THIS one was far from a classic but it did at least keep everyone on the edge of their seats with the winning try coming in the final minute of the match. There was just time for the restart but the ball was kicked dead and Stirling County could celebrate.
Two second-half penalties around the hour mark seemed to have won this match for Heriot’s, but County showed great heart and some enterprise to take their chance when it came along.
They can thank replacement fly-half Andrew Goudie and Lady Luck in equal measure. With the clock running down and County facing a four-point deficit, Goudie dinked the ball over the Heriot’s defensive line. His opposite number Bruce Houston had kicked those two penalties, one a monster from his own half, but his next move was less auspicious, failing to secure the wet ball and coughing up possession deep inside his own half.
County then worked their way to the Heriot’s line with a long series of assaults and stayed patient until eventually centre Grant Hughes squeezed over in the right-hand corner to secure the slenderest margin of victory.
With neither side able to make the top two slots that will contest the Super6 final on 17th October, the two teams used this game to throw the ball about and try a few things despite the tricky conditions. Heriot’s in particular were guilty of trying to play too much rugby, especially when exiting from their own try line, because they got picked off and turned over on more than one occasion.
But both teams were guilty of forcing the issue, squeezing in that one extra killer pass in wet and slippery conditions that started badly and went downhill from there.
The match visibly deteriorated in line with the conditions until it was well nigh impossible to string together anything very constructive in a final quarter played under a Biblical downpour. It was no accident that four of the five tries came in the first half and Stirling deserved the points if only because they scored the crucial winner against both Heriot’s and the elements.
Ben Cairns‘ team have now chalked up three wins on the bounce and will wonder what might have been had they mined this seam of form/luck a little earlier in the season.
The traditional softening-up exchanges took place at the start of this Goldenacre encounter, although the match was just seven minutes old when Heriot’s skipper Iain Wilson grabbed the first of his two tries. One attacking lineout from Heriot’s on the right-hand side of the field was repelled, but when the home team won another throw on the left flank, Ronan Seydak secured the ball at the front, the big men powered over County’s line and Wilson was last man up.
The classy flank forward did the exact same thing at the start of the second quarter, only this time Wilson broke off the stalled maul and did well to reach the whitewash by himself. Neither effort was converted.
In between those two scores, County had got off the mark with what was their first concerted attack inside the Heriot’s red zone. They prodded and probed, stretching the home defence, until finally, after umpteen phases, a gap opened up for Max Williamson. The big lock made no mistake and fly-half Euan Cunningham added the extras.
The visitors thought they had a second just before the break when Heriot’s were turned over attempting to run the wet ball from their 22 – and not for the first time. County got over the line after some dexterous interplay between winger Tom Roche and Archie Russell, only for the referee to judge that the last pass from the centre had drifted forward.
The pair were not long denied. County maintained the pressure and just minutes later Hughes’ miss-pass allowed Russell to arc around his defender and release Roche, who stepped Heriot’s last line of defence in the form of Robbie Chalmers with nonchalant ease.
County took a 12-10 lead into the second 40, and the manner in which they bossed the final exchanges of the first half meant they took some momentum into the second. Both teams had chances but, with the rain coming down hard, neither attack was able to hold onto the ball long enough to build any pressure.
Heriot’s scrum-half Alex Bell picked the pocket of his opposite number at the base of a set scrum to stall one County attack while the visitor’s No 8 Dean Taylor-Menzies made another turnover to halt the Heriot’s momentum.
County came close when driving a maul over the Heriot’s line around the 50-minute mark, only to be held up and then concede yet another turnover in the middle of the field when running back a Heriot’s goal-line dropout.
The second-half stalemate wasn’t broken until after Heriot’s had whistled up reinforcements from the bench, replacing their entire front-row about ten minutes into the second half. It seemed to work, because within the space of five minutes fly-half Houston had slotted two penalties from in front of the County posts, one close enough, the other from several yards inside his own half, to give the home team a handy 16-12 advantage that was gold dust given the conditions.
Against all odds County did manage to hold onto the ball and build some pressure inside the Heriot’s half only to see home replacement Lewis Govenlock latch onto a loose ball and charge 60 yards upfield to turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye. Russell did brilliantly well to hunt down the youngster and stop another score, because no-one else had the legs.
It looked like Govenlock and Heriot’s had done just enough to hold onto this one, but County still had one last trick up their sleeve, oh, and a few songs still to sing in the showers.
“We don’t like making things easy for ourselves, do we?” questioned County coach Ben Cairns after the event. “When we had the wind in the first half we probably needed to turn around a little further ahead. When we kept hold of the ball we pretty much scored points and that was the chat at half-time – just keep hold of the ball and build pressure, which we didn’t really manage in the second half.
“But this is finals footy and we are keen to finish as well as we can with our eyes on a home game for the third/fourth place playoff. That’s the goal.”
Heriot’s: R Chalmers; B Evans, R McMichael, R Kay, C Young; B Houston, A Ball; C Keen, M Liness, D Gamble, R Seydak, F Hastie, R Leishman, I Wilson (captain), C Marshall. Substitutes: C Fenton, A Nimmo, J Scott, J Hill, L Govenlock, J Gelderbloom, M Russell, J Couper.
Stirling County: C Robertson; S Hamilton, A Russell, G Hughes, T Roche; E Cunningham, C Korteweg; A Wood, R Kennedy, L Skinner, J Pow, M WIlliamson, G Arnott, C Gordon, D Taylor-Menzies (captain). Substitutes: A Fraser, K Crainey, G Breese, J King, J van Vurren, A Goudie, L Hayes, M Holden.
Referee: Graeme Ormiston.
Heriot’s: Tries: Wilson 2. Pens: Houston 2.
Stirling County: Tries: Williamson, Roche, Hughes. Con: Cunningham.
Scoring sequence (Heriot’s first): 5-0; 5-5; 5-7; 10-7; 10-12 (h-t) 13-12; 16-12; 16-17.
Man-of-the-Match: Official Man of the Match was Bruce Houston.
Picture Credit: SNS