The 2015-16 BT Cup will go down as a novelty piece of sporting trivia when it finishes with two unbeaten sides.
As well as the eventual victors of the Melrose v Heriot’s showpiece at the national stadium on Saturday 16 April, Glasgow Hawks will have completed their knockout campaign without being beaten after a bizarre denouement to Saturday’s semi-final at Old Anniesland.
The match finished 10-10 and that score was unchanged after 20 minutes of extra time. Word reached the press as the overtime period got under way that there would be no replay or penalty shoot-out but, if it remained level after 100 minutes, Heriot’s would proceed to the final on the away team rule.
Remarkably, both sets of players and coaches were mistakenly under the impression that the first try would be the deadlock breaker.
As it was, Heriot’s had scored the first try of the match through flanker Ian Wilson so the dynamic of the game wasn’t changed but it was another one of those extraordinary moments of fogginess about the rules in which rugby seems to specialise.
Hawks coach Peter Laverie was clearly distraught at the end to go out in such a manner after failing to protect a 10-5 lead going into the closing stages of normal time but he tried to remain philosophical.
“The boys put in a shift,” said the coach. “They knew going into extra time and then again at half-time of extra time that they had to score. It’s a cruel way to go out but that’s sport for you.”
It was a dramatic finish to a match which followed the classic semi-final pattern of compelling if somewhat ragged and nervous play by both sides, who shared two unconverted tries on a difficult afternoon for the goalkickers.
Ultimately, it was a case of to the “victors” (kind of) the spoils and Heriot’s coach Phil Smith was delighted to keep his side’s treble bid on track following their Charity Shield win at the start of the season and the Premiership play-off at Currie this weekend.
It has been a purple patch for Smith, who led the national club international side to a historic double over England and Ireland this year. “We kind of got wind of it [the rules] and I was trying to get it on to the pitch,” said Smith. “Just keep the ball and see the game out and we’d win. Conditions weren’t great and it wasn’t a good game but I genuinely feel sorry for Hawks. What an effort they put in over 100 minutes of rugby. Some of our guys who I consider quite fit were out on their feet. It was going all directions.”
Heriot’s seemed well on top going in at the break with total dominance up front, a try to the good through Wilson and Hawks down to 14 men when centre David Milne was sin-binned as the home maul defence creaked.
However, against the run of play Hawks wrested control when wing Robert Beattie burst clear on the right and Fin Gillies crashed over to have the home side seemingly on course for BT Murrayfield.
But the moment which ultimately gave the Edinburgh club a shot at a fourth cup success came near the end when wing Charlie Simpson kicked and chased then profited from an agonising fresh-air swipe by sub full-back Pierre Mounal to dive over in the corner.
Jack Semple was short with both the conversion attempt and the only scoring opportunity of extra time – a long-range penalty. But the men from Goldenacre held out and now look forward to a clash with Melrose next month.
“If we get a sunny day we could get a cracking game because we’re both pretty good teams,” said Smith, who now swithes focus to the Premiership derby semi-final at Currie on Saturday.
“Hopefully this will get us on a roll for next week. Currie haven’t played this weekend so that should give us an advantage. Let’s see what happens.”