Heriot’s Rugby 29 – Stirling County 19

Match Report by Colin Renton for The Offside Line

HERIOT’S profited from Stirling County’s lack of composure at key moments to chalk up an impressive win that keeps them within striking distance of top spot in the Super6 table. For County, it was another frustrating afternoon as they led at half time then failed to use their superior forward power to secure what would have been only their second win in the competition.

Heriot’s coach Phil Smith is happy with the way his side is evolving. And after this performance, he pointed to the showing of several youngsters as evidence that the plan to use Super6 as a development tool is bearing fruit. There were outstanding contributions from Jack McClean, Cammy Hutchison and man-of-the-match Dan Nutton. The efforts of that trio, and several others in his squad, should be attracting attention from the professional coaches, according to Smith.

“I am waiting for a call from Richard Cockerill or Dave Rennie,” he said. “The competition is working because we have just beaten a team with four professionals in a match that ideally we would have put off until February.”

“Our open play in some parts was really good. We are trying to show what we are about. I’m trying to expose players to help them get a pro contract. To beat a team with so many professionals in it would suggest we’re doing a lot of good things. I could argue to the Cockerills and Rennies of this world to come and get some of these players because obviously they are good enough.”

There was more disappointment for Smith’s counterpart Ben Cairns, who was again left ruing a couple of errors at key moments that left County empty handed after a game in which they held the upper hand for lengthy spells.

“It’s really frustrating. We are repeating the same things weekly at the moment. We are getting ourselves in good positions then not converting,” said Cairns.

“I feel that we are in the right areas then we are coughing up the ball too cheaply and making it easy for the opposition to get back up the park and into our 22. That was compounded by not being able to win a kick-off – every time we score, we drop the kick-off and we’re back into our 22 very quickly.”

However, he is confident that a win is close. “The positive is that they are things we should be able to fix – they are pretty small things, like a bit of accuracy that we’re missing. If we get that accuracy, we feel we’ve got enough there to beat teams. It’s frustrating but the boys will regroup and we’ve got to bear in mind that we’ve got three of the next four games at home.”

Heriot’s had the better start without coming close to unlocking a solid County defence. And it was the visitors who eventually broke the deadlock in 25 minutes. A penalty taken quickly by Sean Kennedy created the platform for a spell of sustained pressure within sight of the home line. Three successive scrum penalties led the referee to issue a warning, and when the hosts offended again at the next set-piece, he awarded a seven pointer. And maximising the pain for Heriot’s, Josh Scott was despatched for 10 minutes in the sin-bin.

The response was instant, with Adam Sinclair racing into space and combining with Ronan Seydak to spark a slick handling move that ended with James Spencer going in at the corner. There was no conversion.

However, having established forward supremacy, County reverted to the pack to extend their lead. A penalty was booted into touch a couple metres shy of the home line and a powerful surge at the ensuing line-out ended with the Heriot’s defence being shunted backwards and Reyner Kennedy applying the final touch.

Again, the home side wasted no time in responding but a misfiring line-out again failed to function and County were able to restrict Heriot’s to only three more first half points, with Ross Jones stroking over a close range penalty a minute before the break.

The game cranked up a gear in the second half and it was Heriot’s who were first to boost their points tally. With the referee playing advantage, Jones delivered a high kick that caused confusion in the County defence and allowed Spencer to pluck the ball out of the air and claim his second score, with Jones converting.

Andrew Goudie had a chance to square matters but his penalty effort drifted just wide of the target. And things got even better for the Edinburgh side when Chris Keen claimed try number three from a powerful surge after a close-range line-out. Jones was again on target with the kick, extending the gap to 10 points.

Back came County and Logan Trotter showed his pace to dart down the left flank then feed inside for Bruce Sorbie to score. Goudie hammered over the conversion to offer the visitors some hope. But once again, they immediately surrendered the initiative when Jones passed to Jack Blain who sidestepped past one defender and powered through another tackle to touch down between the sticks, leaving Jones a simple conversion to complete the scoring and extend Heriot’s’ winning run to three matches.