EVERYONE said it before the season started and at the weekend we saw the proof that anyone can beat anyone in this RBS Premiership, yet still Goldenacre was overcome at the final whistle by shock.
Scorers: Heriot’s – Tries: Bryce, Buchan, Steele. Pens: Wilson (3). Cons: Wilson (2).
Gala: Tries: George Graham, Somerville, Cairns, Bertram. Pen: McLean. Con: McLean.
Referee: L Linton.
“I honestly can’t believe it,” said Gala coach George Graham. “I am actually in shock. We had five points … It’s only the second game of the season but that is a huge blow to our championship chances. Unbelievable.”
Graham lost for words? That is how unique this match turned out to be. As Melrose were scalping the league and cup holders in Ayrshire, Hawks wrapping up victory over Hawick, Stirling cruising to five points at Currie and Accies turning over Aberdeen in the north-east, one of the most thrilling comebacks witnessed in the capital was occurring.
At 27-6 up early in the second half Gala appeared home and dry, with four well-worked tries finished by backs George Graham and Grant Somerville, superbly created by Craig Robertson and Liam Draycott, and forwards Stevie Cairns and Lewis Bertram rewarding Borderers’ dominance in every department.
They had patched up well and overcome a front row crisis after losing new stand-off David O’Hagan, and props Luke Pettie and Rory Sutherland – Lewis Bertram and Callum Mackintosh played well – and were coping as injuries struck back rows Ben Murray, Ewan Dods and Gary Graham at Goldenacre. In truth, with Heriot’s down to 14 with Alex Henderson sin-binned just after half-time, they should have been further ahead but squandered opportunities with careless knock-ons, indiscipline and a lack of composure.
But then they lost one man too many, centre Alan Emond needlessly yellow-carded for kicking out at Cammy Ferguson in a nothing scrap. Suddenly, with 22 minutes of the game remaining, the tide turned dramatically.
Heriot’s scored 19 points in the first five minutes that Emond was off with a stunning hat-trick of tries, the forward pack superbly led by Jason Hill lifting the pace and becoming more direct while Gala’s depleting resources struggled on the back foot.
Kevin Bryce finished off a lineout drive from the penalty that followed Emond’s yellow card. Keith Buchan latched on to a charged down Gala clearance, and Wilson converted. Then full-back Liam Steele provided older supporters with a memory of his father Billy with a fast arching run wide left to finish off a flowing attack across the field. Wilson converted.
Still, there were 17 minutes left. Ewan Scott came off the Gala bench and the former Jed-Forest youngster was pressed into action with a penalty kick off a scrum. Andy McLean had slotted three from five, but, with a fine reputation for goal-kicking, Scott took over, but his effort swerved in the wind.
A Graeme Spiers attack seemed destined to clinch it for Gala but the Heriot’s defence swarmed back to ruin the scoring pass to Craig Keddie, and Heriot’s roared again, their pack exploiting Gala’s front row weakness to gain a penalty.
Often the Heriot’s hero, Graham Wilson struck his close-range kick between the sticks and after a further minute of jousting the final whistle sparked cheering from the Goldenacre faithful and disbelief in those in maroon.
Heriot’s coach Phil Smith was as shocked as Graham. “Amazing!” he offered. “I can’t say I saw that coming at half-time, but I knew our guys were better than they showed at Melrose and I told them at half-time that they were doing the right things, just in the wrong half, and that if they could do the right thing in Gala’s half we would put them under pressure.
“I also said that irrespective of whether we won or lost we had to show our spirit and fight, With forwards like George Turner, Murray Douglas, Kevin Bryce and Jason Hill making good yards, we started to do that and when they lost a man to the bin, crucially we scored straight away and that lifted everyone.
“At 27-18 Gala were bust and we had the momentum and Liam Steele’s try was beautiful. They still had chances, but we took ours and now, after victory against a very good Gala side, we should have the confidence to play the way we want to, knowing it can win games, and we have players coming back in the next few weeks.”
Graham added: “All credit to Heriot’s. They played some great stuff at the end. I won’t use our injuries as an excuse because we should have scored a barrowload when we were in control. When we got our fourth try I think everyone just thought ‘ach, we’ve won the game, let’s start playing sevens’. Unfortunately, Heriot’s never got that memo, and they started playing. Rugby eh?”
Heriot’s: L Steele; C Goudie, K Buchan, C Ferguson (c), M Nimmo; G Wilson, G Murdoch; C Owenson, G Turner, G Cameron, M Douglas, R Nimmo, S Burnside, C Mulligan, J Hill. Subs (all used): K Bryce, M Robertson, A Henderson, K McKenzie, H Boisseau.
Gala: L Draycott; G Somerville, C Auld, A Emond, C Robertson; A McLean, G Graham (c); L Bertram, R Anderson, C Mackintosh, C Borthwick, O Palepoi, G Graham, B Murray, E Dods. Subs (all used): M Kibble, S Cairns, C Keddie, E Scott, G Spiers.