Murrayfield WANDERERS coach Bruce Aitchison insists the battling qualities evident in Saturday’s RBS Edinburgh Regional Cup defeat against Heriot’s are what he has come to expect from players he believes are developing into a unit capable of performing at a higher level than their current place in club rugby’s third tier.
Aitchison watched his side fall behind then restore parity on three occasions, before eventually succumbing to a quick-fire treble that sealed a 34-24 win for Heriot’s that keeps the Goldenacre men on track to challenge for a place in the knockout stages of the competition.
“It’s not a surprise to us. Nobody really pays much attention to what goes on in our division,” he said. “We’ve never been disappointed with the boys at all this year other than an away defeat to Peebles.
“We have played very well against Watsonians and Biggar and, for want of a couple of decisions on our part, we could have won those games.”
Of Saturday’s encounter, he added: “If you had just rocked up and watched ten minutes of that game, you would never have known that there were two divisions between us – not just two divisions, they are going well in Premier One.
“I thought we fronted up and the attitude and application of my players was absolutely magnificent.”
Aitchison was aggrieved that his men had been forced to concede home advantage after the club’s fourth generation pitch in the shadow of the national stadium had been deemed unplayable for the second week in succession, and the fixture switched to Goldenacre.
“We’ve played into the Premier One side’s hands. We’ve made things very comfortable for them because we have to come and play them at their home. Them coming to play at Murrayfield might have just given us a bit of an edge.
“I’m not saying it would have been the difference between us winning or losing, but to give home advantage in a cup tie was a sore one to take. We’ve got to do as we’re told.”
Aitchison is not a fan of the competition’s structure – two large qualifying pools with only the winners progressing to a showdown for the Edinburgh silverware, then the victor joining the national competition at the quarter-final stage.
“I’m disappointed that the SRU forced our hand because their opinion is that they don’t want a backlog of fixtures. So, why have a pool that is so big when we could have had a group of three that could have fed into semi-finals then a regional final, rather than this huge pool we’ve got?” he added.
Wanderers had featured in tight finishes in each of their three previous cup matches against teams from higher divisions, while Heriot’s posted bonus point wins in each of their earlier ties. The higher division side dominated the early exchanges and deservedly took the lead after eight minutes when Jamie Syme finished off a powerful drive following a close range lineout.
Wanderers, however, fought back and Chris Hill dotted down for the equaliser. Stewart Mustard restored the home side’s lead when he applied the final touch following another powerful drive, but by half-time the tallies were tied after Alex Godsmark made a strong break and freed Ally Borland, who crashed through the final tackle for his side’s second touchdown.
Heriot’s were ahead once more within two minutes of the restart when Syme picked up at a close range scrum and barged over, with Graham Wilson adding the conversion. The hosts continued to press, but a pass by OJ Brown was plucked from the air by Wanderers centre Alex Cox who sprinted 70 metres for a try, which Chris Beattie converted to level matters once again.
The Goldenacre men finally shook off the tenacious visitors with three quick scores – a double for Wilson, who added a conversion, sandwiching one by Max Learmonth. Wanderers had the final word when Cox bagged his second try and Beattie converted, but Heriot’s saw out the closing stages of the match.
Their coach, Phil Smith, was satisfied with a tougher workout than his men got in their recent romp against Lasswade and was pleased with the effort of some peripheral players, notably centre Calum McNiven, who had earned promotion by performing well for the seconds.
However, the coach reserved special praise for two veterans, saying: “Stewart Mustard is a real stalwart. It’s great getting him in the team. He did lots of good stuff. Jamie Syme got another 60 minutes. He is a good experienced head at No. 8.”
Heriot’s will look to extend their winning run when they welcome Haddington on Saturday. The East Lothian men’s match at home to Biggar managed to beat the weather but they suffered a third defeat in the competition, losing 39-12.