Heriot’s offered confirmation that they remain the team to beat in the BT Premiership this season with an impressive victory over Currie in a high-quality match which presented fresh evidence that overall standards in club rugby are continuing to rise.
The champions kicked off the campaign a week late having been on BT Charity Shield duty the previous Saturday. But they were soon up to pace as they got the better of a determined Currie side whom they had beaten by narrow margins on four occasions last season.
Heriot’s coach Phil Smith and his assistant Steve Lawrie have worked over the summer on executing their game plan with the same efficiency that brought the title last year, but doing so at a greater intensity and pace. And that proved to be the difference between the sides, as the hosts constructed the victory on a strong set-piece and an approach revolving around a patient build-up and clinical execution.
Key to the win was the performance of the Heriot’s back row. The home side welcomed back influential No 8 Jason Hill, who is on a training contract with Glasgow Warriors.
He lined up alongside captain Jack Turley, a man who was on the fringes of the Edinburgh set up last season, and Struan Dewar, a sevens international who is back in the amateur ranks after returning to university.
“What a performance by Jason”, said a delighted Smith. “A back-row of him, Struan and Jack – that’s like pro level and I thought they showed it.”
The coach was also quick to praise the calmness of his men who found themselves two tries down inside seven minutes, after failing to convert a spell on the offensive into points.
“When you go about five minutes into the game and you are 12-0 down, admittedly still playing all the rugby, you worry that they are going to be pressured and they are going to panic. But they didn’t.”
The first of those scores stemmed from a decision to tap a kickable penalty. As the ball was thrown wide, Currie winger Ruaridh Smith was alert to the opportunity and intercepted before racing the length of the pitch. Joe Reynolds converted then touched down for try number two after his skipper Ross Weston – a player whose immense workload was again in evidence – had surged from deep.
Acknowledging the standard of the opposition, Smith admitted that the match then became a test of character for his men. It was a test that they passed with credit. First came a measured build-up that created the space for Charlie Simpson to break through a short-handed Currie defence that had a man in the sin bin, then Dewar was on hand to finish off a powerful drive following a lineout. Graham Wilson converted then booted a penalty to give Heriot’s a 15-12 interval lead.
From the restart, the hosts battered at the Currie defence and Dewar squeezed in at the corner for his second try, leaving the visitors eight points adrift. Their efforts to bridge that gap foundered repeatedly on weakness at the lineout where they lost six throws in the second half. That handed Heriot’s possession cheaply and they capitalised when Simpson darted over for the bonus point score.
“As soon as we sorted a couple of things out defensively, we kept the ball, we moved the ball and our first-up tackling was very good. We created some fantastic chances”, said a delighted Smith. “There is more to come and that was against a strong Currie side so that’s a pretty good statement I think.”
In the away camp, the biggest source of disappointment for Ben Cairns was the fact that his players had underperformed.
“If you look at the game, we just made too many errors to give ourselves a chance of winning. In a strange way, we can take confidence from,” the former Scotland centre said.