Heriot’s duly won and scored three tries to two in the process but this 80-minute display asked more questions than it answered.
Rather than underline their championship credentials, it highlighted how much work still remains if the Heriot’s challenge is to extend into the winter months.
“They looked like they wanted to run through us,” said their coach Phil Smith, “and we didn’t stop them. We defended like we knew we were going to win this match!”
Smith must be concerned that his pack lost the forward battle... at least on those rare occasions when both sides fielded a full complement of 15 players. This match witnessed a total of five yellow cards and, since two of them went to Grammar prop Struan Cessford, he was red-carded around the one-hour mark and Aberdeen played the final quarter short-handed.
To their credit, the visitors finished much the stronger side, they scored a cracking good try and bossed the final ten minutes despite fielding just 14 men. A bonus point was the least they deserved for their efforts as Heriot’s were hanging on by their fingernails at the death.
Aberdeen field a big pack and when all of them roll up their sleeves and do some work they will be a formidable force. Even with a couple of passengers they tore great holes in the Heriot’s defence with the backrow pairing of Tony McGuiness and Tom Preece doing most of the damage. Aberdeen won the set scrums, helped by Glasgow professional Gordon Reid, and their driving maul won a penalty try. The results should come as the season progresses.
Visiting stand-off Graeme Clow kicked a couple of early penalties but the first try went to the home team. Following a rare excursion into the Grammar red zone, Heriot’s scored from nothing thanks to a sublime off-load from full-back Keith Buchan that sent Max Nimmo haring over the try line.
Heriot’s were edging the score board 7-6 when the game suffered its first flurry of yellow cards, three of them in the space of four minutes towards the end of the first half, every one of them cynical and well-earned. First to go was Heriot’s prop Craig Owenson. Grammar kicked to the corner and, a man to the good, were marching a maul towards the home line when hooker Stuart Mustard collapsed the maul.
Referee Neil Pearson awarded a penalty try and a second yellow card to go with it exactly one minute after he’d issued the first. A couple of minutes later and a six-man Heriot’s pack was threatening the Aberdeen line when Cessford was pinged for coming in at the side and he too was sent to the sidelines.
Grammar employ an “umbrella” defence with Peceli Nacamavuto leading the charge in the 13 channel. The tactic served them well but it does depend upon the inside backs making their tackles and when Heriot’s stand-off Graham Wilson made a half break and off-load, the outside Grammar backs were out of the game and winger Max Learmonth ran in a simple try immediately before the break.
The match meandered after the restart until the Heriot’s pack drove a maul towards the Grammar line and milked another yellow card, the giant Kiwi lock Jamie Metcalfe earning a rest. Aberdeen halted another driving maul, just about survived a five-metre scrum and held the ball up over the line which was when Cessford was shown a second yellow card which was escalated to a red.
Aberdeen quickly conceded a penalty try from a five-metre scrum. With an eight-point and one-man advantage, the Goldenacre faithful expected Heriot’s to kick on. Instead Grammar winger Angus Rennie scored in the corner to make for a nervy finish for the home side.