STIRLING COUNTY 27
DAVID BARNES @ Bridgehaugh
GIVEN some of the hammerings Melrose have handed out this season, Stirling County should take some credit for finishing just 13 points behind the league leaders – which meant they were sniffing around at the death for a try which would have earned then two bonus points. But there must also be a sense of frustration that they didn’t really have any chance of being anything other than gallant losers after conceding three tries inside the first 14 minutes.
Even after they had managed to recover from that catastrophic start, County continued making life hard for themselves – the most obvious example being a loose line-out overthrow on their own line just before the break, which handed Melrose the bonus point.
Of course, mistakes are more likely to happen when you are under extreme pressure, and Melrose have so much pace, power and rugby ability right across the park that it has a suffocating effect on teams.
“Nineteen points in the first 14 minutes, that was the story of the game,” shrugged defence coach Graeme Young. “To be fair to Melrose, they showed us why they are top of the league. They were ruthless in terms of both taking their opportunities and not giving anything away.”
“You can see that there is growth and ability in our team – we are getting stronger – but we need to tighten up on our penalties, make less mistakes and defend a little bit better in our red zone. We need to make teams attack for longer to earn their tries. Melrose highlighted that for us today. Good teams show you where you need to get better.
“In terms of effort and application – fantastic. They hung in there when I think a few other teams would have fallen away at the end. So, despite being disappointed at losing, we feel we are in a good place.”
Melrose coach Rob Chrystie is becoming an old hand at playing a straight bat to some of the more excessive hyperbole being bowled at his team, but it wasn’t quite so hard to be the voice of reason here. Melrose were always in control, but it was far from a vintage performance from the Borderers.
“It was a bit scrappy at times and we caused ourselves a bit of stress, but we’re pleased with the result,” he said.
“The first 15 minutes was really good in terms of our accuracy, but penalties are killing us at the moment – there was 13 or 14 against us today – and that makes life tough. That’s why Stirling had a good bit of pressure during the second half.
“It was far from a complete performance from us but a lot of that is down to the way Stirling play as well. They kept the ball for long periods of time and frustrated us. They’ve improved massively this year – it looks like they’ve got a hungry bunch of players.
The visitors grabbed the lead with less than three minutes played when a line-out drive off a penalty kicked to the corner was stopped short, but the ball was spread across the park for Fraser Thomson to dance over. And they doubled their account five minutes later when another line-out drive went all the way off its own steam, with number eight Ally Miller the man to get the ball down.
Sam Pecqueur grabbed try number three on 14 minutes after another sustained onslaught on the County line. That score precipitated by a wonderful midfield break from Craig Jackson, who moved through the gears and swept past his man like a high-end sports car.
It looked like Ross McCann was going to go in for the bonus point score with still a few seconds to go in the game’s first quarter, but he was pulled back for a foot in touch, and County took full advantage of the reprieve to get their name on the scoreboard when Matt Lamb came off his wing to burst onto an inside pass then romp home from at least 30-metres.
Jonny Hope then sent home two penalties to make it 13-19 with half an hour gone, and all of a sudden it was game on.
Stirling’s fightback was not helped by Lamb picking up a yellow card for a late tackle as Melrose attacked down the left touchline, but when Melrose kicked the penalty to the corner the home team dug deep to repel the inevitable line-out drive, with Lewis Wynne wrestling the turnover.
It looked like Stirling were going to go the full ten minutes of being a man down without losing a score, until they shot themselves in the foot in the last play of the half, with a crazy overthrow to the tail of the line-out being gobbled up by Miller, who powered over from five yards out.
After a turgid start to the second half, Melrose eventually grabbed try number five with their first moment of fluidity, when Ross McCann nipped in for his ninth try of the season.
Stirling bounced back when Hamilton Burr made good ground up the right touchline and Wynne strolled through a huge gap in midfield two quick phases later. But every time the home side gave themselves a chance of clawing their way back into the contest, they let Melrose stretch away again
Ruairidh Swan made a hash of gathering a speculative kick forward from Thomson and ended up knocking the ball back over the dead-ball line, and from the resultant scrum, Miller barged over on a number eight pick-up.
Stirling had collected bonus points for scoring four tries in every game this season up until now, and they gave themselves a chance of making it six from six when replacement wing Craig Robertson got Melrose turning with a quick tap penalty and then got back on his feet quickly enough to burrow over from a quick recycle.
With a two valuable league points now within their grasp, the home team tried valiantly to launch a sweeping attack from deep as the game moved in to injury time, but Melrose spread out across the park and just swallowed up everything Stirling threw at them – until a Robertson attempted a chip over he top in a fit of desperation and ended up knocking-on.
Stirling County: J Hope; M Lamb, E McGarvie, L Bonar, L Trotter; P Jericevich, R Swan; R Cheis, R Kennedy, G Holborn, C Hunter-Hill, J Beech, H Burr, L Wynne, R Leishman. Subs: M Emmison, M McDonald, J Pow, S MacDonald, C Robertson.
Melrose: F Thomson; R McCann, N Godsmark, C Jackson©, S Pecqueur; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiells, R Anderson, R McLeod, J Head, A Runciman, I Moody, N Irvine-Hess, A Miller. Subs: D Elikington, N Beavon, R Knott, B Colvine, G Wood.
Stirling County: Try: Lamb, Wynne, Robertson; Con: Hope 3; Pen Hope 2.
Melrose: Tries: Thomson, Miller 3, Pecqueur, McCann; Con: Jackson 5.
Scoring sequence (Stirling County first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-12; 0-17; 0-19; 5-19; 7-19; 10-19; 13-19; 13-24; 13-26; 13-31; 13-33; 18-33; 20-33; 20-38; 20-40; 25-40; 27-40.
Yellow Cards –
Stirling County: Lamb (31mins)
Referee: D McLement
Man-of-the-Match: After a year seconded to London Scottish, Ally Miller is now getting right back into the swing of things at Melrose and scored three tries in a towering performance here.
Talking point: Melrose’s championship credentials are beyond question – they will be involved in the end of season play-offs. But will Stirling join them in the top four? Two tough away games against Currie Chieftain and Glasgow Hawks in the next fortnight will give us a much better idea of whether they are genuine contenders.