Yellow cards not Cochrane the decisive factor in Cup Final




AFTER the high drama at the end of the Bowl Final, and the thrilling contrast between power and pace exhibited in the Shield Final, the main event in the men’s section of Cup Finals Day at Murrayfield on Saturday was a bit of a damp squib.

It’s a shame because Melrose and Heriot’s are two teams which pride themselves on playing an open and entertaining brand of rugby, and the pair have been involved in some thrilling ding-dong battles over the years, but this time the contest never really got going as a sporting spectacle.

The effort was certainly there throughout, and early on there was plenty of desire to explore the full width of the international pitch, but that gave way to more pragmatic considerations as the game wore on – with Heriot’s squeezing sufficient advantage out of the one man advantage they enjoyed for almost 25 minutes of the match to grind out the win.

Graham Dodds was the first to see yellow for illegally slowing the ball after Fraser Thomson’s wayward clearance kick put his team under unnecessary pressure in the last play of the first half, and the third card was shown against Jamie Bhatti in the final few minutes for not rolling away at a ruck.

Melrose coach John Dalziel had no gripe against either of those decisions, but he couldn’t hide his frustration at the sin-binning of Lewis Carmichael in between times, which proved to be the decisive moment in the match.

“I’m really, really annoyed about that one because I think we’d just had an excellent first half which we are just about edging. Then there is a maul situation and the player is held up off the ground for what must have been 15 to 20 seconds, and because you don’t have to roll away from a maul our players end up offside when it goes to the floor and he gives a penalty. There was three times that happened in the game and the players are frustrated. A Heriot’s player pushed our player in the face on the way back, and he’s reacted and pushed back. There was certainly no punching there. He’s got to have a wee but empathy with what type of game we are playing,” lamented Dalziel

“That killed us. We’re in our second back-to-back ten minute spell [playing with only fourteen men] against Heriot’s who had their tails up by then. You take your lock off and you are then trying to defend two driven line-outs near your own line. Yes, we could still have dealt with that better, but the fizz had been taken out of us a bit. When you have 14 men for 26 minutes in a Cup Final against Heriot’s – you are not going to win that game,” he added.

Melrose temporarily subbed their wingers off for forwards to accommodate these yellow-cards, but they were always going to struggle to compensate for the quick succession loss of two such influential players as Dodds and Carmichael. Heriot’s could smell the vulnerability and they went for the jugular – kicking twice to the corner and driving the line-out over on both occasions.

“It gave the boys a bit of a lift and the two rolling mauls got the job done. We probably didn’t expose the fact that they had taken a back off and brought a forward on, but at that moment our strength was the rolling maul,” said Heriot’s coach Phil Smith.

The other major talking point from this match was the involvement of Edinburgh professional Neil Cochrane, who came off the bench for Heriot’s in place of regular hooker Michael Liness in a pre-planned tactical switch on the half hour mark. He scored both of his team’s tries and was then taken off during the final few minutes so that the man who has worn the number two jersey all season could be on the pitch to enjoy the final whistle.

Melrose also had a professional at hooker, but George Turner is more of a fringe player at Edinburgh and has featured regularly for Melrose this season. Cochrane has played 21 games for Edinburgh since the summer and even captained the side on occasion. Is it against the spirit of the competition to bolster your team at this critical stage of the campaign with a player who has contributed nothing to the cause previously?

“It’s difficult because they had an Edinburgh professional as well and those are the rules we’ve got. If a pro player is released then we can select him. Our feeling is that we, as a club, support Edinburgh Rugby so if we can help them then that’s great. Unfortunately that means one of our guys [Dylan Mason] became 23rd man and missed out, which is not ideal but that’s the cards we were dealt. It was a horrible decision to make but the end result is that we are here to win. We talk about this being amateur rugby, but we’re actually semi-pro and we’ve got guys who want to go pro,” said Smith.

This issue was perhaps overplayed in the immediate aftermath of the match. Cochrane may have scored two tries, but they were not individual scores. He was the beneficiary of two excellently constructed mauls which required the input of all the forwards, and even some of the backs.

