Goldenacre. This was where I fell in love with rugby. I was still at school and had been treated to a couple of internationals at Murrayfield, but one Saturday afternoon I stole along to Heriots on my own to watch a club game. I turned a corner and found myself looking into the chest of a bear; I tilted my neck upwards, and saw the face of Ian Milne. And standing beside him was one John Beattie, newly acquired from Glasgow Accies. I couldn’t believe it – there was I, one week on the terracing cheering new heroes, next week, standing next to them. I was hooked.
I frequented Goldenacre for the next 7 or 8 years until I moved away from Edinburgh. Saturday was my first trip back in 20 years. The guest list for lunch included all three Milne bears & some other great names from the past. In some ways this is why players love rugby – the friendships forged on the field last a lifetime; along the sun-kissed Ferry Rd end of the pitch different generations sat recalling old stories, simply using Saturday’s game as a backdrop to their conversation. In other ways its why club rugby struggles to attract new support – I looked on at all this on Saturday and felt a total outsider. No one attempted to engage with me. Even the P.A. had limited reach, and intermittent information. That’s quite different from my experience at Stirling or Ayr – you sense included there as a supporter, encouraged to come back.
So to the game. Heriots v Currie. Heriots had lost pro Mike Penn but welcomed back Marc Teague to their back 3. Currie had a little re-shuffle – scrum half Richard Snedden was out injured, so Andy Binikos & Simeon James moved in one place from 12 and 10 respectively, and Edinburgh pro (and former Herioter!) John Houston came into the team at 12. Currie looked sharp to start with, and the game was less then 5 minutes old when James Johnstone had a fine midfield break to release Adam Hinds, who ran like Frankel on the wing to get the touch down. Jamie Forbes added the extras and kicked a couple of other penalties to give Currie a 13-3 lead after 20 minutes.
At this stage Heriots looked to be struggling. Morrissey had been stretchered off, Teague bloodied & replaced briefly, and then yellow carded. But Wilson & Hidalgo-Clyne seem to be settling into their half back combination, interchanging flexibly, and they got Hill, Brown and Carmichael hitting up the middle and gaining ground. Skipper Graham Wilson was in immaculate form with the boot and had Heriots back to 9-13 at half time. With Marcell yellow carded Currie were a man down at the break and it was game on.
An early Wilson penalty in the 2nd half to close the gap to 12-13 seemed to get Currie flustered, they lost their discipline and with it another couple of players, as Hamilton and Weston were sin binned in quick succession. Unsurprisingly they then lost the lead when Jason Hill broke off the back of a scrum and crashed over with Wilson adding the goal to give Heriots a 19-13 advantage. The last 20 minutes saw a flurry of substitutes, and a see-saw on the scoreboard. Currie scored 2 tries, through home produced winger Whittingham, and young Glasgow prospect Johnny Gray. Jamie Forbes converted both. Heriots stayed in the game with another Wilson penalty, before Russell Nimmo powered over for an equalising score for Heriots with 4 minutes left. Wilson missed his first kick of the game and the scoreboard settled at 27-27.
As at Millbrae a couple of weeks ago, Heriots pack surprised me. Hill, Brown and Mulligan got the better off the back row battle. Steve Lawrie’s influence is significant. But the backs aren’t quite clicking – Wilson is looking more settled at 10, but he’s no Greig Laidlaw yet in releasing people with little pop passes. For Currie Jamie Forbes looks to have stepped up again this season, and might well challenge Grant Anderson of Ayr for the Club International XV. It was my first sighting of Johnny Gray. He’s a big specimen for 18 years old. More bulky than Richie was at the same age, but not the same giraffe height or leggy runs. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the Grays were to follow in the steps of the Milnes and scrum down together for Scotland.