Holders Heriot’s squeezed into the quarter-finals of the BT Cup with an 11-10 victory at Currie, who were left questioning a bold call by referee Cammy Rudkin to deny them a late winning try.
Currie stand-off Jamie Semple attempted a drop goal which struck a Heriot’s defender and broke backwards for Matt Goodwin to react quickest behind the in-goal area from an originally offside position in front of the kicker.
A consultation with the touch judge followed before the ‘score’ was disallowed, and the incident almost certainly boiled down to whether the defender had deliberately charged down the drop-goal attempt, or was struck by the ball.
Law 11.3 (c) states a player is only (played) onside when an opponent “intentionally touches the ball but does not catch it”. Mr Rudkin thought the contact unintentional, a view not shared in the Currie camp, although coach Ben Cairns was circumspect, remarking: “I’m trusting the ref knows the rules better than me but so far as I’m concerned with a charge-down there is no offside and the game is live.
“My hooker is in front of the kicker when the kick has been played and when it is charged down, for me, everyone is back onside.”
Relieved Heriot’s coach Phil Smith admitted to being equally in the dark about the decision. “My only feeling is that the person who charged it down was in front of the ball when the guy drop-kicked.
“I’m guessing you have to be onside from the charge-down initially,” said Smith.
Quite paradoxically, losing coach Cairns was fulsome in his praise of “a really good game of rugby. Not too many scores but in terms of spectacle ... pretty good.”
By contrast Smith was able to highlight how Heriot’s had “found a way to win”, noting: “We are in the last eight suddenly, out of nowhere, having looked like we should have been beaten all day.”
It was far from one-way traffic, but Smith’s reasoning was sound in that Currie kicker Joe Reynolds missed four second- half penalties, including one from in front of the posts 25 metres out.
“We sensed it was not our day but their guy had an off day with the boot,” Smith said.
“To be fair there was only one easy kick but while we are in a great place in finding ways to win we did get a bit of luck.
“Having said that our defence was rock solid apart from their youngster making a run in the first half and a couple of our boys falling off him.”
That youngster was 17-year-old winger Robbie Nairn, a member of the George Watson’s College team who last month won the Brewin Dolphin Schools Cup. Currie’s other winger, Ruaridh Smith, was also impressive on a heavy but eminently playable pitch in an indication of how the hosts were willing to spread their attack as well as challenge the powerful Heriot’s pack.
Cairns is delighted to be helping bring through some supreme talent, while prioritising support for unfortunate kicker Reynolds. “Credit to Joe for stepping up and backing himself. He was striking the ball really well and missing by inches.”
As for his new winger, Cairns said: “I’ve got to make special mention of Robbie Nairn, who is 17, and came in for his first game of senior rugby against Boroughmuir last time out and was the stand-out player. He made himself undroppable.”
He added: “The plan early on was to be direct; Heriot’s don’t like teams being direct and physical against them and that is what we tried to do. It worked for large parts. I thought we were pretty good when we spread it wide as well.”
Currie ended last year by losing to the two bottom Premiership teams but can take comfort from this display.
Nairn’s first senior try came from a sublime running angle in a 40-metre dash through midfield while skipper Ross Weston had the moment of the match when he rampaged up to the Heriot’s line off a loose clearance before being halted.
But it is Heriot’s who progress, helped by a try from Stewart Mustard just after turning round 6-10 behind, and from a smuggled pass from a lineout claimed by Jack Turley.
“Cup rugby is winning by any means possible and while this wasn’t our finest performance the positive is we defended well for 40 minutes,” said Turley, adding: “It was a strange game in that we were dominating at the start of the second half and then the game flipped.
“It wasn’t pretty but things are falling into place.”
For coach Smith, that means the heady possibility of a first league and cup double in his extensive coaching career, with Heriot’s topping the table at the festive break.
Currie: Try: Nairn. Conversion: Reynolds. Penalty: Reynolds.
Heriot’s: Try: Mustard. Penalties: Wilson (2).
Currie: H Elms, R Nairn, J Reynolds, M McPhillips, R Smith, J Semple, R Snedden, R Patterson, M Goodwin, M Cusack, M Vernel, C McLean, P Mundell, R Weston (c), M Peacock. Subs: G Carson, J Cox, R Denonain, M Mladenovic, C Logan.
Heriot’s: G Bryce, D McMaster, L Steele, K Buchan, C Simpson, G McNeish, G Wilson, N Borel, D McGregor, S Cessford, R Nimmo, J Turley (c), J Armstrong, J Hill, J Ritchie. Subs: S Mustard, J-P Ward, J McLean, J Peacock, R Carmichael.
Referee: C Rudkin.