Southern Knights 27
IAIN MORRISON @ Goldenacre
THIS was an odd game that didn’t spark into life until the second 40, which boasted four of the seven tries on display, three of them going to the visitors who were ruthless in their execution. Two of the three fell to winger Aidan Cross who scored twice in almost as many minutes.
Heriot’s looked the better team in the first half but without scoring the points to reflect their dominance. They lacked urgency and aggression with the ball as they almost seemed to believe that the win would come their way almost by right! Instead they finished second best to a young, inexperienced Knights side that lost two backs in the opening quarter. This win doubled the Knights’ tally for the season, from one to two.
All of which makes Heriots’ coach Fin Gillies declared after the match: “The feeling I got was that we might be cruising into this play-off and we are expecting that it will be alright on the night and that everything will be rosy.
“The reality is that we need to build momentum but I genuinely believe that I can see a route to us winning this (Super6). I do and I understand that nobody else does. And it’s not one of those, ‘stranger things have happened’ sort of scenarios because when we are on it we are good enough!” But not good enough yesterday to beat a team who were joint bottom of the league with only one win before this game kicked-off.
Of all the professionals on view, Nick Auterac scored a try for Southern Knights and dominated the set scrum, Cammy Hutchinson carried with his habitual aggression in the Heriots midfield, but Jaco van der Walt was having one to forget for the visitors, kicking the ball straight into touch on three occasions, until the Saffa produced two moments of magic, one kick-pass, one regular pass, to produce that brace of tries for Cross that changed the shape of this game.
This one was a slow burner notwithstanding the fact that Heriot’s scored the opening try within five minutes of kick-off. Full-back Rory Steele sent breakaway Iain Wilson on a canter down the left flank. He was stopped short of the line but hooker Elliot Young made far more yards than he should have and Wilson finished off the move he started from close range.
It is possible that that early score made Heriots a tad complacent because it was a little too easy and they were a little ordinary thereafter.
Knights slowly got themselves a toe-hold in this game, working their way upfield and, helped by some indiscipline from the home team, the visitors earned a five metre line-out and five pick-and-drives later Edinburgh’s new recruit Auterac had muscled his way over the try line.
Monkey see and all that stuff. Heriots were stung into action and repeated the trick almost exactly, kicking a penalty into the corner just a few minutes after the Knight’s opening score. The driving maul was held up and scrum-half Murdo McAndrew almost barged past van der Walt before skipper Ruairidh Leishman did the needful.
Despite scoring two tries to one, fly-half Dan King’s left his kicking boots at home so Heriot’s were just 10-7 to the good after half an hour, and it stayed that way to half time.
The Knights probably dominated the remainder of the first 40 but had nothing to show for it and the half ended with Heriots’ centre Hutchinson almost getting free up the right flank only to put a stray foot in touch. It was that sort of afternoon.
The second half was ten minutes old with nothing to recommend it when van der Walt had the opportunity to level the scores only to shank his kick wide of the posts.
Finally the flyhalf remembered who he was 57 minutes into this match, dinking a beautifully weighted kick-pass that fell perfectly for winger Cross, who still needed an athletic dive to score in the right hand corner.
The Knights had their nose in front as the match entered the final quarter and they extended their lead just minutes later as the same man showed everyone a clean pair of heels to double up in the exact same place, again benefitting from van der Walt’s pin-point distribution. Bizarrely, the South African’s twin conversion attempts both hit the same post; a tricky thing to do.
Heriot’s had been in cruise control but were now staring at a seven point deficit, three of which were canceled by a 66 minute penalty from the boot of replacement Ross Jones, little good it did them.
The Knights now had the belief coursing through their veins and another replacement, David Colvine, finished off an excellent move, taking a pop pass off the floor from Patrick Anderson and leaving the final defender for dead to score under the posts. Van der Walt managed the conversion, to ironic cheers, and the Knights were eleven points ahead well inside the final quarter.
With the game disappearing into the distance, Heriot’s finally raised a real head of steam. Wilson won an attacking penalty, the forwards won the line-out and several plays later winger Jack Blain touched down for Ross to convert. That score had narrowed the deficit to four points but van der Walt hit a long range penalty to restore the Knights seven point advantage.
Heriot’s had one last gasp to level things but they had to do so from their own line and Leishman’s hopeful kick ahead rolled harmlessly into touch to the relief of all the visitors, not least the Knights’ coach Bruce Ruthven.
“At half time we were well in the game but we were just struggling with our accuracy,” he said. “In the second half we got more belief, we grew in stature. You don’t always get what you deserve in rugby but I felt that that is exactly what happened to us today, we deserved the win.
What was the difference between the first and second halves?
“We started to open up a wee bit more and play some more rugby and our lineout began to function just a little bit better so we got some more possession. A few key moments went our way and our kicking was a wee bit better but, as you saw, it went down to the bitter end and I am really pleased for the boys.”
Heriot’s: R Steele; J Blain, M Davidson, C Hutchinson, S Pecqueur; D King, M McAndrew; J Scott, E Young, E McLaren , F Hastie, R Seydak, R Leishman (Capt), S Wallace, I Wilson. Substitutes: M Liness, A Rogers, D Gamble, M Badenhorst, R Jones, J Gelderbloom, J Henry, F Jones.
Southern Knights: K Clark; A Cross, B Pickles, K McGhie, F Douglas; J van der Walt, D Crawford; N Auterac, H Morris (Capt), R Deans, J Campbell, A Ferrie, S Derrick, W Nelson, R Brown. Substitutes: G Shiels, I Brace, E Demirel, F Renwick, D Colvine, P Anderson, H Rutherford.
Referee: Ian Kenny.
Heriots: Try: Wilson, Leishman, Blain; Con: Jones; Pen: Jones.
Southern Knights: Try: Auterac, Cross 2, Colvine; Con: van der Walt 2; Pen: van der Walt.
Sequence of scoring (Heriot’s first): 5-0; 5-5; 5-7; 10-7 (h-t) 10-12; 10-17; 13-17; 13-22; 13-24; 18-24; 20-24; 20-27.
Man-of-the-Match: Heriot’s seven Sam Wallace caught the eye, an old fashioned specialist openside who was excellent on the floor. Dan King kicked wonderfully well and long, in the first half especially, and both hookers, Elliot Young and Harri Morris, left everything on the field – but the award has to go to Knights winger Aidan Cross whose brace of tries breathed belief back into his side.
Talking point: We had the first water break after 15 minutes and the second ten minutes before the half-time break. In October. In Scotland. With the mercury barely reaching 15 Celsius. Why waste time?