Glasgow Hawks came to a storm-lashed Edinburgh and flew away with four points that keep their hopes of sneaking into the fourth play-off place very much alive.
Hawks were the only team Heriot’s didn’t manage to beat on their way to the title last season and, although the tables were turned at Old Anniesland in September, this defeat is a sore blow to their ambition of achieving a top-two finish with four games to play, although Melrose also slipped up against Gala at the weekend and the rankings remain unchanged.
Hawks were good value for their win, with their forward pack dominant, their tactics spot on and their assured handling belying the terrible conditions.
It was only in the last five minutes that Heriot’s got things together sufficiently to seriously threaten the Hawks line, snatching a late try that earned them a consolation bonus point.
Hawks coach Peter Laverie said: “Possession and territory may be key in any rugby match but actually what won that game was sheer guts and determination.
“We had the advantage at the scrum and we were patient, more patient than we normally are. I thought we deserved that because of the character of the performance. It helps us climb towards that fourth play-off place, which is now our objective.”
Hawks kicked off with the strong wind at their backs and the rain teeming down on to their heads.
They were the team with the energy and the ideas, while Heriot’s appeared lethargic and disinterested.
Hawks hooker Jack MacFarlane blasted a big hole in the home defensive line in a move that eventually petered out before Hawks full-back Robbie Houliston did the same and delivered a perfectly-timed and weighted pass to his winger Erlend Oag to go over for the try.
Heriot’s managed to piece together a spell of sustained pressure but, with loosehead Struan Cessford in the bin for a high tackle, No 8 Struan Dewar and then stand-off Craig McNeish flattered to deceive as they lunged unsuccessfully for the line.
Heriot’s are used to their forwards dominating opponents and, with their scrum misfiring and no platform to launch their attacks, they seemed to be at a complete loss as to what to do next.
Early in the second half, Hawks’ stranglehold on the game was rewarded with a penalty try after a third scrummage collapse in a row by Heriot’s gave the referee no other option. Stand-off Josh Henderson converted.
Hawks were on a high, their confidence swelling the longer the game continued. They called for scrums in midfield rather than kick penalties to touch. They shoved the ball up the jersey and kept the ball close. They frustrated Heriot’s no end.
But the home side dug deep and created some momentum, forcing Hawks on to the back foot as the clock ran down and they went through several phases until inside centre Cameron Ferguson forced his way over the Hawks line under an untidy pile of bodies.
It wasn’t a clear-cut touchdown and the referee debated it with his assistant before giving the try.
In the last few minutes, Hawks try-scorer Oag was dispatched to the sin bin to leave the visitors short-handed but Heriot’s just couldn’t break down a defence that was resolute to the last.
Heriot’s coach Phil Smith said: “Our boys are really irritated with themselves that it took 75 minutes for us to really get going.
“It’s not as if we didn’t know Hawks are a good team but we were expecting to win. It’s as simple as that.”