Heriot’s coach Phil Smith believes that the demands of two tough encounters in four days could provide a boost for his men as they bid for glory in the BT Premiership grand final at Goldenacre tomorrow (3pm).
Tuesday’s clash with the Barbarians was a stern test for Smith’s side and, anticipating the physicality of that contest, the club sought permission to switch tomorrow’s title showdown with Melrose. However, that request was declined and the game goes ahead as planned.
Now, the coach has altered his view. Smith said: “It maybe wasn’t ideal to have the two games so close together, but at the same time the fact that we hadn’t played for a couple of weeks then suddenly the boys got a chance to have a decent hit-out ahead of Saturday, it might work in our favour. We definitely wouldn’t have trained as hard as far as hits and tackles and contact [go], so it might actually be that it is a bit of a blessing because we are better prepared physically for the weekend.”
That said, Smith was forced to revise his selection plans after Davy McGregor suffered an ear injury on Tuesday. His absence means George Turner, an academy pro with Edinburgh, will start at hooker, with veteran Stewart Mustard – who led the side against the Baa-Baas – on the bench. Smith has selected a team aiming to negate the strengths of a Melrose squad he has great respect for. The Borderers won both encounters during the regular season, the first a titanic clash at the Greenyards in October that ended 44-43 and the second 14-12 at Goldenacre in January. However, it was the Capital side that took the honours in the pre-season league-versus-cup winners showdown.
Smith sets little store by any of those results. He said: “The first game was what I would class as an all-out encounter. At that moment in the league there was nothing set in stone. The second time round, absolutely we were trying to win but at that point in the season we were secure in the top four.”
He expects another fiercely contested affair.
“We both try to play a bit so if both teams are on their toes defensively it will be a tight game,” he said. “If one of us drops off and the other one’s set piece and attack is what it should be, then it could be a long afternoon for somebody. But I think with the occasion, I would suggest that both teams will probably be at the top of their game. It’s just going to be the odd thing here, the odd thing there, someone getting the momentum. That’s what we’re ready for anyway.”
Smith knows everyone will need to be at their best, and one player with more reason than most to be hungry for success is full-back Glenn Bryce, whose father Jocky was skipper when Heriot’s last won the title in 2000. The 23-year-old, now on the books of Glasgow Warriors, has been a key contributor over recent weeks.
After playing in front of a big crowd earlier this week, Smith hopes his men will be performing before another attendance worthy of the occasion.
“Every player in every sport responds to an atmosphere and our guys are no different. They have mentioned that it makes a difference”, he said. “I just hope people come along – there’s a chance they could have a great afternoon.”
In the Melrose camp, coach John Dalziel concedes that the Heriot’s side have played rugby worthy of title winners, but insists his players are determined to retain the silverware.
“Heriot’s have been the form team all season,” he said. “After finishing the regular season on top they will feel they are deserved champions,” he said. “The play-off system has given great excitement to the end of season and with this system comes a grand final. For me that is exactly what it is and it’s now winner takes all, with no prize for second place.”
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, R Knott, M McAndrew, R Mill.