Heriot’s rugby coach Phil Smith volunteered the precise moment which signalled the beginning of the end for his side’s hopes of an RBS Premiership double over Melrose, at Goldenacre, and brought an eventual 22-25 defeat.
Ahead 12-0 after 26 minutes and, according to Smith, “absolutely cruising” the Capital outfit saw Scotland under-20 prop Struan Cessford sin-binned for nothing more sinister than straying offside at a ruck a few metres from Heriot’s try-line.
It was a moment of youthful impetuosity but, coming on top of three similar offsides by various players, referee David Changleng was left with little option and Melrose ruthlessly hammered home a numerical advantage with tries by Andrew Nagle and Fraser Thomson as well as a Joe Helps penalty.
“I thought we were going to keep cruising . . . and then came that card,” said Smith. “I did get the feeling the card was coming and we were warned. The frustrating thing was that some of the penalties that led up to it came when we weren’t under pressure.”
Shortly before the Cessford binning, flanker Joe Nayacavou had gone yards offside and that probably added to the inevitability of the next offender being forced to take time out.
Credit Heriot’s for eventually regaining the lead but a last-gasp try by substitute Andrew Skeen – which he also converted – sealed their fate and leaves them sixth in the table.
By that stage Smith felt his team were treading water. “I definitely thought we tired,” said the coach. “We had a match cancelled followed by a 107-0 win over Lasswade in the cup.
“With respect the runaway nature of that win possibly cost us a bit of sharpness and I’d rather the Premiership had been able to continue uninterrupted.
“When the league stopped for us at the beginning of last month our pack were going particularly well; Saturday was a bit of a roller coaster.”
In fact, Heriot’s shot themselves in the foot by throwing squint and losing the jump at two attacking line-outs while they turned over possession and knocked-on inside the Melrose “22”.
What a thoroughly entertaining spectacle proved, though, apart from the staying power of a Melrose side whose flanker Grant Runciman became stronger the longer proceedings continued and full back Fraser Thomson showed marvellous footballing skills, was that Heriot’s can string powerful passages together.
At their best when hitting up through the likes of Jason Hill, Heriot’s introduced a potential match-winner from the bench after 60 minutes in Ruaraidh Carmichael and his linkeage, coupled with Colin Goudie’s direct running, did much to put them in the driving seat down the home straight after two tries from Max Learmonth established a 22-18 lead.
“When our lads play they can be unstoppable,” said Smith. “I don’t care what teams they are up against when we play we do it better than anybody. We also took the game to Melrose’s forwards and to come away with a defeat has left me absolutely crushed.
“That is especially the case when it appeared to me that of the four tries scored by Melrose only the last was well created but fair play to them even if we were tight and looking for a breather when they launched that last attack from their own half.
“Scoring four tries of our own and losing is hard to take but it balances out what happened when we went to Melrose this season and beat them on a day when both teams scored five tries!”
Heriot’s began by asking all the questions and with Melrose having lost four previous league games Border confidence looked fragile.
Indeed, the aura sometimes associated with these proud champions looked conspicuously absent especially when Graham Wilson went over for a try he converted which was engineered by Mike Penn. When Colin Goudie then stepped out of a tackle for try No. 2 it seemed a question of how big the winning margin would be.
But Melrose’s scoring flurry changed the complexion, a degree of uncertainty surrounding whether Thomson had beaten Penn to a touchdown albeit ref Changleng was well positioned.
The opening score of the second half was always going to be important and it fell to Thomson putting Melrose 18-12 ahead until the 65th minute when Carmichael’s emergence began to tell.
Learmonth’s brace of tries came a few minutes apart and it looked to be enough until – ironically – a loose pass from Skeen led to Heriot’s downfall as both teams scrambled for the bouncing ball.
Quickly recovering the stand off got outside Runciman and Bruce Colvine to touch down at the end of what the announcer termed “an epic battle”.
Quite right, too, although the sight of Cessford helping opposite number Gary Holborn to his feet in the closing moments summed up the sporting attitudes and Sam Hidalgo-Clyne’s yellow card for a late challenge on scorer Skeen was just more youthful over-exuberance.
Scorers: Heriot’s: Tries: Learmonth (2), Wilson, Goudie. Conversion: Wilson. Melrose: Tries: Thomson (2), Nagle, Skeen. Conversion: Skeen. Penalty: Nagle.
Heriot’s: S Hidalgo-Clyne, C Goudie, M Learmonth, C Ferguson, M Penn, G Wilson, captain, O Brown, C Owenson, K Bryce, S Cessford, R Nimmo. J Parker, J Nayacavou, J Hill, K MacKenzie. Subs: S Mustard, G Cameron, B Morrissey, R Carmichael, H Boisseau.
Melrose: F Thomson, B Colvine, captain, J Murray, J Helps, S Chalmers, R Mill, S McCormack, N Little, R Ferguson, G Holborn, R Ovens, R Miller, J Dalziel. A Nagle, G Runciman. Subs: W Mitchell, C Keen, P Eccles, A Skeen, L Mallin.
Referee: D Changleng.