THE 2014-15 Scottish club rugby season will end this afternoon in very similar circumstances to the way it started – with Heriot’s and Melrose competing for the opportunity to lift some silverware.
Back in August it was the Charity Shield which was up for grabs, and although the 36-28 victory for Heriot’s was a welcome confidence boost at the start of the campaign, the significance of this match – between the previous season’s league champions (Melrose) and cup winners (Heriot’s) – should not be overestimated. The real value of that game was that it raised some valuable money for Breast Cancer Care.
“It’s a cup final so we know that absolutely anything could happen on the day”Jack Turley
When the two sides lock horns again at Goldenacre later today, charity will not be on the agenda. This time the biggest prize in Scottish club rugby is up for grabs in the first ever BT Premiership Grand Final.
Having finished the regular season ten points clear of the pack, before muscling their way past Currie in their play-off semi-final three weeks ago, Heriot’s will have home advantage.
However, Melrose are going for their fourth title in five years, so have a fair bit of experience of competing at the sharp end, and they showed admirable resilience to come back from ten points down to defeat Ayr at Millbrae in their play-off semi-final. The Borderers will take added confidence from the fact that they defeated Heriot’s both home and away during the regular season.
It is worth pointing out that those successes by Melrose were by the narrowest of margins. They won 44-43 at the Greenyards in October and 14-12 at Goldenacre at the end of January. Furthermore, the eight -point winning margin for Heriot’s in that Charity Shield match was only secured by a converted Stuart Edwards try in the final minute – otherwise the gap between the two sides would have been just a single point.
All in all, it is hard to escape the conclusion that this afternoon’s contest really is too tight to call. “It’s a cup final so we know that absolutely anything could happen on the day. The whole club has bought into it and we’re buzzing for a big day at Goldenacre on Saturday,” agreed Heriot’s captain Jack Turley.
“They have beaten us twice, but we got one over them in the Charity Shield at the start of the season so there is definitely a good rivalry between the two sides. This will be the fourth time we have played each other this season so I think we know a thing or two about what to expect.
“Melrose have been there or thereabouts for the last three or four years so they will be ready for it, but we’ve been building towards this during that same period. Four years ago we were fighting relegation and we have worked our way up to finish in the top four and win the cup last year, and we’ve gone further this year to finish top of the league.
“We’ve been building towards this as a coaching team and a group of players for quite some time, and I think we are all on the same page in terms of what we want to achieve and how we plan to do it,” added the 25-year-old lock, who was born and brought up in New Zealand, where he played in an All Black Schools team alongside Israel Dagg, Zac Guildford and Sam Whitelock.
After two and a half weeks off, Heriot’s got some game time on Tuesday when they hosted a Barbarians side packed with seasoned professionals as part of the club’s 125th anniversary celebrations.
The Goldenacre men were on the wrong end of a 97-31 drubbing but Turley – who missed that match with a knee complaint – is unconcerned about the possibility that this might have an adverse impact on team morale. “It was a good run-out so we’re feeling things are in pretty good order for the final. When you’ve got a game like this coming up there is no danger of losing focus,” he said. “The draw of the Barbarians got a fair few people along to Goldenacre so hopefully there can be a spill over effect from that and we can get a big crowd for this match, too. There will be a lot of Melrose and Heriot’s supporters, but hopefully a few neutrals from around Edinburgh will come along to enjoy the last club game of the season as well.
“I probably could have played in the Barbarians match but, at the end of the day, the final is a little bit more important. I had a run around on it after the game on Tuesday and everything felt good – so now I’m just looking forward to getting out there and helping the team.”