Heriot’s coach Graham Marshall took some time out to enjoy his side’s 42-13 win in Saturday’s RBS Premier B clash with Stewart’s-Melville at Goldenacre – a result that preserves his club’s record of never having been out of club rugby’s top flight. But he is already looking to next season and is keen to strengthen his squad in a bid to avoid a repeat of the tense run in to the league campaign.
Paying tribute to the character of his players in securing their survival, he said: “It’s a job done. It wasn’t looking good when we lost to (Edinburgh) Accies. We said there was an easy way and a hard way, the easy was beating Accies and the hard way was winning the last four games. And they’ve managed to do it.”
Then, with thoughts already turning to the task of transforming the side into potential challengers, he added: “I don’t think that squad can compete at the top of Prem 1 at the moment. We don’t want to find ourselves in a relegation dogfight again because that’s pretty stressful for everybody.”
However, Marshall concedes that winning the battle to attract talent is another demanding task. “This club has a really proud tradition and you have to maintain that. A lot of clubs in Edinburgh are going for a select group of players and we just have to make sure we can get guys who want to play for Heriot’s.”
The transformation in fortunes during the second half of the season depended, he believes, on an upturn in belief among the players – aided by an element of good fortune.
“Confidence was at rock bottom,” he recalled, referring to the dark days before the league split. “We won the first two league games but didn’t play all that well in winning them and confidence took a nosedive. Sometimes it’s just perseverance that gets that back. We got a wee break at Hawick that allowed us to win, we got a wee break with their scrum half going off in this game. It just builds and when you start winning momentum builds.”
That reference to the early departure of Stew Mel’s Kaide Whiting was a reflection on a key moment in Saturday’s match. The visitors had started well and, despite falling behind to a brace of penalties from Heriot’s skipper Graham Wilson, looked the more menacing side. A scything run by Whiting was a prelude to an unconverted try for Harry Boisseau that was no less than the Inverleith men merited.
By the time of Whiting’s premature exit with a head knock, Wilson had slotted a third penalty. Exchange referee Richard Kelly then awarded Heriot’s a penalty try after their eight shunted back the shorthanded Stew Mel pack – Donald Sangster had been yellow carded. Wilson’s conversion took the score to 16-5, leaving the hosts comfortably ahead on the scoreboard, if not on the run of play, at the interval.
The second half resumed in similar fashion, although a penalty from Mike Hanning was scant reward for StewMel’s territorial supremacy. And they paid a heavy price for their inability to capitalise when Heriot’s, despite having Jason Hill spending time in the sin bin, struck with a try by Max Learmonth, converted by Wilson.
Again the visitors raised the pace and Boisseau darted over for a second time, cutting the gap to ten points. However, with victory in sight, Heriot’s finally turned on the style, Gregor Lawson dotting down twice and Cammy Ferguson sprinting over in the final quarter, while Wilson banged over two of the conversions to add some gloss to the final scoreline.
While his men have found the going tough in Premier B after topping Division 2 by a comfortable margin before the split, StewMel coach Bruce MacNaughton declared himself satisfied with the campaign.
“It’s been a really good season for us and the advantage of the last three games – against Accies, Hawks and Heriot’s – is that we know where we are,” he said. “We are probably not quite there yet. We maybe need another year. If we can keep these boys, they will get better. They play some good stuff.”
Heriot’s: Tries: Lawson (2), penalty try, Learmonth, Ferguson. Cons: Wilson (4). Penalties: Wilson (3).
Stewart’s Melville: Tries: Boisseau (2). Penalty: Hanning.
Heriot’s: G Lawson; C Goudie, M Learmonth, C Ferguson, M Nimmo; O Brown, G Wilson; A Dymock, K Bryce, S Cessford, R Martin, R Wilson, F Brown, A Spence, J Hill. Subs Used: S Mustard, J Ward, M Reid, A Scott.
Stewart’s Melville: L Steele; R Borthwick, S Riddell, N Bowie, H Boisseau; M Hanning, C Whiting; A Dixon, G Turner, W Aitken, M Wilson, F Morrison, P Hendry, D Sangster, J Hare. Subs Used: R MacKenzie, C O’Donnell, A Statham, A Lean.
Referee: R Kelly (RFU)