Ayrshire Bulls 26
IAIN HAY @ Millbrae
AYRSHIRE BULLS early try-blitz, which saw them open up a 21-point lead within the opening 16 minutes, seemed to create a false sense of security in home ranks, and only a late missed conversion by Heriot’s saw the game end in a draw, leaving much still to play for going in to the final round of matches next week.
“I’ve said to the boys I’m disappointed,” said Heriot’s head coach Ben Cairns after seeing his team haul themselves off the canvas to nearly nick the win.
“I didn’t think we showed enough accuracy and control in the way we played. Our desire to fight and our commitment levels were top-notch and that’s how we’ve drawn the game but, from a performance level, our accuracy wasn’t good enough.
A contentious refereeing call had paved the way for Bulls’ third score, but Cairns didn’t want to dwell on it too much. “When you’re under pressure that sort of thing doesn’t help, but the way we had started the game meant we were going to have a horrible first 10 to 15 minutes,” he surmised. “When the first thing we do is knock the ball on in midfield, give them an easy scrum, then a penalty, then you’re under pressure straight from the start, but the way we regrouped was outstanding, and very hard to do here [at Millbrae].
Following Heriot’s early error, Cameron Fenton and Ryan Sweeney exchanged penalty-winning jackals, the latter’s breakdown victory allowed Bulls to kick for optimal field position, and although their maul never really got rolling, assistant coach Frazier Climo – filling in at stand-off for Bulls due to injuries – rolled back the years and pinned back his ears when he found a gap in Heriots’ defence.
Roughly five minutes later, Heriot’s were rocked again thanks to the turbo-charged heels of Luca Bardelli. The Edinburgh side had done well to turnover the ball, and lock Euan McVie carried and then nudged it forward, into space, just past the Bulls’ own 10-metre line. Bardelli swooped to collect, shimmied past one, accelerated past another, chipped ahead, and beat flanker Charles Jupp in the foot-race to dot down past the whitewash, a sensational solo score nearly on a par with one he claimed for GHA against Heriot’s Blues in the Premiership earlier this season.
Heriot’s must have felt it wasn’t going to be there day at all when Thomas Glendinning collided with Daniel King in the air, and although it appeared that the Bulls’ man hadn’t made a fair contest for the ball, match official duo David Sutherland and Ross Mabon gave it as a knock-on against King.
One scrum penalty, three line-outs, and a handful of phases later, Jamie Shedden was over for the Bulls third score, all of which were converted by Elias Caven.
Heriot’s first foray into Bulls’ territory ended in a mix-up between Adrian Boyle and Cam Jones, but soon afterwards Boyle helped himself to an opportunistic score after Michael Gray’s kick-ahead had been fumbled by Climo. Then, just before half-time, former Bull Jones reduced the deficit to one score, running on the shoulder of King after he had made a break through the centre.
Another excellent break at the start of the second half from King nearly led to it being level, at least on tries scored, but Jones couldn’t quite cling on to wing Ben Evans’ pass with the try-line awaiting.
Bulls’ decision not to take an easy three to nudge themselves 10 points clear nearly came back to haunt them when Heriot’s dragged their maul into touch as it approached the try-line, but they soon had possession back in the Heriot’s half. Climo threw a perfect long pass out wide to Caven, and although he was stopped by Gray’s excellent cover tackle, Rory Jackson was on hand to take the offload and cross.
Heriot’s were nowhere near done yet, though, and quick thinking from replacement stand-off Ross Jones saw him cross-kick a penalty to Evans on the right-wing, and although he was stopped, it was another replacement, the tight-head Euan McLaren, who crossed from close-range. Ross Jones converted to make the score 26-21.
Caven threatened for Bulls after stripping Gray of the ball, but he was well marshalled by the retreating Boyle, and more tenacious defending saw Blair Macpherson penalised two metres short of the Heriot’s try-line, allowing them to clear the danger.
As the weary sides dragged themselves back down the pitch, Heriot’s found the energy to give themselves the chance to take the lead when Iain Wilson scored from the back of a maul, but Jones pulled the conversion to leave the sides tied.
The Millbrae crowd thought they had stolen it at the death when Shedden gathered a loose ball in midfield and started to gallop away, but replacement scrum-half Euan McAra held on for dear life and was able to haul his prey down.
“That’s a game we should have put to bed”, was Bulls head coach Pat McArthur’s view of the result after the final whistle “I think our accuracy in the finish-zone was lacking at points, we were too frantic to score rather than just building up pressure, but that’s part of the learning.
“At points we look like we’re really kicking into gear, looking strong across the park, but then there are these little bits of inaccuracy that we need to tidy up. Little bits of detail make big differences, but we’re sitting in a decent place, still joint-top, so that makes it two big knock-out games next weekend.”
Ayrshire Bulls: E Caven; L Bardelli, J Shedden, K Yule, T Glendinning; F Climo, G Baird; A Nimmo, G Stewart, C Henderson, E Bloodworth, R Jackson, R Sweeney, L McNamara, B Macpherson ©. Substituties: B Jardine, C Miller, E Pieretto, A Miller, T Brown, B Afshar, A Bogidrau, C Elliot
Heriot’s: D King; B Evans, G Hughes, A Boyle, M Gray; B Houston, C Jones; C Keen, C Fenton, S Cessford, E McVie, R Seydak, C Jupp, I Wilson©, R Leishman. Substitutes: M Liness, J Scott, E McLaren, C Cobbett, C Anderson, E McAra, R Jones, L Wells
Referee: David Sutherland
Ayrshire Bulls: Tries: Climo, Bardelli, Shedden, Jackson; Cons: Caven 3.
Heriot’s: Tries: Boyle, C Jones, McLaren, Wilson; Cons: Houston 2, R Jones.
Scoring sequence (Ayrshire Bulls first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0; 19-0; 21-0; 21-5; 21-7; 21-12; 21-14 (h-t) 26-14; 26-19; 26-21; 26-26.
Player-of-the-Match: Strong contenders on both sides, Heriot’s Michael Gray and Ronan Seydak both coming close, but Seydak’s opposite number Rory Jackson just shades it.
Talking Point: Four Bulls players were unavailable due to head injuries, meaning the likes of Frazier Climo had to play a full 80, but McArthur is expecting most of them back in time for the last-day showdown with Watsonians.