Stirling Wolves 14
LEWIS STUART @ Bridgehaugh
HERIOT’S put themselves in pole position to finish the FOSROC Super Series Championship top of the table with an all-action thrashing of the home side at Bridgehaugh. The result moved them top of the table with three games to go and guarantees them a place in the play-offs, 15 points ahead of fourth-placed Southern Knights who have only two games left.
As for Stirling, this result leaves them still needing to pick up points in their final three matches if they are to join Heriot’s in the knock-out stage and the game coming up against the Knights a week on Friday is looking more and more like a make-or-break match for both teams.
No doubt, then, which coach would be the happier. For Ben Cairns in charge of Heriot’s, it added to an excellent week, which started with a win against Ayrshire Bulls before this result underlined their title credentials.
“These performances always start on the mental side and in the way we turned up here I thought we were outstanding,” he said. “There were probably excuses if we wanted them, having to go from Saturday against the league leaders into a Wednesday game, but the way we started, our clinical edge, our work-rate and our desire to play for each other were excellent.
“Before the game we spoke about this being a massive game for both teams, if they won they went to fourth and if we won we would go first. That was the intention, to go top of the league going into the weekend. We still have three more massive games but we aim to continue with this momentum going into the play-offs.”
It was a blow for Stirling, who came into the game riding the crest of a wave after thrashing the Futures XV but they never found their rhythm in a sloppy all round performance that left coach Eddie Pollock clearly annoyed.
“That is probably the worst we have played, we just made so any errors,” he said. “When we did have possession of the ball, we just gave it straight back to them. When we went 19-0 down, we still had opportunities, a long period when we had possession of the ball and then we just turned the ball over in their 22. Instead of getting back in the game, we let in more tries.
“Once that happens they could pull clear, we just panicked when things weren’t going quite to plan. We needed more control and to stick to the plan but, credit to Heriot’s, they were very, very good.”
With both teams having played last weekend, it was obviously going to be a tough ask for all the players involved but it was Heriot;s who got the fast start they needed and that seemed to rock the home side. Helped by some sloppy line-out work from Stirling, the Edinburgh side had all the early pressure and made it pay.
Two kickable penalties were booted into touch as they went hunting the vital bonus point from the start and the reward soon came when the second maul was driven to the line and hooker Cammy Fenton managed to force his way to the ground in the middle of a pile of bodies.
It was well deserved after plenty of enterprising rugby which suggested the visitors had the bit between their teeth and were ready to take advantage of the elements. All the same, the next breakthrough came after Stirling had the ball in midfield. A spectacular tackle on scrum-half Ben Afshar by Heriot’s flanker Sam Wallace gave him the chance to strip the ball and set off downfield.
Though he was caught, the defence couldn’t get back into position and Fin Campbell, the visiting scrum-half, was put away to canter in for the second visiting score.
Wing Jack Blain was next into the action, showing off his running skills on a couple of elusive dashes from his own half but it was his strength which came to the fore when he took advantage of more recycled ball to force his way over on the left touchline.
Dan King, the full-back, converted the first two but couldn’t quite judge the wind for the third leaving his side with a 19-point advantage at the break.
Which is not to suggest Stirling didn’t have their chances, particularly after Fenton was taken off on a stretcher after a big collision under his own posts. The home scrum had already been marginally the better but without the Heriot’s captain there to help hold the front row together, they became totally dominant.
The problem was that line-out. So, when the Wolves did win a penalty and kicked to touch five metres out, they couldn’t win the ball to set up their drive, and plenty of recycled possession being run in the backs didn’t produce a significant break.
It was the same after the break as Stirling used the wind, now behind them, to reach the visitors’ line only for Ronan Sendak, the lock, to turn the ball over for Heriot’s in the line-out. The Edinburgh outfit worked the ball away from there and Jamie Campbell, the other lock, put in a storming run down the opposite touchline before offloading to Grant Hughes.
A try seemed inevitable until Ed Timpson popped up from nowhere to haul the Heriot’s centre down inches short. Those home heroics only delayed the inevitable, though, as Heriot’s started to get Blain into the game more, and the former Edinburgh man picked a perfect angle coming off the blind-side to cut through and find Fin Campbell in support for the bonus point score.
Stirling continued creating problems for themselves as their misfiring line-out made it almost impossible to maintain pressure for any length of time. Even the scrum, which had been reliable source of possession for the home team, started to even up as the replacements flooded on.
The home side did at least manage to get on the scoreboard when wing Ross McKnight cut the line and No 8 Ed Hadsell managed to carry the remaining shreds of defence over the line – but it was a short lived respite.
Straight from the kick off, Heriot’s went on the attack and Hughes cut across the defence at an angle to score the fifth try.
By now the result was settled but there was still time for a bit more action with Tom Smith, the replacement Stirling lock, scoring off the rebound off a charged down clearance, before Heriot’s replied with Ross Jones, another replacement, latching onto a dropped pass in the Stirling 22 and putting Blain in for the final score.
It had been a ruthless demonstration of all-action rugby from Heriot’s, who seem to be hitting form at exactly the right time, while Stirling, as Pollock said, need to “flick the switch” and get back to winning ways.
Stirling Wolves: G Bryce; M Heron, R Southern, M Holden, R McKnight; C Jackson, B Afshar; L Quarm, R Kennedy, M Ogunlaja, H Ferguson, J Pow, L Wynne, E Timpson, E Hasdell. Subs: S Rainey, G Breese, L Skinner, T Smith, S MacDonald, K McGhie, E Cunningham, S Rockley.
Heriot’s: D King; L Wells, M Davidson, G Hughes, J Blain; L Richman, F Campbell; C Keen, C Fenton, C Ramsay, R Seydak, J Campell, C Jupp, S Wallace, R Leishman. Subs: D Hood, J Scott, S Cessford, W Nelson, C Anderson, S Broad, R Jones, S Pecqueur.
Referee: David Sutherland
Stirling Wolves: Tries: Hadsell, Smith; Cons: Jackson 2.
Heriot’s: Tries: Fenton, F Campbell 2, Blain 2, Hughes, Davidson; Cons: King 3, Jones 3.
Scoring sequence (Stirling Wolves first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-12; 0-14, 0-19 (h-t) 0-24; 0-26; 5-26; 7-26; 7-31; 7-33; 12-33; 14-33; 14-38; 14-40; 14-45; 14-47.
Player-of-the-Match: You could make a case for most of the Heriot’s backs as well as Jamie Campbell and Ruairidh Leishman, the forwards who ripped the home line-out apart, but the player who kept making breaks and creating something from nothing was Jack Blain, the wing whose two tries were richly deserved and earn him The Offside Line’s award.
Talking point: Wednesday night rugby comes with all sorts of problems but it also allows the youngsters who would usually being playing or preparing to play the chance to come along and cheer their club mates on. That certainly helped create a noisy atmosphere at Bridgehaugh.