IF THERE is one indisputable truth in Scottish rugby, it is that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. In fact, it is often very hard to please just some of the people some of the time. So, when an end-of-season play-off structure for the top four finishers in the BT Premiership was introduced for the 2014-15 campaign, there were bound to be howls of protest from certain quarters, and endless debate among all interested parties about the merits of this latest adjustment to the format of club rugby’s flagship competition.
There is certainly weight in the argument that Heriot’s should have been handed the silverware at the end of the regular season by virtue of the fact that they finished the campaign ten points clear of second placed Ayr, and 11 points ahead of Melrose. They scored 99 more points than Melrose and had a superior point differential of 91. Over the course of the campaign they picked up 11 bonus points for scoring four tries, which is more than twice the number of bonus points achieved by any other team in the league.
Yet, they could end the season with nothing except a bitter sense of frustration if things don’t go their way in tomorrow afternoon’s play-off Grand Final against Melrose. All that hard work over several months could come to nought thanks to a freak bounce of the ball or an erroneous decision by the referee.
The counter argument is that the play-offs keep the league interesting and honest by ensuring that more teams have more to play for during the course of the whole season. Besides, surely a real championship side must not only be consistent, but also be able to raise the bar to an even higher level when the need arises?
This second point of view rings true with Melrose captain Fraser Thomson, and he happily admits that his standpoint has a lot to do with the fact that his side may well to be the first great beneficiaries of the new system.
“We were hoping to finish top which would have given us a home semi-final, but we knew with the new league structure that if we managed to make it into the top four we would still have a chance. Those were the rules from the start, so we’re quite comfortable with that,” said the 25-year-old full-back.
Heriot’s might have been the best side in the league over the course of the season, but it is worth remembering that two of the five games they lost during the campaign were against Melrose – both defeats were by the narrowest of margins. They went down 12-14 to the Borderers at Goldenacre at the end of January and lost a 44-43 thriller at the Greenyards back in October – meaning that tomorrow’s match promises to be a mouth-wateringly tense encounter.
“It is a fitting end to the season, because it gives last season’s champions the chance to defend their title against the best team in the league this season,” said Thomson.
“Heriot’s deserve home advantage because of where they finished the regular season, but we won at Goldenacre earlier in the year and we’re confident that if we go up there with the right game-plan and execute it to the best of our ability, plus keep mistakes to a minimum, then we have the players and capability to win the game.”
“If we manage to get over the line to win four titles in five years then that will be a feat that I don’t think will be achieved again for quite a while,” he added.