Heriot’s rugby coach Phil Smith watched his side squeeze past Currie 26-23 at Goldenacre in what had to be a candidate for any BT Premiership match of the season – then immediately set his team a rare target.
This weekend leaders Heriot’s entertain third place Melrose and not only would victory guarantee a home semi-final when new play-offs involving the top four league finishers begin on March 28, but there is the chance to put their name on the Bill McLaren Shield.
Introduced in 2011 to commemorate the television commentator and former Scotland trialist, Heriot’s are the current holders having relieved Gala of the prize back in October.
Under competition rules, four successful home defences entitle a team to have their name engraved on the shield and, to date, only Ayr have achieved that feat.
Having seen off Hawick, Edinburgh Accies and now Currie, opportunity knocks for Heriot’s and Smith is grateful for all sources of motivation given that, under the old system, they could be crowned champions as soon as this Saturday with games to spare.
“It is important for us to have those incentives,” said Smith. “At the moment we are doing well and 12 points clear with three regular league games remaining. We won the charity shield at the start of the season (as cup holders against league champs Melrose) and have just been given a club-of-the-month prize. Our aim is to win everything.”
As well as inspired support running and counter attacking which yielded four tries and a bonus point for the fourth successive league match, Heriot’s owed everything to impenetrable defence at a stage when they were handicapped by the sin-binning of Danny Levison for a technical offence within a minute of coming on for his debut!
During this second-half spell Currie threw everything at the home line and although repelled did enough to show that they might yet prove a nemesis for Heriot’s if they can garner enough points to scrape into the play-offs.
Although Heriot’s have won all three meetings between the clubs, including a cup tie, the aggregate margin of victory is a mere ten points.
“We can still have the last laugh (over Heriot’s) and that is what makes the play-offs really exciting,” said Currie coach Ben Cairns. “It would be nice to right a few wrongs.”
Currie are eight points off a play-off spot with a match in hand and Cairns added: “Three of our last four games are at home but we have to be more clinical.
“At least we controlled a game for long periods against the team at the top. What we have to learn is the difference between them and us; while they took their chances and we let chances go despite having a lot of pressure.
“We have to make sure we don’t cough up ball the way we did against teams who are very dangerous counter-attackers.”
It wasn’t quite rope-a-dope but Currie made much of the running to lead twice early on with tries from captain Ross Weston – his 12th of the season – and Mike Erskine before turning 16-19 adrift.
A decision to turn down an almost certain penalty by kicking to the corner against 14 men back-fired and Heriot’s were able to ensure that they have captured 29 from a possible 30 points in Capital derbies thanks to tries from Nathan Borel, Keith Buchan, Russell Nimmo and Ruaridh Carmichael.
Each score was better than the one before with Borel burrowing over after two minutes from a driven line-out, Buchan crossing on the overlap with a player outside and then Nimmo sucker-punching in a move featuring Carmichael, Liam Steele and Jack Turley from turned over possession. Finally, Steele ghosted through a gap to release Carmichael and at 26-16 Heriot’s could have kicked on. That they didn’t was due to a never-say-die Currie attitude that will continue to serve them well. Ross Weston summed up well, saying: “That’s another one that got away, as in the cup tie. But Heriots are top of the league for a reason, they find a way to win.”
As for the decision to chase the try rather than a safe three points that would have levelled the scores, Weston said: “Did we go for the draw or for the win? We wanted the win and never quite used the ball correctly from the line-out ... the story of our day.”
It was precisely that approach that made this high octane game such a privilege to enjoy.
Now, could it possibly come to pass that a fourth instalment this season might grace the eventual play-off final?
Heriot’s: Tries: Buchan, Carmichael, Nimmo, Borel. Conversions: Edwards (2), Wilson.
Currie: Tries: Weston, Erskine. Conversions: Reynolds (2). Penalties: Reynolds (3).
Heriot’s: K Buchan, C Simpson, L Steele, R Carmichael, G Bryce, S Edwards, G Wilson, N Borel, S Mustard, S Cessford, R Nimmo, J Turley (captain), J Ritchie, J Hill, J McClean. Subs: B Couper, J-P Ward, D Levison, R Weir, H Boisseau.
Currie: H Elms, R Nairn, J Reynolds, F Efthymiou, R Smith, J Semple, R Sneddon, J Cox, M Goodwin, G Carson, R Denonain, C McLean, M Vernel, R Weston (captain), M Peacock. Subs: M Erskine, A Hamilton, T Brooke, M Mladenovic, M McPhillips.
Referee: S Grove-White.