With the Six Nations well underway, this time of year is surely the peak of the rugby season, and, with just two league games remaining in the BUCS season, last Wednesday’s game against Heriot-Watt was crucial for St Andrews’ men’s 1st XV. Having lost back to back games before the break, and with the previous week’s game called off due to the snowy whims of mother nature, the Saints boys would be hoping that any rust would be short lived. Their opponents had suffered a close-fought defeat at the hands of Dundee in their previous game, and on paper the honours seemed even.
The day was grey and chilly, perfect for rugby, and in the warmups both teams looked sharp and raring to go, with passes snapping between the backs. Upon St Andrews kicking off, however, this proved to be somewhat of a false dawn. Despite a brilliant effort from the Saints’ scrum-half to recover the ball from the kick-off, a series of knock-ons led to the first scrum of the day within a minute of play. Immediately, it appeared that the visitors had the stronger pack, with the Saints going backwards on their own put in. Indeed, the early game was dominated by scrums, with the second of the day given after 4 minutes when a Saints man ran into the referee, wearing a fantastic fluorescent pink shirt. The attacking platform was squandered after a poor pass amongst the backs led to a defensive scramble back into the St Andrews half.
Heriot’s wouldn’t prove so wasteful, as a kick in behind the St Andrews line was carried back over the try line by a defender, leading to a scrum-five. Following two resets due to collapse and wheeling respectively, the visitors’ backs made good use of the ball and crashed over for the first try of the day, and with the try well converted, Heriot stood 0-7 ahead after just 9 minutes.
Not long after the restart of play, a clean break by St Andrews was called back by the referee for a knock-on by Heriot. Having seemingly failed to play advantage, he then allowed a scrum which saw the front rows pop up, all while wheeling and eventually collapsing, to continue without penalty or reset. At any rate, the Saints’ number 8 picked the ball and made brilliant ground at the gain line with great support from the rest of the home pack. This was then backed up with the Saints outside centre flying down a fantastic attacking line and bursting through the Heriot defensive line, but the referee spoiled the show, calling play back for a knock-on in the preceding ruck.
Having shown their attacking chops, the Saints’ defence was once again troubled, as another kick behind the line saw the Heriot’s number 8 nearly pull off a worldie, plucking the ball from touch behind his back to be clean in on the Saint’s line, but the referee once again played party-pooper, ruling that he was in touch and saving the home side’s blushes. Their luck wouldn’t hold out for much longer, however, as the Heriot’s full-back found his way through to score the second try of the match. The conversion was expertly slotted from the right touchline, leaving the score at 0-14 in favour of the visitors.
Then followed a period of defensive valour from Heriot’s with wave after wave of St Andrews attack pounded towards the visitors’ try line. Having taken a high clearing kick, the Saints’ number 8 was taken out in the air, and, having regained his feet, took a quick penalty and swiftly found himself well behind the opposing defensive line. A knock-on saw play taken back for the Saints’ penalty for Heriot not retreating the required ten metres, and the home side elected for a scrum deep inside their opponent’s 22. Play moved back and forth along the pitch, with the home inside centre making a break for the line only to be brought down just 5 metres short. It was beginning to look like Heriot might weather the storm to half-time, but finally the St Andrews full-back broke through to score in the left corner. The conversion attempt fell short, and the score at the break was 5-14.
St Andrews came flying out of the gates in the second half, with a 50-yard gain after an interception in the Saints’ 22. An onslaught ensued, and the Heriot defence held firm on their own try line, inducing a knock on, but play was taken back for a St Andrews penalty, which was brilliantly used by the home side, as their outside centre found his way through the visiting defence for the Saints’ second try of the game, which was this time converted via both the upright and the crossbar. Now just two points behind, the Saints were handed a chance when the kick off failed to fly the required ten metres, and found touch to boot, but St Andrews lost the scrum against the head and a grubber was put in behind the defensive line, only to be collected by the home fly half and cleared perfectly to touch on the half way line.
The St Andrean ascendance would not last, however, as the expeditious visiting replacement scrum half flew through the heart of the home defence to score under the posts. Not 3 minutes later, despite a strong defensive period from St Andrews, Heriot broke through in the corner again, and with the conversion missed, the score stood at 12-26 with 20 minutes to go. But the onslaught had not finished, as a rolling maul from a Heriot line out led to another try, which again went unconverted, leaving the score at 12-31.
St Andrews came back with a vengeance, forcing a handling error in the opposing 22 which saw a try scored not one minute after the restart. Then, the Saints centres combined in a flying play to create the second try in five minutes, the score now 26-31 with the home side back in touch. But Heriot held their nerve and scored their final try at the 75-minute mark following some more fantastic running and suspect tackling to put the game to bed at 26-38.
St Andrews were, for large parts of the game, the better side on the field, but handling errors at key times meant that many of the times they did break through a Heriot defence (which Donald Trump might consider for the Mexican border) were wasted to carelessness, and that same physicality which led to the visitors defensive prowess was often devastating in attack – not to mention the pace of the Heriot replacement scrum half, whose introduction at half time proved one of the turning points in the match. On a more positive note, the Saints showed some real fight to come back to within touching distance of their opponents not just once, but twice in the match, and there were some real positives to take away both in attack and defence.
St Andrews’ next match will be at home against Aberdeen’s winless 2nd XV, and one should hope that they will be rather put to the sword based on the valiant performance put in by the boys even in defeat.