Currie 22 - 24 Heriot's: Visitors just edge a thriller
Heriot's won a spellbinding BT Premiership semi-final in impossibly dramatic style yesterday when replacement stand-off Gregor McNeish showed nerves of steel to slot a winning drop goal with the last kick of the game and set up a Grand Final meeting with Ayr at Millbrae on 23 April.
Currie looked to have snatched the win but will be haunted by a decision, while leading 22-21, to kick the ball out before time was up, giving Heriot’s another chance to attack from a lineout and setting up McNeish to slot his second drop goal of the match.
“I think they misheard the ref and made an error,” said Heriot’s coach Phil Smith, who praised his side’s never-say-die spirit in a rollercoaster of a match which saw the lead change hands five times.
“I don’t mind losing finals, but I hate losing semi-finals so it’s good to have come through,” added Smith, who will now focus on the first leg of a possible double when they face Melrose in the BT Cup Final a week on Saturday.
Currie finished second with Heriot’s third in the regular season to seize the home advantage in this tie but the recent records suggested the Goldenacre side started favourites.
Heriot’s had won the two league meetings with the men from the capital’s western suburbs this term and, in total, had gone nine games unbeaten in the fixture.
If that hoodoo was weighing at all then it didn’t show in the early stages as Currie got off to a blazing start.
The first try of the afternoon came when a penalty touch saw the Currie maul quickly onto the front foot, No.8 Ross Weston crashing over.
Home stand-off James Semple added the conversion from wide left and a penalty from bang in front a few minutes later to open up an early ten-point lead.
The visitors began to get a foothold in the game and managed to strike back, though not before Currie had again threatened with a lightning combination by full-back Harvey Elms and wing Chris Logan up the left.
The pressure was relieved with a penalty to the visitors in their own 22 and they worked their way back up the pitch and after some punishing drives, the home defence creaked and hooker Michael Liness strolled in for a score under the posts, easily converted by John Semple.
The visiting Semple then struck an excellent penalty and we were all square approaching the break. Heriot’s struck an important blow just before half-time when, after launching a planned move codenamed “Currie” from a scrum 25 metres out, they set up a series of drives at, and ultimately over, the home line, lock Russell Nimmo emerging with the ball for an unconverted try that completed an impressive turnaround following what had been a shaky start.
It was important that Currie found a response to deflate some of the buoyancy the visitors.
They did just that with an equally dominant start to the second half as they had enjoyed in the first and Heriot’s were under severe pressure from the moment full-back John Semple knocked on under a high ball in his own 22. A series of surges left the defence hopelessly stretched and they were queuing up out left when wing Logan scurried over.
The other goalkicking Semple’s magnificent conversion restored the home lead in what was now a compelling contest of knockout rugby.
The lead didn’t last long, though, as Scotland under-20 scrum-half Hugh Fraser took over goalkicking duties after coming off the bench and a beautifully struck right-footed effort nudged Heriot’s back in front by a single point.
That was stretched out to four with McNeish’s sweetly struck drop goal as the tension racked up going into the final ten minutes.
Currie almost immediately won a penalty and kicked for the corner to set up another maul chance against the tiring Heriot’s defence. It paid dividends when Weston once again got the ball down to spark euphoria among the home supporters.
The missed conversion left it poised at 22-21 to Currie as the last act headed for a dramatic conclusion.
Heriot’s tried to land one final killer blow from the ropes but Currie forced a knock on at the ruck and kept possession along their own 22 line before booting out prematurely, giving Heriot’s one last attacking lineout maul.
They worked the drop-goal chance superbly and McNeish held his nerve under a desperate rush defence and slotted home to spark bedlam as the delirious Heriot’s bench and coaches ran on to mob the hero of the hour.