He certainly added something to the Heriot’s team, otherwise he would not have been parachuted in – but whether his presence was a swing factor in the outcome is a moot point. Dalziel certainly didn’t seem to think it was a big issue.

“We had George Turner as well. I think we are trying to professionalise and make the Premiership better and guys like Neil can add to that. You might argue that it was his first game for the club all year, but we have no qualms with that. I’d still have backed us if we’d had fifteen men,” he said.

In the Shield Final, flying winger Lewis Clark secured a 34-27 victory for Carrick over Highland when he grabbed a 60 yard interception try with only four minutes left on the clock.

The men from South Ayrshire struggled against a powerful Highland pack, but were deadly when they managed to get the ball wide.

“We lived off scraps but when we did get possession the message was to move it and move it, and when we managed to do that we did some damage. To score five tries at Murayfield against a quality side like that is just fantastic,” said player coach Gordon Brown.

Tries from scrum-half Tom Brogan and Paddy Bryden against one score for Clark gave Highland a 12-7 half-time advantage, but Carrick came out after the break with all guns blazing and manoeuvred in to a commanding 24-12 lead by the hour mark through touchdowns for Brown, Kyle Johnson and Gordon Gregor.

Highland grabbed a lifeline through a try for Andrew Findlater, and after Johnson and Morris Dillon had exchanged penalties the game hung in the balance. Carrick were 27-22 ahead but momentum seemed to be with their opponents.

Then came the game’s decisive moment when Tam McGowan tried to exploit an overlap on the right but ended up gifting possession to Clark, who didn’t need a second invitation to grab the winning try.

Highland’s hearts may have been broken by that cruel blow but their resolve stayed strong, and Craig Little scrambled over in injury time for a well-deserved consolation score.

Before that, Millbrae grabbed a 17-15 victory over Aberdeen University in the Bowl Final, after a tense climax` in which the students missed a penalty in the last minute.

Scrum-half Thomas Forson gave the University an early lead, but Millbrae’s powerful pack were soon on top, and after a long period camped on their opponents’ line, the pressure finally paid-off for the boys from the west when their dominant scrum was awarded a penalty try on the stroke of half-time.  James Armstrong kicked the conversion to give his team the lead at the break.

Millbrae extended their lead when Keith Hunter burrowed over from close range, but Aberdeen’s youthful fitness began to tell and they dominated much of the second half, scoring a fine try when Max Stobbs leaped like a salmon to collect William Kelly’s clever chip-kick the dotted down under the posts.

A penalty for Patrick Clark eventually gave the students the lead with 12 minutes to go, but Millbrae dug deep for one final push and when they were awarded a kick at goal 42 yards from the posts, all eyes turned to Craig Steele. His effort was not pretty, but it scraped over the bar and Millbrae were back in front. Try as they might during the final few minutes, Aberdeen just could not seize the initiative back.

Teams –

Melrose: F Thomson; N Godsmark (R Knott 41-51), G Taylor, T Galbraith, S Pequeur (J Head 52-63, J Helps 68)); J Baggott, B Colvine (M McAndrew 63); J Bhatti, G Turner (R ferguson 74), N Beavon (R McLeod 31-43, 77), G Dodds (J Head 77), L Carmichael, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman, A Miller.

Heriot’s: J Semple; C Simpson, L Steele, C Ferguson (M Learmonth 31-39), J Rae (M Learmonth 62); G McNeish, T Wilson (A Simmers 62); M McCallum (M Bouab 77), M Liness (N Cochrane 31-77), S Cessford, R Nimmo (J Syme 77), J Turley, S Dewar (R Van Heerden 62), I Wilson (A Henderson 77), J Hill.

Scorers –

Melrose: Try: Godsmark, McAndrew; DG: Baggott.

Heriot’s: Tries: Cochrane 2; Con: Semple; Pen: Semple 3.

Referee K Allen

About David Barnes 3963 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.