Watsonians coach Marcus Di Rollo insists that he is not focusing on top-flight survival as an objective for the Myreside men, who launched their BT Premiership campaign with a 25-18 win at home to defending champions Heriot’s.
Aware of the problems that often accompany newly-promoted sides as they adjust to the intensity of the higher level, Di Rollo has recruited wisely and, although his team contained seven players making their debuts, many had played Premiership rugby in the past – several had also been involved in the professional game.
The benefit of that experience was clear as the hosts carried the play to the title holders in the opening exchanges. However, two evenly-matched sides reached the interval locked at 6-6 after Heriot’s stand-off Alex Hagart and his Sonians counterpart Ewan Scott landed two penalties apiece.
The home side stepped up the pace in the second half and appeared to have made the game safe when Dairmaid Dee crashed over for a touchdown, converted by Scott, then the referee awarded a penalty try – Scott again added the extras – as the home pack gained the upper hand in an intriguing set-piece tussle.
However, Heriot’s clawed their way back into the match through a Liam Steele try and were pressing for another score when a turnover in midfield handed possession to Sonians and the next attack ended with Euan McKirdy picking up at a ruck and diving over to build a 12-point lead with only two minutes of regulation time to play.
Three minutes into injury time, Josh Laird raced in at the corner to trim the deficit to seven points.
That garnered a losing bonus point for the title holders after the hosts earned a penalty with the final play and chose to kick into touch rather than go for goal and risk the possibility of missing and handing Heriot’s the chance to run the length of the field.
Naturally, Di Rollo was delighted with the result. “They are the champions – they won everything last year so we couldn’t have asked for more than to beat them on the opening day of the season,” he said.
However, on the subject of setting goals, he was more equivocal. “I don’t like to set our aim as survival to be honest. I think we just have to go out and take every game as it comes and just try and win each one. That’s our approach and if we can do that we will do well.”
His optimism is well founded given the experience that the new arrivals bring to a squad that already had talent but needed a platform to produce possession.
“We were conscious of getting the right guys in. We have hopefully got a bit of a hard edge and for the set piece you need that. If you can scrum well and you can do your set piece, you stand a chance against anyone. We have some really good players in the backs as well and we can create – we know that.”
Former pros Ewan McQuillin and Sean Crombie contributed to an impressive performance by the home pack, while a back row of Euan Dods, Dee and Rory Drummond looked a lively unit capable of exploiting opportunities.
“The good thing is that the guys who have come in all have really good leadership. They speak and at half-time or even when they are out there, they have a pretty good handle on what’s going on,” added Di Rollo.
“Sometimes these guys on the pitch are just analysing it as it goes on and that makes it easier for everyone.”
In the away camp, coach Phil Smith acknowledged that the performance fell short of the levels that delivered the silverware last season, saying: “I think we didn’t execute things that we did well last year. We had a couple of lineouts close to the line that maybe last year we would have scored from.”
But Smith, who had several players unavailable, will have been heartened by the performances of Callum Marshall and Josh Laird in a performance that spluttered at times but offered reasons for optimism.
“I wouldn’t say we are hitting our straps, but as I learned the last couple of years you don’t have to win every game. Top four is all you’ve got to do,” he said.
Elsewhere, Currie were on the receiving end of a first-day thrashing when they went down 53-10 away to an impressive Ayr side – a late converted try by Cameron Gray proving to be of little consolation for the Malleny Park men.
Boroughmuir suffered a 51-24 loss against Melrose but returned from the Greenyards with a four-try bonus point after Thomas Gracie, Jordan Edmunds, Andy Rose and Craig Keddie all touched down.
Watsonians: A Chalmers; M Bertram, S McLeod; J King, K Young; E Scott, R Cullen; N Borel, S Crombie, E McQuillin; M Poole, C Borthwick, E Dods, D Dee, R Drummond. Subs used: D Miller, S Ruwers, A Duckett, E McKirdy, DJ Innes.
Heriot’s: G Parker; J Webster, L Steele, J Laird, A McLean; A Hagart, T Wilson; M McCallum, M Liness, S Cessford, R Nimmo, C Smith, D Mason, J McClean. C Marshall. Subs used: L Sinclair, M Bouab, J Curuqara, A Simmers, R Kay.
Referee: G Ormiston.