Heriot’s coach Phil Smith believes his men can go into the Scottish Cup final with confidence high, despite having hopes of landing the double dashed by Ayr in a compelling Tennent’s Premiership play-off final at Millbrae on Saturday.
Having ended the regular season in top spot, Ayr had home advantage. And they made that count, emerging as 29-23 winners in a match that hung in the balance right to the final whistle.
The lead changed hands five times and Heriot’s spent the closing minutes applying sustained pressure to a well-organised home defence. But there was no way through. And, while the Capital men came up short, they were consoled by the fact that they will have a chance for revenge when the teams meet again in the Scottish Cup final on April 27.
“That was a great game of rugby, great passion, end-to-end stuff. All credit to Ayr but, the real winner was rugby,” was Smith’s assessment.
“They are a good side and they bring a lot of power to the game. At times, we didn’t cope as well as we should have and we gave them a lot of possession in the first half which meant we were under pressure.
“I felt that when we had the ball we were in a good place. At the end, I thought if we had one more play, we really could do something.”
And looking ahead to the next meeting he added: “The good thing is we’ve got an opportunity to come back and play them at Murrayfield. These boys will be good to go. I can’t wait.”
It was an engrossing encounter that brought down the curtain on the Tennent’s Premiership in its current form. It was physical, tense and spectacularly entertaining stuff played in great spirit.
The visitors drew first blood when Stuart Edwards clipped over a drop goal to cap a dominant start. And things got even better when Ross Jones went in at the corner then added the conversion.
Ayr gained a foothold when David Corbenici raced in. Frazier Climo converted, then did so again after a fine solo effort by winger Kyle Rowe.
The home side’s grip on the lead was short-lived and a superbly judged cross-kick by Edwards picked out Craig Robertson, who dotted down for an unconverted score.
However, another impressive effort by Rowe nudged Ayr in front once more, although the gap was down to single point after Jones booted a penalty for a 19-18 scoreline at the end of a scintillating first half.
Climo extended the advantage with a penalty shortly after the restart but Heriot’s seized back the initiative when Jack Blain squeezed over out wide.
The single-point cushion looked unlikely to be enough as the clock ticked into the closing ten minutes. And so it proved, as a penalty was despatched into touch and the home pack drove over, with Robbie Smith applying the final touch. Climo’s conversion left the margin at six points. And, despite a spirited finale, the Goldenacre men were unable to break through a solid home defence.
Heriot’s skipper Iain Wilson was downbeat but not despondent.
“It’s disappointing because we gave ourselves the opportunity to win it. We were right in it and we were pretty confident about being able to get over the line,” he said. “It was a good game to play and it must have been good to watch. It was back and forth all the time.
“Three weeks and we have another opportunity to win silverware. After this, we will be confident going into it. We are right up there competing.”