Stirling County 7
ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards
IT might have been a meaningless game in terms of BT Premiership table positions but for both clubs there was an imperative to maintain high performance levels ahead of Cup semi-finals and play-offs.
But, with underfoot and overhead conditions challenging at what was until recently a snow-covered Greenyards pitch, opportunities to play champagne rugby, so favoured by Melrose, were few and far between, leaving both sides offering little more than flat beer.
It was trench warfare in the battle between the two forward packs, there was much boot to ball behind the scrum and only occasionally were there flashes of running rugby.For Melrose, a return to rugby after an enforced winter break was welcome, even although the match fell short of expectations.
“It was a kind of strange game. The conditions were dreadful. The good thing is that after having been a bit disjointed over the past two weeks, with snow dictating, we got back to playing rugby. I thought Stirling made it very difficult for us. They defended well and they got stuck in,” said Rob Chrystie, the Melrose coach.
Stirling coach Graeme Young was satisfied despite losing to the Premiership table toppers.
“I was very pleased with our performance and especially that of the young lads we had in the team today,” he said.
The opening minutes of the match promised much, as Melrose, starting ferociously, struck quickly to earn a penalty goal for Craig Jackson, but if these initial phases had signalled a deluge of points for the home side then such a prediction proved wide of the mark. Stirling dug in, challenged Melrose in the forward battle, and made sure their defensive structure was sound.
Such was the Stirling’s resistance that it took Melrose 20 minutes to add further points, when turnover ball allowed Iain Moody to break clear, them with support from Murdo McAndrew the ball was moved right, for Ali Grieve to add more go-forward, before Fraser Thomson squeezed over in the corner.
Melrose held their eight-point lead until ten minutes into the second half when Stirling shocked the Premiership leaders with a well taken try from scrum possession, centre Ewan Macgarvie wrong-footing two defenders before touching down under the posts, leaving Jonny Hope with the simplest of conversion kicks to narrow the gap to a single point.
With their pride threatened Melrose hit back powerfully, driving a penalty created line-out for flanker Grieve to score an unconverted try. Then, with two minutes remaining, Melrose added a third try through Moody, this time from a tap penalty close to the Stirling line. Jason Baggott’s touchline conversion concluded the points scoring.
Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, G Taylor, C Jackson©, R McCann; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiels, R Anderson, N Beavon, J Head, A Runciman, A Grieve, R Knott, I Miller. Subs: B McLean, R McLeod, A Welsh, B Colvine, G Wood.
Stirling County: C Robertson; S Macdonald, E MacGarvie, L Bonar, K Gossman; J Hope©, R Swan; R Chies, R Kennedy, G Holborn, J Beech, S Yarrow, H Burr, M Emmison, R Leishman. Subs: A Nicol, A Wood, S Neill, W Nelson, C Jardine.
Melrose: Tries: Thomson, Grieve, Moody; Con: Baggott; Pen: Jackson
Stirling County: Try McGarvie; Con: Hope
Scoring Sequence (Melrose first): 3-0; 8-0 (h-t) 8-5; 8-7; 13-7; 18-7; 20-7
Man-of-the-Match: Stirling County centre Ewan MacGarvie scored an excellent try with a solo effort to complement an fine defensive effort. A word too for referee Mike Todd. The 20-year old Borderer showed, with a calm and assured performance, he is one of the upcoming officials in Scottish rugby.
Talking point: This was simply a dead rubber and in poor underfoot conditions probably the poorest game seen at the Greenyards for a long time. Both sides, however, needed a hard match to prepare for a loaded end to the season.