Cochrane has played for Edinburgh 16 times this season, even captaining the pro team, but this was his first outing for Heriot’s this term. The 32-year-old’s power and experience helped finish off two driving mauls in the second half which, along with three yellow cards for the Borders side, tipped the final in the favour of Phil Smith’s side.
Melrose also fielded an Edinburgh hooker in the shape of George Turner and Cochrane said: “I think Connacht at home [on 4 March] was the last game for Edinburgh, so there’s probably been a prolonged period of time when I’ve not played any rugby.
“It’s a good opportunity to get a little bit of game time should Edinburgh need to call on me for the Munster game. I’ve played a lot with Edinburgh this year and to get a bit of game time with Heriot’s – obviously I would jump at that opportunity.
“I do feel bad for the Heriot’s player that had to miss out, but like Phil [Smith] said, they’re here to win. If that’s picking the strongest available side, so be it. I get told where to go: my employers are the SRU, so that’s the bottom line. If they say ‘You’re playing for Heriot’s’, I play for Heriot’s.”
Smith rewarded his usual hooker Michael Liness with a taste of the occasion for the first half-hour before throwing on Cochrane and, while accepting some unfortunate aspects, said he was comfortable with the situation.
“It’s difficult. They had an Edinburgh professional player too,” said the coach. “They are the rules we’ve got. If they get released, they need to play. Neil needs game time.
“We as a club support Edinburgh Rugby so if we can help them we do. Unfortunately, one of our guys goes to 23rd man and misses out. It was a horrible decision but the end result is we are here to win. We talk about ‘amateur’ rugby but we’re not amateur. We’re semi-pro and have guys who want to go pro.
“I’m delighted Neil scored two tries and I’m not going to stress about it.”
Heriot’s are now tantalisingly close to achieving a double as they face Ayr at Millbrae on Saturday. Asked if he would stress about that, Smith replied with a trademark grin: “No, I’m going to have a few drinks.”
Cochrane’s brace and the boot of man-of-the-match John Semple gave Heriot’s the points they needed to win the game but the decisions of referee Keith Allen to sin bin three Melrose players, Graeme Dodds, Lewis Carmichael and Jamie Bhatti, proved to be the crucial factor in a competitive battle which never really produced the expansive rugby that many had predicted.
Melrose coach John Dalziel had no arguments with the first and third yellow cards but was angered by the one shown to lock Carmichael for what looked an innocuous shove. It “killed us” and “ruined the game”, he said.
Melrose had opened the scoring when Fraser Thomson’s intelligent kick ahead was chased down by wing Nyle Godsmark for an unconverted try in the corner.
The lead was relinquished in a chaotic finish to the half when Semple’s penalty was followed by an error by Melrose full-back Thomson when his clearing kick fell short of touch and, in the ensuing desperate defence, led to Dodds’ yellow and Semple’s second penalty.
Semple added a third penalty before Jason Baggot’s well-struck drop goal got Melrose back to within a point. Then came that costly Carmichael sin-binning and Cochrane rumbled over twice to take the game away from Dalziel’s side.
Melrose did hit back with a well-worked try by Murdo McAndrew after a neat exchange with left-wing Sam Pequeur but Taylor was just wide with the conversion, which kept Heriot’s eight points clear and they defended the lead with some comfort.
For his part, Dalziel had no complaints about Cochrane’s match-winning impact.
“We had George Turner and we in the Premiership are looking to professionalise and make the league better. We want to lift the level and pros do that.
“You could argue it’s his first game of club rugby all season and it’s a cup final but George has been in and played with us and these guys need to play somewhere. They’re professional rugby players, so we’ve no qualms.”