It may be a cliché but the old adage that winning is a habit which seems to become increasingly hard to break was evidenced once again on Saturday when Heriot’s found a way to win the BT Premiership final at Ayr.
The 29-26 success was not without controversy as it was sealed by a late penalty try awarded by referee Graeme Wells to the fury of a vociferous Millbrae crowd. It delivered a first league and cup double to the Goldenacre club and coach Phil Smith agreed afterwards that the recent run of dogged wins had made his troops battle-hardened.
Dramatic semi-final victories on away turf in both competitions, at Glasgow Hawks and Currie, followed by last weekend’s triumph over Melrose in the BT Cup final have forged a unit that has worked out ways to win, often off the back foot.
Midway through the second half on Saturday there was a moment when it looked like the previous three weeks’ effort may have had the opposite effect and left the Edinburgh team spent. Two tries in quick succession for the home side had opened up a nine-point lead and Heriot’s were wobbling.
However, when they hit back with the next score there was a sense of inevitability that they would get the job done.
Smith said: “I think it is experience. With some of the mistakes we are making, we just kind of lose our heads a bit. It is a cup final with a big crowd, so for the younger lads it is an experience that they haven’t really had.
“We just have to stick with what they’ve been doing because it’s really, really good. That’s the thing – they go again. I can’t ask for more. We’ve had three weeks of really tough fixtures, with the maximum deficit of just a few points. They must have got something out of that and Ayr have had a couple of weeks off.”
Smith went on to acknowledge the significance of a first double and added: “It’s massive for us. For everybody behind me, everybody who helps at the club, this is massive.
“I hope they get all the benefits of our efforts. I just stand at the front and blow the whistle and tell them what to do. All the people who are not playing put in a huge effort.”
The Heriot’s coach had predicted a ding-dong battle ahead in his side’s bid to retain the league title and he was not disappointed with an end-to-end contest he hailed as a great advert for Premiership rugby.
The visitors struck first when Struan Dewar finished off a rolling maul as the Heriot’s pack once again looked like a menacing beast. But Ayr hit back through full-back Grant Anderson and then Ross Curle.
Heriot’s refused to let them get away, however, and Charlie Simpson’s try out wide was followed by Edinburgh pro and double cup final tryscorer Neil Cochrane finishing off another maul to give his adopted team a 17-14 half-time lead.
Ayr came roaring out after the break and appeared to have struck a decisive blow when Blair Macpherson drove over and Curle snaffled an interception score to get the vocal home support on their feet. You felt that the next score would be vital and it was Heriot’s who got it when Liam Steele sent Simpson in for his second on the left.
Then came the penalty try which broke Ayr hearts and their coach Calum Forrester cut a figure of pure dejection after the final whistle.
The Millbrae men had finished the regular season top of the pile with a nine-point cushion, 12 ahead of their conquerors on Saturday. A play-off and Grand Final system certainly delivers drama and entertainment but it is by its very nature often laced with a dose of cruelty. “It’s hugely disappointing. We played a lot of the better rugby, but it was our own errors which brought penalties which allowed them to get to the corners and build the pressure from there,” said Forrester.
“We know they are very good at that because they did it last week as well. We didn’t seem to get any breaks at all today. We played a lot of good rugby, but discipline let us down in key areas of the pitch. We give away stupid penalties and allowed Heriot’s to kick to the corners, which is one of their strengths.
“It will only really settle in in a few days. We had an outstanding regular season and the boys showed a lot of character between the semi-finals a few weeks ago, and showed the kind of team we really are. Today, a few things didn’t go our way but we just have to deal with that and move on.”
Smith was understandably at the polar opposite in terms of emotions and added: “I thought it was brilliant. Forget about us winning, as a game it must have been fantastic to watch because it was end-to-end. There were mistakes, obviously, but sometimes they contribute to the highs.”