COLIN RENTON @ Myreside
DEFENDING champions Heriot’s launched their defence of their BT Premiership title with a defeat away to their Edinburgh rivals but the title holders had the consolation of salvaging a late bonus point.
For newly-promoted Watsonians, the performance provided confirmation that the ambitious summer recruitment has been a success. And for the Myreside outfit’s coach Marcus Di Rollo, there was the satisfaction of knowing that his side can reasonably expect to target more than merely surviving in the top flight.
Di Rollo has recruited significant firepower over the summer in an attempt to avoid the struggle against the drop that has become the norm for newly-promoted sides. A home front-row featuring two former pros in the shape of Ewan McQuillin and Sean Crombie, plus ex-Heriot’s man Nathan Borel clearly relished the tussle with the champions’ trio and that ensured some tasty exchanges at the scrum. And with pace aplenty in the back division, Watsonians could develop into a team capable of competing in the top half of the table.
The hosts made their intentions clear from the outset, starting smartly and looking menacing in the opening exchanges. However, having survived that spell on the back foot without conceding, it was the turn of Heriot’s to click through the gears.
Alex Hagart spurned a kickable penalty only 15 metres from the home line, opting for the lineout. Four further penalties underlined the visitors’ superiority and also cost the hosts the services of Rory Drummond for ten minutes after he was the unlucky man pinged for the fifth of those awards.
Heriot’s took advantage of the extra man to open the scoring in 19 minutes when another penalty for not rolling away yielded a penalty in front of the sticks and Hagart banged over the kick.
Restored to full strength, Watsonians pieced together a tidy piece of continuity rugby with Drummond – evidently desperate to make up for lost time – at the heart of the move. That sparked another spell of pressure by the hosts and, with 32 minutes on the clock, Ewan Scott – one of the posse who have swapped the Maroon of Gala for shirts of a similar hue at Myreside – sent over the kick to restore parity.
Hagart added three points to the Heriot’s tally when he slotted another penalty three minutes before the interval but by half time, Scott had squared matters again with another close range kick. There was just enough time for the restart and a mistimed tackle by Dylan Mason as he chased the kick was punished with a yellow card, meaning the champions played the first ten minutes of the second period a man down.
By the time Mason resumed, his side was seven points adrift. The man who did the damage was flanker Diarmid Dee who raced unchallenged into the visitors’ 22 then crashed through an attempted tackle by Andy McLean to dot down and leave Scott a simple conversion. However, McLean made no mistake a minute later when he halted James King just short of the target.
The momentum was firmly with Watsonians and they extended their lead in 57 minutes when a powerful shunt at a close range scrum forced the Heriot’s eight to buckle and referee Graeme Ormiston awarded a penalty try which Scott converted.
Heriot’s responded with a flurry of attacks and, after a string of unsuccessful assaults on the home defence, the visitors eventually found a way through in 66 minutes when Jack McClean cleverly drew his man and freed Liam Steele, who raced in at the corner. Hagart booted the conversion to ensure there was still life in the game.
However, any hopes of a fight back appeared to have been extinguished two minutes from time when replacement scrum-half Euan McKirdy picked up at a ruck just shy of the Heriot’s line and plunged over.
Deep into injury time, the visitors snatched a narrow defeat bonus point when Josh Laird capped an impressive performance when he darted in at the corner.
The final play of the game produced a penalty for Watsonians 35 metres from the posts – well within Scott’s range. However, perhaps wary of a potential breakout by their opponents should the kick fall short, the hosts took the safe option and kicked for touch to end a keenly contested affair and mark their return to the top flight with a win.
Watsonians: Tries: Dee, Penalty, McKirdy; Cons: Scott (2); Pens: Scott (2)
Heriot’s: Tries: Steele, Laird; Con: Hagart; Pens: Hagart (2)
Watsonians: A Chalmers; M Bertram, S McLeod; J King, K Young; E Scott, R Cullen; N Borel, S Crombie, E McQuillin; M Poole, C Borthwick, E Dods, D Dee, R Drummond. Subs used: D Miller, S Ruwers, A Duckett, E McKirdy, DJ Innes.
Heriot’s: G Parker; J Webster, L Steele, J Laird, A McLean; A Hagart, T Wilson; M McCallum, M Liness, S Cessford, R Nimmo, C Smith, D Mason, J McClean. C Marshall. Subs used: L Sinclair, M Bouab, J Curuqara, A Simmers, R Kay.
Referee: G Ormiston
Man-of-the-Match: The key to the win was control of the set piece in the second half and in that environment, Sean Crombie showed his leadership qualities.
Talking point: Watsonians should improve as the new faces bed in and Myreside may become a tough place to visit as the season progresses.
Image courtesy of Roy Smith Photography