Coach Simon Cross acclaimed the highlight of his club rugby coaching career as Edinburgh Accies savoured a 22-17 Premier Group B win over Heriot’s at Raeburn Place.
For Cross the result rewarded a drive through the night from Wales where he had helped coach Scotland under-20s while for the neutral spectator it was a game that proved you still don’t have to travel far to watch outstanding rugby.
This was the Accies rapier against the Heriot’s bludgeon and on the day they just held out on so-tired legs in the face of a ferocious late fightback helped largely by the all-round skills of their full back Jamie Sole. His try added to others from Dan Teague and Ruairidh Bonner, whose late counter-attack strike provided respite from a desperate rearguard.
“I think it might be my club coaching highlight,” revealed Cross. “Our guys ran themselves to a standstill and had to defend for the last ten minutes.”
On the individual front there was satisfaction, too, with Cross remarking of the son of ex-Grand Slam captain, David: “Success for us is will be if Jamie Sole gets a pro contract and that is what we are trying to strive to help him achieve. He is a great player with a great attitude and great skills.”
At the other end of the scale Neil Armstrong came in for a debut on the wing and paid his way.
“Neil joined from the Rugby Development course at nearby Telford College and provided a one-on-one tackle down in the corner when we needed it most, justifying our under-20 coach Graham Bonner’s urging to give him an opportunity.”
On the other wing Aussie Jake Knight set the tone with early pace and throughout Accies were the more penetrative team. “Upping the tempo is the way Accies have to play. We are not big nor particularly heavy but we work really hard and have good skills,” said Cross.
Heriot’s counterpart Graham Marshall, whose side’s main energy came from winger Andy Scott, generously applauded the contributions of Sole but lamented: “We showed what we could do in the last ten minutes but didn’t do anything up until then. We defended poorly in the first half. Accies scored three tries, were quite ambitious and off-loaded really well but we’ll need to play better.
“To come back when the chips were down was good but we were always struggling and they defended very well. We need to be more ambitious, close the line and get quicker ball.”
What made Accies’ triumph all the more remarkable was the fact that since the first stage of the Premiership ended on the back of five straight defeats they had played only one competitive match – a windswept encounter at Haddington – following a 38-5 thumping by Heriot’s in a Regional Cup tie on November 19.
Coach Cross added: “We took a bit of a kicking towards the end of Premiership One and let ourselves down in the Cup game. (So) we put in place an 11 week programme and it was a case of this is what we are doing and this is why.
“What we saw was two teams trying to put width on the ball playing at pace which in the conditions was a real credit to both .
“Nevertheless , for our first game in three weeks against a quality side like Heriot’s coached by Graham Marshall to never give up . . . that was a helluva win.”
Cross admitted to going through the emotional mincer near the end especially after Bonner’s try had looked to have sealed the spoils.
“At ten points up we just had to take a re-start kick and kill the game but they got the ball back and scored a great try to put us under pressure.”
There was little sign of Heriot’s travails when Graham Wilson capped early pressure with a penalty but Sole’s converted try from good work by Knight and Teague was the perfect response and a further three pointer made it 10-3.
Wilson’s boot brought Heriot’s to within a point but in a match which brought three yellow cards – Robin Cessford and Junior Bulamakau for Heriot’s and Accies’ Ross Brown – Dan Teague went over from a driven line-out just before the interval.
Wilson again replied but the key moment saw Ruairidh Bonner exchange passes with Greg Campbell for a converted try that provided insurance against a late Jason Hill overlap counter.
Edinburgh Accies: Tries: Sole, Teague, R Bonner. Conversions: R Bonner (2). Penalty: R Bonner.
Heriot’s: Try: Hill. Penalties: Wilson (4)
Edinburgh Accies: J Sole, N Armstrong, R Browne, I Berthinussen, J Knight, R Bonner, M Campbell, D Mac-Leod, M Liness, K Blyth, G Campbell, T Stuart, D Teague (captain), T Drennan, J Taggart. Subs: S Jeffers, C Murray, A Findlater, E Bonner.
Heriot’s: G Lawson, A Scott, M Learmonth, R Carmichael, C Goudie, O Brown, G Wilson (captain), A Dymock, J Bryce, G Cameron, R Martin, M Reid, R Cessford, J Hill, F Brown. Subs: S Mustard, R Wilson, J Parker, J Bulamakau.
Referee: C Rudkin (SRU).