KEITH BUCHAN insisted he had no difficulty being the ‘Hibee that got away’ after helping Heriot’s soar back into the Scottish Rugby Premiership race with a 30-17 win over leaders Melrose at Goldenacre.
The Capital outfit are now just two points off the pace partly due to a try brace from Buchan who, as the Evening News revealed last year, played schoolboy football for Scotland Under-16s and was also invited to train at Easter Road.
However, the recent Scotland Under-20 rugby utility back, who moved from Boroughmuir to Heriot’s over the summer, said: “I still enjoy playing some five-a-side football but I have no regrets about focusing on rugby. The move to Heriot’s has really worked out well and I enjoyed being part of a team that treated the Melrose match as a Cup Final so far as remaining in contention was concerned.”
In many ways the defeat by Hawick a week earlier which ended a seven-match winning streak was something of a wake up call and Buchan, who switched from full back to centre after that setback with dynamic effect, added: “We turned things around by just believing in ourselves. We knew what we wanted to do all over the pitch and just executed it well. We didn’t turn up last week.”
Heriot’s, who also had a try brace from the effervescent Max Learmonth, led 8-7 at half-time while having the advantage of the breeze.
“We told ourselves not to be so frantic but to keep going at them 100 per cent,” said Buchan. However, Buchan, who is now ineligible to add to under-20 caps, urged colleagues to stay grounded.
“Hopefully that is us back in the title race but our next game is away to (third place) Gala and after that come (B&I Cup sides) Stirling County and Ayr.
“The next few weeks are huge so there is no scope to relax.”
That would strike a chord with Heriot’s coach Phil Smith who was aware that the team had only picked up their third try-bonus-point of the season.
But he acknowledged that both teams had played their part in an absorbing contest decided only in the final ten minutes when Heriot’s pulled clear from 20-17. “What an advert, it was brilliant,” enthused Smith. “We had a specific game plan and having the likes of (sevens cap) Michael Maltman made it a little bit easier. But I thought we played them off the park.
“Melrose looked like they were getting back into it and we made a couple of errors but we got back to what we wanted to achieve against the best side we have played. We were courageous and every boy stepped up. As far as the game in Scotland is concerned I’d watch that every week. If you didn’t think that was an advert you are mad. Some of the handling was exceptional and our first try was worthy of any game .
“If Keith Buchan wasn’t man of the match he must surely have been close.”
Such is the way Premiership rugby has been allowed to fall behind in terms of projection, there are no man-of-the-match awards. But if these standards are maintained it is only a matter of time before more individuals are officially recognised.
The opening try referred to by Smith involved mass handing culminating in an improvised pass from Buchan over the head of a defender to Learmonth.
Solid defence, which invariably prevented Heriot’s getting the all-important final pass away, kept the hosts at bay apart from a Graham Wilson penalty and Nick Beavon’s bullocking run produced a Melrose try that put the game back in the melting pot.
A brilliant pick-up on the run by Buchan released George Turner for Heriot’s second before the provider turned scorer for 20-10. Still Melrose wouldn’t be shaken off and when Damien Hoyland nipped in for his eighth touchdown of the season Heriot’s looked rattled. But late strikes by Buchan and Learmonth sealed the deal on a day when other notable flashes of skill included a catch-and-counter from Colin Goudie with Mike Maltman in perpetual motion.
Also, he may have been substituted at half time to make way for pro Sean Kennedy, but the initial introduction of Ruaridh Carmichael at stand off looked a master-stroke given his ability to play flat to the gain-line.
Thanks to Carmichael Heriot’s had Melrose on the back foot from the off – and they continued asking questions all the way through.
Scorers: Heriot’s: Tries: Buchan (2), Learmonth (2), Turner, Conversion: Wilson. Penalty: Wilson. Melrose: Tries: Beavon, Hoyland. Conversions: Helps (2). Penalty: Helps.
Heriot’s: C Goudie, M Learmonth, K Buchan, C Ferguson, M Nimmo, R Carmichael, G Wilson, C Owenson, G Turner, N Bore, R Nimmo, M Douglas, M Maltman, J Turley, A Henderson. Subs: K Bryce, S Mustard, J Hill, S Kennedy, H Boisseau.
Melrose: F Thomson, D Hoyland, A Skeen, J Helps, A Lockington, R Mill, B Colvine, N Little, T Pearce, N Beavon, G Dodds, S Johnston, P Eccles, A Nagle, G Runciman. Subs: R Ferguson, G Holborn, R Miller, T Wilson, M Robertson.
Referee: D Changleng.