Heriot’s clicked into gear instantly after a three-week lay-off, lost the plot for a while and then came good for a second half in which Hawick were swept aside to ensure the Edinburgh side stay hot on the heels of Ayr at the top of the BT Premiership.
Heriot’s 29-15 Hawick
Scorers: Heriot’s: Tries: Bryce, Turley, Borel, Penalty. Cons: Wilson (3). Pen: Wilson. Hawick: Tries: Cottrell, Hutton. Con: Armstrong. Pen: Armstrong.
When Heriot’s were in control they looked slick and organised but Hawick, 16 points behind in the league before kick-off, inspired several panicky moments that unsettled the home side and prompted coach Phil Smith to try and halt the Borderers’ momentum by sending 18-year-old Jamie Ritchie into the back row after only 25 minutes.
Ritchie, the captain of Scotland under-20s who signed a two-year professional contract with Edinburgh straight from school, was making his debut for the club and the influential performance he produced duly helped turn the green tide.
Previously he had come off the bench to make his debut for the pro side against Leinster, and Edinburgh may have regretted not selecting him again after losing to Zebre in the Guinness PRO12 as he pulled on the Heriot’s shirt instead.
“I wanted more on the pitch at that stage because Hawick were building serious momentum,” Smith explained. “It wasn’t the original plan to put him on so early but I needed outstanding players and I knew that Jamie was outstanding. We had started well but then lost control and begun to make all the errors. Whether that was as a result of three weeks off or something else I don’t know but it was good to get in at half- time to re-gather ourselves and deliver a really, really good second half when we didn’t concede a point.”
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Heriot’s promising start began with a kick to the corner for touch inside the 22, a lineout steal and a rolling maul that reached the line before going wide through the backs and enabling full-back Glen Bryce, with a man outside him, to cut inside and score. When captain Graham Wilson banged over the conversion from the touchline the team was quietly purring.
But then complacency and carelessness set in and Hawick seized their chance, led by the aggressive destructiveness of lock Bruce McNeil in the pack and player/coach Nikki Walker out on the right wing showing the way by breaking through a couple of tentative tackles before passing inside for scrum-half Greg Cottrell to cross the line and finish the move.
As Heriot’s continued to flounder, another spell of Hawick pressure opened a gap for stand-off Rory Hutton to slip through for a second try. Lee Armstrong’s conversion and a penalty in front of the posts shunted the visitors into the lead.
The panic bells were ringing furiously when there could have been a third try as Heriot’s lost possession going into contact. The ball was booted upfield for 60 metres, Harry Boisseau failed to deal with it, and Hawick winger Scott McLeod was only just beaten to the touch-down by a hastily back-tracking Gregor McNeish.
Hawick were eight points ahead at half-time – reduced by three when Wilson kicked a simple penalty minutes after the restart – and were threatening to cut loose when McLeod was brought down a few metres short of the Heriot’s line after bursting through the middle.
But then replacement prop Nick McLennan, unable to hold up a scrum that had been under pressure all afternoon, earned a yellow card and before he returned from the sin-bin Heriot’s had struck twice.
Flanker Jack Turley brought the scores level with a try at the end of a rolling maul. Then Charlie Simpson’s lightning break over the gain line set up loosehead prop Nathan Borel to do exactly the same on the other side of the posts. The referee initially ruled that the ball had been held up but changed his mind after consulting the touch judge.
Hawick’s pack was back to full strength but tiring rapidly and Heriot’s began to flaunt their dominance. Hawick had no answer to an eight-man drive at a five-metre scrum except to collapse it. The penalty try was awarded and with it the bonus point.
Nikki Walker said: “I am not too disappointed. There were some good bits in that performance out there. We broke through a few times and if we had just taken those opportunities it could have been a very different result. Heriot’s were clinical and took their chances.”
Now Heriot’s short-term goal is to stay unbeaten up to Christmas in fixtures against Stirling County and Edinburgh Accies and put themselves in pole position for a top four finish.
Hawick, with Boroughmuir a point behind and Glasgow Hawks a point ahead, welcome league leaders Ayr to Mansfield Park on Saturday but have the psychological edge of knowing they beat them 26-27 in a hard- fought encounter away from home earlier this season.
Heriot’s: Bryce; Simpson, Steele, Carmichael, Boisseau; McNeish, Wilson; Borel, Turner, Cessford, Nimmo, Turley, Armstrong, McLean, Hill. Subs: McGregor, Cameron, Ritchie, Dewar, Learmonth.
Hawick: Armstrong; Walker, Cuthbert, Domingues, McLeod; Hutton, Cottrell; Muir, L Gibson, Blacklock, McKee, McNeil, Mactaggart, Davies, Robertson. Subs: Graham, McLennan, R Gibson, Goodfellow, Coutts.
Referee: J Clarke.
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