ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards
MELROSE confirmed themselves as league winners after defeating Heriot’s and, in achieving what seemed a certainty as long ago as October, the Greenyards men guaranteed themselves a home final in the play-offs if they win their home semi-final match.
It has been a shaky start to 2018 for Melrose but in the first half against Heriot’s the Borderers put on a display of powerful forward set-piece work complemented by moments of sublime play by the backs. And had Melrose converted the many scoring opportunities they created into points then the half-time score might have been vastly greater than 14-0.
“A lot of what we did in the first half was really good but we didn’t take our opportunities and probably left about three tries out there. We set out to put in a decent performance and win the league, and we did that today,” said the Melrose coach Rob Chrystie.
“But Heriot’s put in a good performance and gave us a stern test. So hopefully that will put us in good stead for the tough games that are to come,” he added.
For Heriot’s, a last second penalty goal by full back Ross Jones threw the Goldenacre men a lifeline to finish in the top four. Those points, kicked from the touchline, gave Heriot’s a bonus point and a theoretical chance of joining Melrose and Currie in the elite quartet at the top.
To do so, however, they would need ten points from their final two games (against Currie and Boroughmuir) and for Watsonians or Ayr to achieve nil points from their final round matches. Don’t put too much money on this particular bet.
Melrose, playing with confidence, looked to have put behind them the jitters that contributed to a couple of defeats in January, with the power of their pack and slickness of their midfield players putting Heriot’s on the back foot for much of the first half.
But Heriot’s deserve huge plaudits for the way their scramble defence responded to the action-stations call, three times thwarting scores from breaks by Nyle Godsmark and Austin Lockington.
Heriot’s, however, could do little to stop the Melrose forwards rolling towards the line from a penalty-created line-out that ended with scrum-half Murdo McAndrew dotting down the ball for a try, and Craig Jackson converting.
Then, towards the end of the first half, Heriot’s lost replacement Michael Maltman to the sin-bin for preventing quick release of the ball as Melrose again threatened. Melrose opted not to kick for goal and instead opted for a scrum with the inevitable consequence of a penalty try.
The Melrose forward machine again showed its power and technique at the beginning of the second half as yet another driving maul from a line-out resulted in a try, this time by hooker Russell Anderson. Jackson added the extras for a 21-0 lead.
Fortunately for the game, Heriot’s found the appetite to attack Melrose and were rewarded when pressure on the home line ended with prop Martin Bouab diving on the ball after it had squirted out of a ruck. Jones converted.
Further pressure on the Melrose line brought more reward for Heriot’s after home stand-off Jason Baggott dropped the ball in the in-goal area allowing flanker Jack McLean to dot the ball down for try number two, again converted by Jones.
A penalty goal by Jackson put Melrose ten points in the clear only for Jones to reply with that kick from the touchline which salvaged a play-off lifeline for his team, ending a game which was … well … not quite what the fans have come to expect.
Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, N Godsmark, C Jackson,G Taylor; J Baggot, M McAndrew; G Shiells, R Anderson, N Beavon, J Head, A Runciman, I Moody, R Knott, A Miller Subs used R Ferguson, R McLeod, A Grieve, B Colvine, R McCann
Heriot’s: R Jones; C Robertson, L Steele, R Carmichael, R Kay; D Martin, T Wilson; M Bouab, M Liness, S Cessford, C Marshall, A Sinclair, I Wilson, J McLean, J Turley Subs used A Johnstone, M Maltman, M Hughes, R Mulveena
Referee: Ben Blain
Melrose: Tries: McAndrew, Pen Try, Anderson; Cons: Jackson 2; Pen Jackson
Heriot’s: Tries Bouab, McLean; Cons: Jones; Pen Jones.
Scoring Sequence (Melrose first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0 (h-t) 19-0; 21-0; 21-5; 21-7; 21-12; 21-14; 24-14; 24-17
Yellow cards –
Man-of-the-Match: Heriot’s full-back Ross Jones’s penalty goal from the touchline in the final seconds of the match was pressure rugby at its best.
Talking point: Melrose are league winners and deservedly so after setting a sizzlingly hot pace in the first half of the season. Now they can turn thoughts to a possible play-off/cup double.