Super Series: Heriot’s hold on to deny Stirling Wolves at the death

Visitors have to be content with two bonus points in defeat as late fightback falls just short

Lewis Wells of Heriot's scores. Image: ©Malcolm Mackenzie
Lewis Wells of Heriot's scores. Image: ©Malcolm Mackenzie

Heriot’s 34

Stirling Wolves 31

DAVID FERGUSON @ Goldenacre

HERIOT’S finished a game they had under control for large spells hanging on by their fingernails, and only an intense defensive effort on their line and Stirling profligacy secured this narrow victory.

The hosts opened both halves with a brace of maul tries, and with stand-off Bruce Houston pinging fine kicks deep into the Wolves’ half, the visitors endured a frustrating afternoon of phases and phases of hard work being snuffed out and finding themselves sent back to their 22 to start again. But when they held on to possession more effectively Stirling showed grit and no little skill to bring the scores back to three points at half-time and again with five minutes of the game remaining. And the chance was there to win it at the death but Heriot’s did just enough to keep them out.

Head coach Ben Cairns, who swapped Stirling for Goldenacre this year, paid tribute to his side’s steely resolve, and the defensive mindset honed by his assistant and fellow former Scotland player John Hardie. “Our plan was on point for the first 15 minutes – we played in the right areas, showed control in attack and our defence was good,” said Cairns. “But then we fell off it massively in that middle third and put ourselves in a hole. But we managed to dig ourselves out.


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“At the end we defended well to keep them out, with massive heart and effort, and the boys are frustrated because we expect more, but at the same time we talk about enjoying every win. It’s hard to win games at this level so we’ll enjoy this.”

Inevitably, Stirling’s experienced head coach Eddie Pollock was less sanguine, biting his lip as he said: “There is a fantastic work ethic, you can see that, but we are still just making too many mistakes at crucial times.

“We didn’t start well but we did well to come back and get it close at half-time, and in the second half after a bad start we played very well and fought back with some very good plays, and had about three chances to score in that last play.

“We have played the two finalists in the sprint and lost by two to Ayr and three today, so there are a lot of good things happening, but we have to look at ourselves and move on to that next step in our journey, and turn these close things into wins.”

There was little to disagree with from the coaches’ summations, and it made for an entertaining match on a sunny Edinburgh evening. Heriot’s opened the scoring after just eight minutes with skipper Iain Wilson starting the series of maul tries, but the opportunity owed everything to slick hands from Grant Hughes, who sent his centre partner Matt Davidson scything into the Wolves’ 22.

With the packs enjoying a good set piece and a feisty turnover battle, the Wolves worked tirelessly to stay in the game. But Houston kept them penned in their half and while Stirling repelled another maul, Heriot’s moved ball swiftly left where wing Lewis Wells jinked his way through two tackles and stretched a long arm to the line.

Successive penalties for ruck infringement and offside finally handed the Wolves a platform to score their first try, and No 8 Ed Hasdell sniffed out a gap to dive over, Marcus Holden converting.

The seven-point gap lasted just four minutes, as Houston slotted an easy penalty in front of the posts, before the Wolves started to hold onto ball better. Wing Mikey Heron was first denied in the right corner, just failing to get downward pressure on a crossfield kick from stand-off Craig Jackson, but play came back for a penalty, and the familiar lineout maul finished with lively Wolves hooker Gregor Hiddleston touching down. Holden converted from well out on the left to send the teams inside at the break with Heriot’s early dominance reduced to just three points.

Heriot’s had lost Fenton and then Ruairidh Leishman, the former Stirling player, by that stage, but two more line-out mauls early in the second half finished in tries for scrum-half Sinjin Broad and Wilson to reclaim command, with a Holden penalty seeming a paltry response for Stirling.

However, with the visiting pack taking on the Heriot’s eight and scrum-half Eric Davey and centres Ryan Southern and Holden continuing to ask questions with strong and mazy running, Stirling produced a fine attack over halfway and this time finished off with wing Ross McKnight drawing defenders on the left wing before slipping a pass to Davey, who picked a perfect line infield towards the posts. Holden converted and the gap was back to five points.

Replacement back-row Ben Smith seemed to have snuffed out the Wolves fightback with a well-worked try after good Heriot’s continuity, but the Wolves were not finished and another Hasdell try off a scrum penalty and Holden conversion cut the gap to three points. Stirling laid siege to the home line for the final five minutes and teed up a dramatic win, but too many players put the head down and charged into Heriot’s bodies when overlaps were on, Hiddleston the worst offender, and the hosts held on for victory.

 

Teams –

Heriot’s Rugby: R Jones; G Barber, M Davidson, G Hughes, L Wells; B Houston, S Broad; C Keen, C Fenton, E McLaren, R Seydak, J Campbell, C Jupp, I Wilson (capt), R Leishman. Subs used: M Liness for Fenton 27mins, J Scott for Keen 61, B Smith for Jupp 59mins, C Anderson for Leishman 36mins, F Campbell for Broad 61mins.

