Watsonians 24 – 21 Heriot’s Rugby

Friday, 14 February @ Myreside

Match report by David Barnes for The Offside Line

From 18 points behind on the half-hour mark, Watsonians staged a stirring recovery to secure a win which puts them three points clear at the summit of the Super6 table with only one match left to play in the regular season (against Southern Knights on 29th February). Their nearest challengers, Heriot’s and Ayrshire Bulls, play each other in the final round of the campaign so one of them will drop points, which means the Myreside men are now guaranteed a home play-off.

Both head coaches agreed after this one that Lewis Berg‘s converted try just before half-time to make it 10-21 at the break was the key moment in the contest, giving Watsonians the positive nudge they needed for another rousing fight-back, of the sort which has become something of a trademark for Fergus Pringle‘s side this season.

“We felt we weren’t bad in the first half, there was just a few mistakes we made and Heriot’s took their chances really well,” said Pringle. “Scoring that try just before half-time made a massive difference for us. There is a big difference between going in at 21-10 and going in with it 21-3. I think in the second half we actually chased the game a bit too hard, and I think we could have scored a few more tries if we had been a bit more clinical and stuck to what we wanted to do. But having said that, we lost some key players and had to shift personnel round which meant we lost a bit of continuity.”

“I’m just really proud of the boys for the character they showed. They stuck in there and didn’t drop their heads. I think it is in the memory-bank because they have done it before. We’ve got a good group of players here who work hard and get on well, and I’m sure the other teams are the same – but we’ve managed to win some key moments in big games, and it has become a habit.”

Heriot’s coach Phil Smith reasoned that his team’s destiny is still in their own hands. If they beat the Bulls in their final game, they get a home play-off. So, he was generally philosophical about the defeat although frustrated by certain aspects of the game.

“We lost a score just before half-time, and then we lost Jason Hill and Adam Sinclair [to injury] who give us a bit of power, so that didn’t help,” he said. “But for a free-kick to be given at a line-out for closing the gap when there is so much movement is really disappointing, and they scored from that. Then I don’t think we got one decision in the second half. There was a scrum at the end there when we ran over the top of them and he gives them the penalty, which is just not good for us.”

“At the same time, our game management was poor. We gave away two or three dumb penalties when we were in a position where we could have got a little bit of momentum and pressure.”

“We defended really well, but you can’t keep defending. You have to get your hands on the ball but we just kept on turning it over. To get a bonus-point was a positive because they will have felt they had chances to score at least one more try given that we went 40 minutes without the ball.”

Edinburgh pro Chris Dean was in the No 12 jersey for Heriot’s to get game time following a pectoral injury sustained last September, and it took him all of two minutes to make his mark, when he collected the ball in midfield and cut inside his man from a standing start, then brushed off at least two more challenges on his way to dotting down under the posts.

Watsonians nibbled into that early lead with an 11th minute offside penalty via stand-off and captain Lee Millar, but Heriot’s were a team on a mission at this point and they cruised further ahead when another incisive intervention from Dean and slick hands under pressure from full-back Ross Jones sent James Couper scampering up the right touchline and over the whitewash.

A penalty try, with Watsonians No 8 Morgan Inness also being sent to the cooler for illegally trying to derail a powerful Heriot’s line-out drive, made it 3-21 just before the half-hour mark – and when Watsonians sent a very kickable penalty to the corner then lost the line-out it looked an even longer way back for the hosts.

But they showed admirable resilience to keep Heriot’s hemmed back inside their own 22 and grasped that all-important lifeline just before the break when Berg scored wide on the left a few minutes later, with Millar nailing the touchline conversion for good measure.

Watsonians scored penalty try of their own at the start of the second half, once again for a collapsed line-out drive, and all of a sudden it was a four point game, and Heriot’s were a man down with open-side Jack McClean being sent to the sin-bin.

Things started to loosen up. It was a bit harum-scarum at times, if the truth be told, and there was some high farce when Watsonians replacement scrum-half Ali Harris fired a pass into the back of team-mate Mesulame Kunavula‘s head – but it was the home side who made it work for them when full-back Jamie Forbes backed himself ahead of an overlap on the right and it paid off for a 65th minute try, which was converted by Millar to establish that all-important three-point advantage.

Watsonians were now well on top, and Heriot’s were flustered, putting themselves under more pressure when a pass infield from a clearance kick didn’t go to hand and Berg hacked on to set up a long spell camped inside the away team’s 22. The hosts were held up over the line on three occasions as they pushed hard for the bonus-point try, but they couldn’t burst the dam.

Heriot’s spent the final few minutes trying desperately to break from their own half to salvage the game, but when Dean went from hero to villain by inexplicably opting to dink over the top after the hooter had sounded, Watsonians mopped up the ball and fired it out of play to secure the win.