Rugby: Smith hails winning combination at Heriot’s

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Delighted Heriot’s coach Phil Smith has expressed admiration for the contribution of the fledgling half-back partnership of Sam Hidalgo-Clyne and Graham Wilson to his side’s first win in three starts.

Smith’s men rallied from narrow defeats over the previous two weekends to see off Aberdeen Grammar 31-19 in Saturday’s RBS Premiership encounter, racking up five tries against winless opponents who are rooted to the foot of the table but far from a pushover.

And, at the heart of the victory was the link up between the two men who were playing only their third game in unfamiliar positions.

Explaining his decision to field the duo as the hinge between a well-drilled pack and a pacey back line, the coach said: “I had three different half back options. The most exciting was obviously this one.

“Sam has never played at nine before apart from maybe the odd game at school. Graham is now quite excited about playing ten.

“I think he is kind of like a Greig Laidlaw in that he just knows the game and he will plot our way round the pitch and has good skills. And he is warming into it really well.”

And Smith believes the maturing partnership can help Hidalgo-Clyne bid for the scrum-half berth in the Scotland Under 20 side for the Six Nations tournament, adding: “They are both footballers. Sam is really sharp and Graham has that calming influence and he can manipulate what is going on because he just knows the game so well. It’s really good for us. If Sam is going to challenge for a place in the 20s, he needs to play a lot at scrum half.”

Hidalgo-Clyne admits that he is still a novice in the No. 9 shirt, but the progress he is making was clear on Saturday when he delivered a confident performance that underlined the burgeoning rapport with his skipper.

“It’s tricky because I have only played there three times,” admitted the 19-year-old Edinburgh Development player. “Graham as well is new to that position – but each week it is getting better. Things are hopefully progressing. It’s good to challenge myself.”

Slickness of service was behind the first Heriot’s try, finished in style by Kevin Bryce and converted by Wilson. Despite languishing at the bottom of the table, Aberdeen have scored more tries than any side in the league other than pacesetters Ayr. The visitors were not helped by their late arrival because of traffic problems, but they bounced back with a touchdown from Murray Douglas.

Andrew Scott bagged the second try for Heriot’s and Wilson again converted, then Colin Goudie finished off a sparkling move that started inside the home half and featured neat interplay before the winger dotted down for try number three to make it 17-5 at the break.

“That was outstanding. If people don’t think that is a good club rugby try they are mad,” Smith stated with some justification.

The visitors clawed back seven points immediately after the restart when Tony McGuiness claimed a converted try but the response was a second score by Goudie, with Wilson once more adding the extra two points. However, Aberdeen still refused to surrender and Erlend Oag sprinted in for a converted score to leave the match poised at 24-19 entering the final 
quarter.

With memories of narrow defeats on the two previous Saturday’s still vivid in the minds of the Heriot’s players, there was a hint of desperation in their efforts to repel the visitors. And they were never able to relax, with the final try – a rampaging effort by Jason Hill, converted by Wilson – only coming in the final minute.

“We have looked like we could win any game, we just haven’t done it,” Smith conceded, 
recalling the painful second half collapse against Edinburgh Accies and a similarly narrow defeat against Ayr.

“We played better against Ayr and Accies and came away with nothing,” added Smith, who was therefore delighted with the five-point haul.

“We got a win and that was crucial,” opined the coach, who is upbeat about his side’s prospects of making further progress over the coming weeks, starting with a Capital derby against Boroughmuir at Meggetland on Friday night.

Scorers: Heriot’s: Tries: Bryce, Scott, Goudie (2), Hill. Cons: Wilson (3). Aberdeen Grammar: Tries: Douglas, McGuiness, Oag. Cons: Hagart, M Ryan.

Heriot’s: M Penn, A Scott, M Learmonth, R Carmichael, C Goudie, G Wilson, S Hidalgo-Clyne, G Cameron, K Bryce, S Cessford, R Nimmo, B Morrissey, F Brown, C Mulligan, J Hill. Subs Used: C Owenson, J Nayacavou.

Aberdeen Grammar: S Aitken, E Oag, P Nacamavuto, J Knight, A Hales, A Hagart, M Ward, M Dixon, S O’Connor, S Corsar, S Smith, M Douglas, M Reid, T McGuiness, C Eyre. Subs Used: L Reid, C McConnahie, G Ryan, M Ryan, S Knudson.

Referee: D Changleng.