Stirling Wolves: G Bryce; M Heron, R Southern, M Holden (capt), R McKnight; C Jackson, E Davey; L Quarm, G Hiddleston, M Tamosaitis, H Ferguson, J Pow, T Smith, C Gordon, E Hasdell. Subs used: R Kennedy 18, L Skinner for Tamosaitis 53mins, S Rockley for Heron 66mins.

Referee: Ruairidh Campbell.

 

Scorers –

Heriot’s Rugby: Tries: Fenton, Wells, Broad, Wilson, Smith; Cons: Houston 3; Pen: Houston.

Stirling Wolves: Tries: Hasdell 2, Hiddleston, Davey; Cons: Holden 4; Pen: Holden.

Scoring sequence (Heriot’s first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0; 14-5; 14-7; 17-7; 17-12; 17-14 (h-t) 22-14; 24-14; 24-17; 29-17; 29-22; 29-24; 34-24; 34-29; 34-31.

 

Man-of-the-Match: There were several players who caught the eye on both sides, including Stirling centre Ryan Southern and two-try No 8 Ed Hasdell, but Heriot’s back-row Iain Wilson just shaded it.

Talking point: It may be invidious to pick out one man when Stirling’s effort was very much a team one, but hooker Gregor Hiddleston’s failure to look up and see a four-man overlap in the last attack of the game ultimately cost the Wolves a last-gasp victory. Hiddleston had a very good game otherwise, so this could be a harsh but useful lesson for him.


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About David Ferguson 22 Articles
David Ferguson has covered Scottish rugby for over 30 years. Starting out in the Borders with the Berwickshire News and Southern Reporter, where he was sports editor and also covered rugby for a wide variety of national newspapers, Radio Borders and BBC Scotland, David became editor of Scottish Rugby Magazine, working with then Managing Director Sean Lineen. David was then Chief Rugby Writer with The Scotsman for 14 years, during which time he covered club, professional and international rugby, including several Rugby World Cups and Lions tours. He started his own communications and media business in 2014, and has worked across a wide range of areas from Scottish and UK government to charities and corporate business, most recently as Chief Executive of the Observatory for Sport in Scotland, Scotland's only research think tank on sport.

9 Comments

  1. Few inaccuracies in text. Mentions Cammy Fenton as skipper and scoring first try whilst it was Iain Wilson that scored and who is actually Captain. Heading picture shows second try not first.

  2. If it’s two levels up from Prem how come lads from Nat 1 & 2 were able to slot in with a couple of days notice and no pre season?? How come the SRU can’t give away the broadcast rights (SRU pay for production costs so broadcaster has no outlay at all but no-one wants it)? The defence of S6 is becoming more desperate when it fails on every metric it was originally supposed to adhere to. It’s head in the sand stuff. On another article we saw one of the regional coaches saying that 40% of the district u16s are dropped before u18 due to cost….but we are throwing millions at a development league which is giving game time to 30 plus yr olds and benching young players!!?? It’s beyond parody. It fails as a development league (just look at the catastrophic decline of u20s) and can’t sustain itself as a commercial entity. People can see through an artificial league with no promotion/relegation jeopardy and players playing for multiple franchises. The sooner we start being honest with ourselves the sooner can start fixing the problems in the sport. Ireland learnt that two decades ago and look at them now.

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  3. Scotia is probably correct in that an all-star Premiership side could front up a couple of Super Series sides. But having seen the kids coach Hilly brought through at Glasgow Hawks last season, yes they did develop considerably over the summer and they have made a deserved step up to the Super Series set-up. Now, whether that set-up is the best way forward for their development is another matter.

    • Some great rugby being played, very impressed by both sides today. The standard is two levels up from the old Premiership. Players will develop playing at this level.

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      • You would expect so Ronnie, they’ve taken the majority of the top players out of club rugby, paid for full time coaches, full time commercial managers and broadcasting the games. The latter two investments are business investments and are coming at a net cost to the SRU of hundreds of thousands of pounds every year. Madness. If the point of S6 is as a development league with a marginal improvement on the old premiership then fine, but don’t waste any more money on commercialising it when there is clearly no uptake. Could better results be achieved investing this money in a variation of the old premiership with a new participation agreement? I would wager yes and in a much less divisive way that actually delivers on Scottish Rugby’s objectives without ripping the heart and soul out of the club game.

        And by the way, Melrose pre S6 were a stronger side than the Southern Knights, of that there is no doubt, so your claim certainly isn’t true in all cases.

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      • How can it be two levels up from the Premiership, when a good number of players were playing Premiership rugby just a few months ago?

        Some of the younger lads weren’t even established Prem players (can think of a few that had started fewer than five games in the Prem), but are now starting for Super Series sides. Have they suddenly developed into far better players over the summer?

        Im pretty sure a select side of current Premiership players would comfortably see off at least a couple of the current Super Series sides.

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