Heriot’s captain Graham Wilson applied the “one that got away” label to a 16-22 RBS Premiership defeat by Ayr at Goldenacre but took encouragement from his team going toe-to-toe with the league leaders.
It was the second time this season that Heriot’s have lost to Ayr by a single-score margin but what was unusual about this contest was the role played by a touch judge in confirming the decisive try.
Leading 15-13 after 55 minutes of pulsating action, Ayr drove for the home line and the referee appeared to indicate that the ball had not been grounded satisfactorily only to consult with the assistant and award a touchdown to Jon Welsh for Finn Russell to convert.
It was the decisive moment and the Heriot’s skipper admitted to being surprised while refusing to cry wolf.
“A few boys thought it could have been a double movement but our line-out did not really function and we gave some silly off-loads when it wasn’t really on . . . so that was more about why we lost a match that there for the taking and we just have to work on these mistakes.
“So far as that try was concerned the touch judge must have had an angle on the situation.”
Heriot’s coach Phil Smith was less diplomatic, declaring: “I did not get that. I just did not get it. I thought we had stolen it (the ball). It was like we had nicked it.
“I have never seen that (type of intervention) before particularly when there was a pile of bodies.
“Then he (the ref) has gone to the touch judge to get the ruling and come back although I don’t know what he asked him.”
Where the two Herioters were in agreement was in the fact opportunities had existed although overall Wilson was upbeat.
“We came in with a bit of confidence having had some good results against Accies in the league and Currie in the cup.
“So, we were looking to win and ended disappointed given the possession and territory we had. However, we now know now there can be no excuses from here on in having proved we can compete with the top teams in pushing on for a top-four finish and a British and Irish Cup place.”
In fact, Heriot’s are just outside the top four that guarantees B&I Cup status but they do have two games in hand of Currie who are five points ahead in third.
Also, several Heriot’s players are beginning to hit rich form notably the back row of Chris Mulligan, Fraser Brown and Jason Hill while Struan Cessford is coming of age at prop.
Said Wilson: “Fraser Brown has been out for a couple of months with a ruptured testicle so for him to come back after just 40 minutes for the club international team on Wednesday and play like that showed how much work he has been doing.
“Fraser could definitely make the step up; Jason Hill is another who is quite rightly in the clubs’ international squad.
“Struan Cessford is really starting to mature and is putting in better performances each week.
“There is a huge improvement in our team from last year but this was one that got away.”
Smith added: “Twice if we had given the last pass correctly we would have broken through whereas Ayr had three attacks and scored three tries which was clinical play by them.
“We did well considering our set piece didn’t function and it is not an excuse that they brought on two international props but it was in an area we were hoping to dominate, an area we were hoping to expose.”
Jon Welsh and Ed Kalman were on loan to Ayr from Glasgow Warriors to work their way back from injury and the former had two crucial second-half tries to augment one by Ross Curle against the early run of play.
Dynamic hooker Kevin Bryce crossed to help Heriot’s turn level at 8-8 and winger Michael Paterson’s first league try allowed the home side to lead for all of six minutes.
Ultimately, though, Heriot’s, despite a back division consistently hitting the line at pace with full back Mike Penn outstanding, were undone by an inability to exploit yellow cards for Robbie Fergusson and Nick Campbell.
Once again, though, there was no shortage of entertainment value in another Premiership cracker which went to the wire and both teams deserve enormous credit for that.
Scorers: Heriot’s: Tries: Bryce, Paterson. Penalties: Wilson (2). Ayr: Tries: Welsh (2), Curle. Conversions: Russell (2). Penalty: Russell.
Heriot’s: M Penn, M Paterson, M Learmonth, C Ferguson, M Nimmo, R Carmichael, G Wilson (captain), C Owenson, K Bryce, S Cessford, C Osazuwa, R Nimmo. F Brown, J Hill, C Mulligan. Subs: G Cameron, B Morrissey, J Parker, J Syme, O Brown.
Ayr: G Anderson, K Gossman, D Kelbrick, R Curle, C Gossman. F Russell, P Jericevich, N Cox, S Fenwick, J Welsh, N Campbell, S Sutherland, C White, C Forrester (captain), A Dunlop. Subs: D Young, E Kalman, G Fisken, R Fergusson, M McConnell.
Referee: P Davies.