Rugby: Smith sure Heriot’s are making good ground in race for top four

Kevin Bryce of Heriot's heads for the try line and scores as Haddington are undone.
Kevin Bryce of Heriot's heads for the try line and scores as Haddington are undone.
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Heriot’s coach Phil Smith is hoping that the efforts of the Goldenacre groundsman over recent weeks can play a part as the race for a top-four finish in the RBS Premiership enters its decisive phase.

While other sides have been forced to cool their heels as the weather has taken its toll, 
Heriot’s have managed to fulfil fixtures and on Saturday moved a step closer to the knockout stage of the RBS Cup with a 67-7 home win over Haddington.

Now, with a return to league duty and a vital clash with Dundee High looming large, Smith is convinced that Heriot’s will have an edge over some opponents – albeit Dundee have also remained active, given their involvement in the British & Irish Cup.

“It may not make a difference right now, but when others are trying to catch up games in February and March and trying to cram it all in, we’ll be done,” he said. “We’ve just kept playing. We should be ready for Saturday.”

Smith has used the cup ties to test out peripheral players and several have used the opportunity to stake a claim for promotion to the top side. That has widened the pool that will come into contention for the trip to Tayside.

“Basically we now have about 24 guys who can claim to be first fifteen players. If they want to play against Dundee, they had to put it out in this game, and they did,” he added, referring to the 11-try demolition of Haddington.

“It’s the first time we’ll sit in selection and have to really try and piece it all together regarding who we think are the right players for Dundee on Saturday – combinations, experience, non-experience, positions and all these things. Thankfully everyone was sticking their hand up saying ‘pick me’.”

Saturday’s win was never in doubt, with Joseva Nayacavou setting the tone when he touched down after a powerful surge by the home pack in seven minutes. OJ Brown converted, then added the extras after Kevin Bryce emerged from a heap of bodies to claim the second try.

A spirited effort by Haddington prevented the hosts from adding to their tally until the half hour mark when Sam Hidalgo-Clyne delivered an angled chip and Colin Goudie raced through, chipped ahead then dived over for an unconverted touchdown.

The home side then reverted to the use of their superior forward firepower to bag additional scores from Craig Owenson and Jamie Syme for a 29-0 interval lead.

And they produced a blistering restart, Owenson combining with fellow prop Struan Cessford who sprinted over for a try worthy of a back division effort before Max Learmonth finished a slick handling move with the seventh score. Harry Boisseau and Kenneth McKenzie added their names to the score sheet, with Graham Wilson adding both conversions as the points tally clicked beyond the half century.

The visitors then earned reward for their efforts when John Monu produced a superb solo effort, weaving his way through the home defence for a try, converted by Neil Watt.

However, the hosts finished with a final flourish and Cammy Ferguson bagged a double, both converted by Wilson, to leave Heriot’s with a 100 per cent record from their four Cup matches.

Haddington, whose committee have set in place a long-term development plan designed to bear fruit within three to four years, were well served by centre James Ferguson and flanker Cal Davies. The club’s director of rugby, Cliff Livingstone, believes that progress is being made although he concedes it has been a difficult season for the Neilson Park men. “They are a young team and they are just learning,” he said. “These boys will come on. Getting beat doesn’t help them but I say to them to just believe in it.”

And he is hoping that the arrival of Monu from New Zealand will help the development of the youngsters in the Haddington back line over the coming months

“He is here for three months,” added Livingstone. “We were lacking a wee bit at ten. The lad has come in and if we get him front foot ball, he looks like he could be a good player. That’s what we are needing – somebody with a bit of leadership to get us in the right places.”

Elsewhere, Musselburgh surrendered home advantage to allow their match against Stewart’s Melville to beat the weather. The Inverleith side blew off the cobwebs caused by recent inactivity with a solid performance featuring tries from Scott Brewster, Chris Damsteegt, Jonny MacDonald, Richard Borthwick and Adam Greig as they chalked up a 27-10 win, with Andy Lamb claiming the ’Burgh try and Dave O’Hagan kicking their other points.

Meanwhile, Boroughmuir geared up for their forthcoming Premiership survival battle when they eased to a 74-14 win at Lasswade.