Heriot’s saved their best performance of the season for when it mattered most with a 36-24 Goldenacre victory over Glasgow Hawks, coach Graham Marshall believes.
Defeat would have almost certainly severed Heriot’s 39-year unbroken link with top-flight club rugby but that was never a possibility apart from being caught cold and conceding an opening minute converted try, such was the quality of the support running and line-breaking in particular. And, at the heart of the home display was a recent Scotland under-20 flanker battling back from a horrendous sequence of injuries.
Paying tribute to Alex Spence, who combined with the outstanding Jason Hill and Fraser Brown for a match-winning back row, coach Marshall said: “It was hard to believe that was only Alex Spence’s third 80-minute stint in two years.
“First of all he had a hamstring injury, then knee trouble before finally undergoing a shoulder operation. Alex is only going to get better and better and there is so much potential in this side that can be developed with a full summer training programme to add extra physicality.”
First, though, Heriot’s have to conclude their season with victory at home to Stewart’s Melville on Saturday to ensure they are one of two teams moving up from Premier Group B into which they fell at the pre-Christmas split.
If Goldenacre houses one of its biggest crowds in years for this one that would be fitting because, in certain aspects of their play, this was the best all- round Heriot’s performance this observer has witnessed in over 30 years of reporting on the club. Undoubtedly fitter than any of their predecessors, Heriot’s took advantage with some breathtaking support running and ball-playing – centre Ruairidh Carmichael was a revelation with one pass plucked single handed off his toes at full pelt – and notched four tries through Ross Martin, Colin Goudie, Max Learmonth and Jason Hill.
Hill got on the score-sheet to cap a display of running angles mostly in synch with scrum half Graham Wilson and by half-time they led 23-7.
It was a treat to observe such creativity, cohesion and passion and Marshall was not inclined to disagree. “The tries were fantastic. When we get the ball with a bit of rhythm and into the players’ hands pretty quickly the guys work hard; we looked like we had a cutting edge.
“When we won at Hawick to keep our hopes alive that was a gutsy display. This was much higher quality. It has taken our team most of the season to believe in themselves but this was a win for rugby-playing over a bit of physicality and when we got the ball wide Ruaridh Carmichael had a great game.
“Even more satisfying we only had two fit props and I always felt we were going to be under pressure but scrums were okay.”
In fact, Heriot’s did concede a penalty try when a scrum collapsed near their line but that was a rare flaw in a display featuring 6ft 5in prop Struan Cessford who had a spell with Auckland’s University club last summer. “I got exposed to some top quality coaching including from John Clough, a relative of Sean Lineen, and rather than continue travelling to Dundee from Edinburgh University for training and matches I threw my lot in with Heriot’s,” said Cessford who, after one appearance from off the bench for Scotland under-20s this season, is hoping to go to the summer World Cup in South Africa.
There are those at Goldenacre who believe every opportunity should be taken to fast track the still raw Cessford.
Meanwhile, Marshall admitted Heriot’s got a few breaks, saying: “Every bounce went for us in the first half and a line-out ploy which came off at Boroughmuir the previous week (sending Ross Martin in round the front for a try) succeeded again much to my surprise. We had to graft in the second half but we showed we could do that helped by Gregor Lawson who is giving great service from full back.”
With Lawson one of those now in his 30s, Heriot’s need to maintain a supply of young talent with aspirations to join the professional teams and the only way to guarantee that is elite club status. Saturday will determine whether that target is met.
Heriot’s: Tries: Martin, Goudie, Learmonth, Hill. Conversions: Wilson (2). Penalties: Wilson (4).
Glasgow Hawks: Tries: Gossman (2), Preece, Penalty Try. Conversions: Jericevich (2).
Heriot’s: G Lawson, C Goudie, M Learmonth, R Carmichael, M Nimmo, O Brown, G Wilson (captain), J-P Ward, K Bryce, S Cessford, R Martin, R Wilson, A Spence, J Hill, F Brown. Subs: S Mustard, R Cessford, C Ferguson, A Scott.
Glasgow Hawks: C Gossman, T Stevens, D Kelbrick, T Preece, J Wright, D Faraitiana, P Jericevich captain, S Findlay, J McFarlane, G Hunter, N Campbell, R McKay, A Barbieri, G Strange, S Leckie. Subs: J Lohar, E Milligan, A Kirkland, K Hamilton.
Referee: C Samson (Howe of Fife)