ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards
DEFENDING champions Melrose kept up their challenge for repeat honours after securing a bonus point win over a Watsonians side that matched the Greenyards men on the try front and pressured the title holders all the way.
Ultimately, the difference was the strength of the Melrose front five, even without the influential presence of James Head, who failed a late fitness test and was replaced more than adequately by the club’s regular tight-head prop Conor Young.
Melrose used their forward strength to score two tries from driving mauls, both finished off by Russell Anderson, highlighting just how valuable a weapon this is for the title holders. Not that Watsonians were unaware of the threat. In fact the visitors appeared to have come with a plan of thwarting the maul by means of non-engagement, a tactic that does not get full approval of the Melrose coach, Rob Chrystie.
“They came down with a clear plan in relation to the old Mexican stand-off , something that needs to be looked at by the lawmakers,” he said. “I just think it’s a negative way of playing rugby. The whole idea of the set-piece, in my opinion, is to compete. You couldn’t stand off a scrum.”
Many, of course, will disagree. The main problem is inconsistency in officiating when teams choose to stand off. In which respect Watsonians were on the wrong side of some decisions in this area by referee Ian Kenny, who otherwise had a very good game.
Refereeing decisions key
Watsonians might have been aggrieved at two other refereeing decisions, the first just before half-time when the Melrose scrum-half somewhat cynically threw the ball at Mike Fedo, who was admittedly slow to move away from the tackle area. That earned Melrose a valuable penalty goal.
The second incident was at a line-out in Watsonians’ 22. Craig Borthwick lost control of the ball allowing Melrose to use an unexpected possession to attack. Stand-off Struan Hutchison kicked towards his wing but instead the ball was taken at full gallop by Watsonians winger Andrew Chalmers who outsprinted the defence for what looked to be a potential turning-point score.
Referee Kenny deemed that an advantage had not accrued and brought play back for a scrum from which Melrose moved the ball through several players before Young powered over from short range.
Watsonians coach Steve Lawrie resisted any criticism and displaying diplomacy at its best described the referee’s decision as “interesting” He refused to blame his side’s defeat on this one incident.
“We lost because we weren’t good enough. Their front five were better but we’re a developing pack,” he said.
Watsonians looked the better side behind the scrum and certainly the introduction of Rory Hutton off the bench added sparkle to their attack. Another player to impress in the back-line was scrum half Murray Scott, who has slotted into the role with aplomb, after taking over from the injured Ali Harris.
Anderson sets the tone
Melrose were quickly into their stride, scoring through Anderson from a driven line-out after just four minutes. The visitors, however, replied with a try by their back-row Connor Boyle from a charge down of a Hutchison clearance kick and a clever ‘hack’ by prop Greg Jackson.
A second maul try by Anderson converted by Hutchison gave Melrose a seven point advantage, before Watsonians scored the try of the match by 19-year old second-row Harry Fisher after excellent back play from Chalmers and Scott.
Then, on the stroke of half-time, a Hutchison penalty goal gave the home side a 15-10 lead.
Watsonians took the lead early in the second half through a try from DJ Inness and the conversion by Lee Millar, but when Patrick Anderson took a return pass from Iain Sim and Hutchison added the extras it was advantage Melrose.
The Young try and Hutchison’s further two points made a Melrose win look more likely, but home nerves jangled again when Innes ran in his second try, which was made by Boyle’s surge and was converted by Millar to secure a deserved double bonus point.
Melrose: F Thomson; B Colvine, P Anderson,G Wood, I Sim; S Hutchison, M McAndrew; G Shiells, R Anderson, R McLeod, C Young, A Runciman, I Moody, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman©, I Moody Subs: R Ferguson, C Wilde, C Jackson, A Jardine, D Colvine.
Watsonians: J Rowland; A Chalmers, A Guthrie, D Innes, L MacPherson; L Millar, M Scott; G Jackson, R Graham, D Ferguson, H Fisher, C Borthwick©, J Miller, C Boyle, M Fedo. Subs: F Renwick, F Hobbis, G Nelson, E Fox R Hutton.
Referee: I Kenny
Melrose: Tries: R Anderson 2, P Anderson, Young; Cons: Hutchison 3; Pen: Hutchison.
Watsonians: Tries: Boyle, Fisher, Innes 2; Cons: Millar 2.
Scoring Sequence (Melrose first): 5-0; 5-5; 10-5; 12-5; 12-10; 15-10 (h-t) 15-15; 15-17; 20-17; 22-17; 27-17; 29-17; 29-22; 29-24
Man-of-the-Match: Home hooker Russell Anderson is proving adept at finishing off driving mauls and the former professional again showed his proficiency at converting what is a potent weapon for Melrose into points.
Talking point: Does non-engagement at the maul, as Rob Chrystie suggests, need to be addressed by the law-makers. Some will argue that the current laws do not allow the defending side enough scope to stop the maul without the use of brute force. Others, like Chrystie, argue that non-engagement is essentially against the spirit of the forward battle. Perhaps it is the maul in general that needs to be looked at and indeed the conditions that create this tactical weapon?