Heriot’s skipper Jack Turley modestly deflected the glory of Saturday’s BT Premiership grand final victory onto his colleagues.
And, while the praise for his team-mates was merited, the second rower also deserved immense credit for driving the Capital side to a dramatic 22-20 win over Melrose.
Trailing 20-17 entering the final minute of an engrossing encounter, he called a long throw at a lineout inside the home 22. A breakout carried play to half way where a penalty award was advanced by ten metres. From the half-way line, Turley, knowing that time was up, tapped and went. The hosts inched ever closer to the Melrose line and several phases later, No. 8 Jason Hill plunged over the line, sparking delirious celebrations.
“To get the ball just about on your own line with two minutes left and to go the length of the field shows what the boys are all about – they really dug deep and showed a bit of heart. It was some finish,” recounted Turley. “We were on our line and had to get right up the pitch and you think that maybe it’s a job too far. The boys just gave it everything they’d got.”
The silverware was the coveted prize at the end of Turley’s third season at the club, a period which has seen spectacular progress.
“When I first arrived, Phil [Smith] and Stevie [Lwarie] had just come in. We have had a huge turnaround from where we were three years ago. We have been building and it’s nice to get things sorted. Top of the league at the end of the season shows you just how far we have come from fighting off relegation to staying in the division to coming top of the league by ten points,” added the captain, who has played a massive part in achieving that feat. “I just love it here. They’ve got some great boys, some great coaches.”
Saturday’s showdown with the defending champions may have lacked some of the champagne rugby produced by both sides during the run to the final, but there was plenty of the fizzy stuff standing by as the teams slugged it out in front of a crowd of 2000.
And while the contest was fierce, it was praiseworthy of the Borderers that they accepted the agonising defeat in such magnanimous fashion – the players remaining on the pitch to applaud the inaugural play-off winners while, in contrast to the bad loser mentality that prevails in many sporting environments, their coach John Dalziel also conducted himself with great dignity.
“Credit to Heriot’s in that last play. They got a decision from the ref, which was right, they played a lot of good phases and that is probably the hardest way to win,” he said. “We’ve been in that situation before and we’ve hung on but it wasn’t to be this time. Heriot’s were the winners at the end of the league and, hats off to them, they are worthy champions.”
Melrose had opened the scoring with a penalty by Joe Helps but the home side responded with a try from Turley, converted by Graham Wilson, who also slotted a penalty as Heriot’s gained the upper hand. They looked set to extend their advantage but George Turner dropped the ball as he dived over the line. And Melrose profited from that let-off with a stunning length-of-the-field score, started and finished by Fraser Thomson, that left the match finely poised at the half-time break.
An impressive solo effort by Tito Mua edged Melrose back into the lead but the hosts responded when Glenn Bryce darted in. However, the visitors displayed their big-game mentality and they snatched back the initiative when Andrew Nagle thundered over. That appeared to be the decisive score, as the Borderers kept the home side hemmed into their own half. Turley, however, had other ideas and the last-ditch winner was met by a combination of delight and incredulity.
“It was quite a spectacle, there was a good gate, lots going on, it’s gone to the 85th minute and there’s a last-minute try,” said Heriot’s coach Phil Smith who feared his men may not be rewarded for their season-long efforts. “Our players were digging in and working hard and winning most weeks so to not have won it would have been horrible. It’s the rules but it would have been horrible.
“When they scored there was seven minutes to go. They killed a lot of time, which is fair enough. We got the penalty on half-way and when we got the ten (metres) I thought we might have a crack at goal just to get the draw. But then we played, and it’s absolutely surreal that we have got out of that.”
Winning the league is a new experience for all in the squad except Stewart Mustard, the replacement hooker, who was tasting success for the third time. It was also a special occasion for Bryce, whose father captained the last Heriot’s team to win the title in 2000. “When my dad won it, I can actually remember him lifting me as well as the cup,” said the 23-year-old. “I backed the boys all the way when we made that last tap. We looked at each other and said, “let’s just do it”. That’s how cup finals are won and that will be a memory for life.”
Heriot’s: Tries – Turley, Bryce, Hill. Cons – Wilson (2). Pens –Wilson
Melrose: Tries – Thomson, Mua, Nagle. Con – Mill. Pen – Helps
Heriot’s: G Bryce, C Simpson, L Steele, K Buchan, C Goudie, G McNeish, G Wilson, N Borel, G Turner, S Cessford, R Nimmo, J Turley J Ritchie, J Mclean, J Hill. Subs: S Mustard, JP Ward, J Syme, D Levison, C Mulligan, S Edwards, M Learmonth
Melrose: F Thomson, T Mua, T Galbraith, A Nagel, J Helps, A Lockington, B Colvine, N Beavon, T Pearce, E McQuillin, J Head, L Carmichael, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman, G Dodds. Subs: R Ferguson, N Little, P Eccles, H Blake, B Hutchison, M McAndrew, R Mill
Referee: L Linton