter, notably when Kaleem Barreto combined well with Mason Cullen before the Heriot’s defence intervened, but when the second score of the afternoon did come it went the way of the home side. Sam Pecquer, Wallace Nelson and Matt Davidson all played significant roles in a long build-up, and in the end George Barber finished off in the right corner.
The third try came five minutes later, and arose from a penalty for offside which was sent to touch close to the Bears line. Heriot’s won the lineout clearly, the maul functioned well, and No 8 Callum Anderson peeled off the back to touch down.
Ross Jones had missed his first two conversion attempts, but was on target with this one and with the fourth, five minutes before half-time. Campbell scored again from no further out than his first score had been, and once more after patient probing following the sending to touch of another penalty.
Boroughmuir opened their account in the closing act of the half, with Callum Ramm finishing off a neat move from a scrum. George Paul converted, and at 24-7 down the Bears had a glimmer of hope.
However, having suffered that setback, Heriot’s soon re-established their dominance after the break. The first scoring chance of the second half saw Michael Liness just being held up by the Bears defence, but soon afterwards Heriot’s won a scrum penalty. It went to touch, and Wallace Nelson finished off from the lineout drive.
When centre Matt Davidson scored his team’s sixth off a Dan King pass, we had still not reached the hour mark but the game was effectively over. To their credit, though, the Bears fought back doggedly, and Euan Muirhead grabbed their second score after a loose ball had been retrieved on the edge of the Heriot’s 22.
It seemed only fitting, all the same, that the home side should have the last word, and it went to Euan McAra, who scored from a Lewis Wells pass after the Boroughmuir defence eventually ran out of numbers.
While Heriot’s are handsomely positioned at the top of the table, the Bears now look like they will have to rely on a slump in form from a couple of the teams above them if they are to fight their way into contention for a play-off place. Head coach Graham Shiel is convinced they have made progress since the campaign began, but knows there is still a lot of work to be done.
“We’ve put ourselves in this position, but we can do things to salvage something from the season,” he said. “We’ve made gains, but we’re still not where I would want us to be or where I thought we could get to.
“The first half was tough, because we didn’t get any territory. That was our downfall. We scored just before half-time, and in the second half we were better, but individual errors at key times didn’t allow us to build any pressure on the scoreboard.
“Not completely disappointed, just frustrated a little bit today that we didn’t do more, or have a better outcome. If you don’t take your chances, the scoreboard moves away from you.
Heriot’s: L Richman; G Barber, M Davidson, G Hughes, S Pecqueur; R Jones, F Campbell; C Keen©, M Liness, E McLaren, R Seydak, J Campell, B Smith, W Nelson, C Anderson. Replacements: C Fenton, J Lascelles, C Ramsay, D Hood, R Leishman, E McAra, D King, L Wells.
Boroughmuir Bears: C Ramm; M Cullen, A Thom, S Robeson©, J Jenkins; G Paul, K Barreto; I Carmichael, C Tait, M McGinley, M Loboda, J Fisher, K Westlake, S McGinley, T Andrews. Replacements: A Allen, C McFeat Smith, L Alessandri, Z Griffiths, C Keddie©, J Beveridge, A McLean, E Muirhead.
Referee: David Sutherland.
Heriot’s: Tries: Campbell 2, Barber, Anderson, Nelson, Davidson, McAra. Cons: Jones 2.
Boroughmuir Bears: Tries: Ramm, Muirhead. Con: Paul.
Scoring sequence (Heriot’s first): 5-0; 10-0; 15-0; 17-0; 22-0; 24-0; 24-5; 24-7 (h-t) 29-7; 34-7; 34-12; 39-12.
Player-of-the-Match: Any number of Heriot’s players were in contention following a solid all-round performance, but in the end scrum-half Fin Campbell got the award, not so much for the calm finishing that got him two tries as for his general contribution in attack.
Talking point: Now four points clear at the top of the table, Heriot’s have emerged as the form team in the Championship. The question now is whether they can cope with the enhanced pressure that comes with being there to be shot at.