Heriot’s duly celebrated their 125th anniversary in proper style by winning the inaugural BT Premiership final, even if they waited until the last play of the day to do so. It was pure, nail-biting, heart-stopping drama. No.8 Jason Hill burrowed over from short range after Heriot’s had marched almost the entire length of the field and, true to form, opted to run a penalty on the half-way line which, had the kick gone over, would have resulted in a draw and extra time.
Scorers: Heriot’s: Tries: Turley, Bryce, Hill. Cons: Wilson 2. Pens: Wilson. Melrose: Tries: Thomson, Mua, Nagle. Con: Mills. Pen: Helps.
“I felt that it wasn’t going to be our day,” said a relieved coach Phil Smith after the game. “We should have gone 17-3 ahead in the first half and instead Melrose run the length to score and then Graham Wilson put in a good chip-kick in the second half that falls perfectly for their winger to score.
“I knew the guys would keep playing for the full 80 minutes but I honestly didn’t think it was our day until Jason Hill got that final try.”
The match was played out in near perfect conditions, with both sides claiming three tries and one penalty apiece. When they can bear to look back at this game, Melrose will rue a couple of missed kicks, one simple second-half penalty that was pushed wide and one conversion that was unbelievably charged down, both chances to get the two points that were all that separated the sides when the totting up was done.
The match swung one way then the other. Heriot’s dominated the first half but somehow scored two of their three tries against the run of play after the break. Melrose recovered from a 10-3 deficit after half an hour of play, bossed the second 40 and took a three-point lead just three minutes from time after Andy Nagle’s late try appeared to settle things in their favour.
Joe Helps had already kicked the opening points of the match for Melrose when home skipper Jack Turley popped up with opening try. Three times Heriot’s were awarded a penalty inside the Rose red zone, three times they stuck it in the corner and on the third occasion the Heriot’s pack drove over the Melrose line with Turley claiming the score.
Graham Wilson added the extras and a penalty to boot to give Heriot’s a handy 10-3 lead. They should have gone further ahead. Instead the Borderers got themselves back into contention with two crucial incidents in the space of just three minutes.
First up the Heriot’s hooker, George Turner, was charging for the Melrose line with just one defender standing between him and a second Heriot’s try. He barrelled his way over but dropped the ball in the act of scoring. When the try finally arrived it was at the opposite end of the field and again it was the skipper who grabbed the glory.
Deep inside his own half Fraser Thomson ghosted past a Heriot’s forward in the defensive line before the full-back fed winger Helps who made good ground, evading a couple of would-be tacklers, before returning the favour for Thomson to finish off the move he had started 70 yards back.
The two teams were separated by two points at the break – a missed conversion by Helps – but the momentum seemed to have swung behind the visitors and so it proved early in the second half.
Now it was the black and yellow shirts who penned Heriot’s back into their own 22 and seven minutes into the half Australian winger Tito Mua latched on to a loose clearance kick and he stepped his way through some obliging defenders to score a great solo effort from 30 yards out.
Bizarrely Helps had his simple conversion charged down and he was replaced immediately for his trouble, only for his substitute Richard Mill to push a penalty wide after Heriot’s centre Keith Buchan conceded territory after a yellow card for a late tackle.
Glen Bryce scored the second Heriot’s try on 65 minutes after a rare period of concerted pressure by the home side, but Melrose laid siege to the home try line and after battering away at a brick wall for fully five minutes Nagle, a breakaway turned midfielder, used his muscle to burst through a tiring defence.
With just a few minutes left on the clock Melrose presumed they had won it. Heriot’s proved otherwise.
Heriot’s: Bryce; Simpson, Steele, Buchan, Goudie; McNeish, Wilson; Borel, Turner, Cessford, Nimmo, Turley (Capt), Richie, McClean, Hill. Substitutes from: Mustard, Ward, Syme, Levison, Mulligan, Edwards, Learmonth.
Melrose: Thomson (capt); Mua, Galbraith, Nagle, Helps; Lockington, Colvine, Beavon, Pearce, McQuillan, Head, Carmichael, Irvine-Hess, Runciman, Dodds. Substitutes from: Ferguson, Little, Eccles, Blake, Hutchison, McAndrew, Mill.
Referee: Lloyd Linton.