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OFFSIDE LINE: Heriot’s Blues triumph in basement battle against Musselburgh

Original report by Colin Renton

HERIOT’S vacated the bottom spot in the Tennent’s Premiership table after taking the honours in an entertaining basement battle. A flying start that produced three unanswered tries in the opening quarter was enough to ensure the Goldenacre side could hold off a spirited rally by the visitors. who showed plenty of guts, but had left themselves with too much to do.

Neither team had chalked up a win in the opening weeks of the campaign, and both were desperate to rectify that. And, while the five league points they garnered are crucial, the Heriot’s players will now go into the coming weeks with their confidence buoyed, according to their coach Phil Smith.

“We had a great 20 minutes at the start. The middle 40 was poor in respect of game management and error count, then the last 20 minutes were good and they managed the game out pretty well. Graham Wilson‘s two kicks at the end were pretty crucial to calm the nerves,” he said.

“We have a huge spread of age from a few guys in their 30s down to youths of 18-23. That will be brilliant for them because they have now seen it, understood it and they will think ‘we can do it’. It was great for them.”

Heriot’s raced from the blocks and eased into the lead after four minutes. A penalty booted into touch provided the platform for a series of pick-and-go efforts that saw the ball switched from the right wing to the left where Charlie Dineen dotted down in the corner. Wilson banged over the touchline conversion, and he was on target again – this time via the post – when the hosts doubled their tally a couple of minutes later. Danny Dineen made the break and found Archie Bogle outside, with the prop freeing Craig Robertson to finish the job.

Musselburgh were struggling to gain a foothold in the game and their task became even tougher when Heriot’s bagged a third try after 17 minutes. Iain Kay, on for the try scorer Dineen, sprinted into the opposition 22 and exchanged passes with Bogle before darting over and leaving Wilson a straightforward conversion.

The visitors had their first visit to home territory after 20 minutes, and it was a productive foray, with James Ferguson powering clear and drawing the final defender before feeding Danny Owenson, who dived over then added the extra two points.

Heriot’s responded with a renewed spell of pressure and they secured the bonus point score after half an hour. Charlie Jupp took clean line-out ball inside the visitors’ 22 and as the home pack shuffled towards the whitewash, the maul was pulled down a couple of metres short and the referee awarded a penalty try.

Musselburgh were playing like a side short on confidence but, with Owenson conducting affairs from stand off, they were always capable of hitting back and he was at the heart of their second try, intercepting a pass from Wilson on halfway and racing clear then offloading to Findlay Thomson, who went over between the sticks. Owenson stroked over the conversion and that score sparked a strong finish to the opening 40 minutes to lighten the mood in the away dressing room at half time.

The direction of travel continued immediately after the restart and Musselburgh hauled themselves right back into the contest when Matthew McMillan broke from deep and the move was carried on by Calum Marshall, whose pass allowed Max Outram to thunder over. Owenson converted but was then yellow-carded for a deliberate knock on as he attempted to intercept just inside the opposition half.

Despite being a man short, the visitors had the momentum and that continued after a lengthy stoppage for an injury to Heriot’s replacement Simon O’Callaghan. Owenson’s first task after returning was to go for the posts with a long-range penalty effort. His attempt was short and the miss sparked renewed optimism in the home ranks. A steal by Musselburgh prop Craig Owenson in front of the posts killed off one promising attack, and another ended with the ball carrier held up after a driven line-out.

Musselburgh were again reduced to 14 men after William Fleming was the unlucky offender following a team warning. Wilson steered the resulting penalty between the sticks to extend the lead to 10 points with as many minutes left to play.

Back came Musselburgh and they claimed a bonus point try with six minutes left when Owenson and Ferguson combined to send McMillan scampering over. At that stage, they were also on track for a narrow defeat bonus, although that was snatched from their grasp when Wilson calmly landed a last minute penalty.

It was another sore one for Musselburgh, whose assistant coach Calum Gauld admitted that the 15 minute stoppage had damaged his side’s momentum. “We came out of that long pause a bit flat and that stifled us a bit”, he said, although he admitted that the poor opening quarter was the biggest factor in the result.

“It makes it difficult when you’re 21-0 down and conceding penalties. You’re fighting to stay in the game. We started slowly, giving away too many penalties, giving them easy opportunities to get down the park.”

However, he also pointed to the aspects that give grounds for optimism, saying: “The positive thing is that there was a huge amount of character to come back into it. There’s pleasing bits and there’s bits we need to work on, but we’re not far away. It hurts, but we dust ourselves down, we go Tuesday, Thursday and we get another opportunity to go again against GHA next week.”


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