ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards
MELROSE were expected to win this first match of the inward half and in the event duly delivered, but not without a massive battle against an invigorated Hawick side that over the piece played the better rugby but was ultimately worn down by the champions’ forward strength.
The Greens led 10-7 as the game went into the last 10 minutes, but after a series of scrums at which Melrose were totally dominant, referee Graeme Ormiston awarded the home side a penalty try, the score that proved to be the turning point in the game. It was a killer blow for a Hawick side that had dominated territory and possession in the second half, their running game having opened up what is recognised as a generally unyielding Melrose defence.
Hawick’s coach, George Graham, described his feeling as one of bitter disappointment and added: “The boys tried their hardest today. We never got the points but in a sense we won the game. We played a lot better than we have done in other games. And it shows that when we do play rugby and stick to what we’re supposed to do we can threaten. I don’t think any team has pushed Melrose at home this far.
“Given the results we’ve had, that’s a great performance from us. But it doesn’t help us. We still have to make sure we execute. We lost our way a wee bit at the end of the third quarter. But I’m really pleased with the way the boys have reacted. The boys need to take confidence from this.”
Graham should certainly be pleased with the way his side moved the ball and the way they quelled any Melrose attacks for much of the game. Up front Hawick did well to stay with the title-holders in the set piece for three quarters of the game, but the inability of the Greens forwards to match the power of the Melrose eight in the last 10 minutes, particularly at scrum time, was the ultimate difference.
Whether this was because Melrose had the edge in fitness or whether it was about technique in scrummaging and the driving maul is difficult to assess. What is clear is that Melrose always make use of their strong bench, and against Hawick the deployment of Grant Runciman later in the game was critical.
Rob Chrystie, the Melrose coach, however, conceded that this was not his side’s finest hour. He said: “We didn’t play well in the first half. But when you play against a side that’s desperate and which you know will get in amongst us then we have to take the positives from this performance. We found ourselves too often in the wrong area of the pitch and we have to look at that. We will probably benefit from the small break in games.”
Such was the competitiveness of this border derby that there was nothing to separate the teams at the break with the scoreboard showing 7-7. Melrose, after gaining territory, had used their now familiar weapon, the driving maul, to score the game’s first points: their well-oiled machine rumbled over the line for a try credited to veteran Scott Lawson and converted by stand-off Stuart Hutchison. Hawick replied with a stylish try made by breaks from their outstanding stand-off Lee Armstrong, support from centre Andrew Mitchell and a deadly finish from flanker Stuart Graham, Armstrong adding the conversion.
After the break Hawick dominated both possession and territory for most of the third quarter and were unlucky not to capitalise when flanker Drew Davison with an open goal in front of him failed to take a skewed clearance kick. Ultimately the Greens had to be content with a penalty goal from Armstrong for their dominance in this period of the game.
Going into the final 10 minutes Hawick lost two successive lineouts on their own throw allowing Melrose to gain a foothold in their 22 for the first time in the half. From a series of dominant scrums that had the Hawick eight in trouble, Melrose were eventually awarded a penalty try resulting in the Greens’ tighthead Nicky Little taking a slow walk to the sin-bin.
Hawick’s heart breaker
It looked as though Hawick might come away with a losing bonus point, but in a frantic final minute as they tried to fight their way out of their 22 they knocked the ball forward. From the ensuing scrum Melrose exploited their numerical advantage, creating space on the left for replacement Patrick Anderson to race clear for his side’s try, converted by Hutchison to seal the win.
Melrose: F Thomson; B Colvine, G Taylor, G Wood, I Sim; S Hutchison, M McAndrew; G Shiells, F Scott, R McLeod, J Head, I Moody©, R Darge, S Lawson, N Irvine-Hess. Subs: R Anderson, C Young, G Runciman, M Muelace-Julyan, P Anderson.
Hawick: A Weir; K Davies, A Mitchell, G Walker, K Ford; L Armstrong, D Lightfoot; S Muir©, M Carryer, N Little, D Suddon, D Redpath, S Graham, D Davison, B McNeil. Subs: E Knox, D Lowrie, G Lowrie, K Young, S Kennedy.
Referee: G Ormiston.
Melrose: Tries: Lawson, pen try, Anderson. Cons: Hutchison 2.
Hawick: Try: Graham. Con: Armstrong. Pen: Armstrong.
Scoring sequence (Melrose first): 5-0, 7-0, 7-5, 7-7 half-time, 7-10, 14-10, 19-10, 21-10.
Yellow card: Hawick: Little.
Man of the Match: Hawick stand-off Lee Armstrong, on a number of occasions in the match, managed to prise open a mean Melrose defence. His flair and clever footwork complemented by a good kicking game wins him the accolade.
Talking point: Hawick on this form do not deserve to be in the lowly position in which they find themselves. Against the reigning champions the Mansfield Park men produced a flowing game that tested the Melrose defence to the limit and but for the wet conditions at the Greenyards Hawick would surely have been better rewarded. The Melrose backs were very disappointing but such is the strength of their set piece and of their maul that the Greenyards side can win ugly if they need to.