Coach Phil Smith saluted Heriot’s celebrated staying power as they climbed to third in the Scottish rugby premiership with a 26-14 Raeburn Place victory that leaves opponents Edinburgh Accies on the brink of a relegation play-off.
Heriot’s trailed 3-7 at the interval but Smith had every reason not to be overly concerned.
“We have ‘won’ the second half of every match we’ve played this season apart from at Ayr when overall we won that match,” noted Smith.
“Part of it is to do with the impact bench players such as Ben Toolis, Max Nimmo and Stewart Mustard are able to bring.
“And, if we got a break when it did seem Cammy Ferguson had scored a try from a ball that was knocked forward into his path there was another occasion when we were denied what I thought was a clear-cut score in the corner.”
On balance, Heriot’s were worth a win that enables them to start generating momentum looking ahead to a Scottish Cup semi-final away to Aberdeen on Saturday week.
Their second half tour-de-force involved tries by Murray Douglas, Liam Steele and the aforementioned Ferguson whereas Accies played only fitfully. By far the best part of their performance involved some solid defence albeit there were neat touches from stand-off Alex Blair.
“In the second half we were much more clinical and when, on Saturday, we go to Hawick I’ll make sure every member of our first team squad gets a run because the Cup is our big focus now that we can’t win the league,” added Smith, who was full of praise for Aleki Lutui, the Tongan international hooker who was released to Accies from Edinburgh.
“Aleki was absolutely outstanding with some of his ball carrying.”
In fact, Lutui powered over for a the try that enabled Accies to overturn the loss of a penalty to Graham Wilson within 30 seconds of the kick-off.
When Alex Blair ghosted through a gap to make it 14-3 a minute into the second half it seemed Accies might kick on. However, it was their last scoring contribution and now they face a vital encounter at home to Stirling County on Saturday.
Presently Accies sit in seventh place a point ahead of Stirling but ninth placed Hawick are just two points adrift of that pair with a game in hand. Aberdeen are already down.
Should Accies beat Stirling their fears of being dragged into a play-off against the second top National League side – either Watsonians or Stewart’s/Melville – will be over but coach Jonny Else knows there will be no shortcuts.
“We had our chances to win but silly mistakes let us down, the box kicking and those penalties conceded in our own ‘22’, for example.”
The loss of Nyle Godsmark to the sin-bin on the hour didn’t help either but Else was philosophical.
“Heriots are a good side who have been winning week, in week out.
“By contrast it’s not happening for us.”
Accies have lost five-in-a-row at league level since winning at Stirling on November 23 and Else added: “It was always going to come down to the Stirling match next week. It’s our cup final.
“It was disappointing, though, to lose to Heriot’s after being completely in the game. We were 11 points ahead and the frustrating thing is our defensive play was good.”
All sorts of conditions are usually attached to the length of time pros or under-20 internationalists can play club rugby on release so when the inspirational Lutui was withdrawn with ten minutes remaining it could have been part of a pre-arranged plan.
What mattered was the fact his bullocking runs were missing when Accies unsuccessfully laid siege to the Heriot’s line in the closing moments and were desperately hammering away for a losing bonus point.
That could ultimately be crucial although Else, insisted: “Lutui hadn’t played for a while (and) at that stage of the game he wouldn’t have made much difference.
“The Ferguson try did look like it came from a knock-on but when things go against you, they go against you.
“We need to stick together now and prepare for Stirling and the fact our defence was good round the fringes is encouraging because that is where Stirling will attack us.
“It is the errors that are the killer and it is all on the line this Saturday.”
Edinburgh Accies: Tries: Blair, Lutui. Conversion: Blair (2).
Heriot’s: Tries: Steele, Ferguson, Douglas. Conversion: Wilson. Penalties: Wilson (3).
Edinburgh Accies: J Sole, N Godsmark, E Campbell, I Berthinussen, J Marples, A Blair, M Campbell, D Morrison, A Allan, A Lutui, A Toolis, J McCarthy, R Snape, G Campbell (captain), H Watson. Subs: M Liness, D Bates, R Seydak, R Bonner, N Armstrong.
Heriot’s: K Buchan, L Steele, C Ferguson, R Carmichael. C Goudie, O Brown, G Wilson, N Borel, K Bryce, G Cameron, R Nimmo. M Douglas, J Turley (captain), J Hill, C Mulligan. Subs: C Owenson, S Mustard, B Toolis, J Maclean, M Nimmo.
Referee: G Gordon.