Stirling County 8
ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards
NOT for the first time in his illustrious club career, Fraser Thomson produced the match-winning ingredients for Melrose, this time helping the Borderers to victory over a Stirling County side that was left with no share of the spoils despite an industrious and at times inventive performance.
Against Stirling the veteran full-back, who dabbled with professional rugby before returning to the ‘amateur’ fold, used his vision and sheer pace to create three of the Melrose tries, underlining the value of individual skills in an era when defences are so hard to break down.
Thomson’s contributions were not the whole story, however. Throughout the match, Melrose showed how organised they are in defence and it was this part of their skillset that frustrated Stirling’s attacking play and forced the visitors into needless errors.
“We made four of five mistakes in the second half with wild passes that turned the ball over and let them back into the game. Four or five poor decisions cost us the game,” conceded Eddie Pollock, the Stirling coach, who now believes his young side – a number of them under-20s – have to accelerate their learning programme.
“It is a young side but I’ve told them before that they have to learn quicker than they’re actually learning. We’ve lost too many games where we should have been in it at the death. It’s time we grew up,” stated Pollock, while acknowledging the ability of Melrose to thwart his side’s attacks.
“Their defence was excellent throughout the game. Where we might have beaten them today was through the forwards but we played away from this area too much. There have been other games when our backs have been on top. We need to learn where to play and when to play,” concluded County’s coach.
Impressive for County were second-row Cameron Henderson, prop Murphy Walker and centre Craig Robertson, but with Melrose fielding Edinburgh professionals Jason Baggott and George Taylor, the Greenyards men always had the stronger hand of cards.
Baggott, after missing touch with two penalty kicks to the corner, settled into a steady game, becoming more influential in the second half; while Taylor, looking more muscular than he was when still an academy prospect last season, was always difficult to stop, often requiring several tacklers to bring him down. He picked up a slight injury midway through the second half, allowing former Biggar centre Andrew Jardine to make his Melrose debut
“You can tell they [Baggott and Taylor] need a bit more game time. But there were moments when they showed they’re back to where they should be,” observed Rob Chrystie, the Melrose coach, who praised Stirling for giving his side a closer game than the scoreline suggested.
“Stirling have improved massively from last year. Eddie has got them well organised. You can see they spend a lot of time together. They kept the ball for long periods of time in the first half but we defended reasonably well. I felt that once we got the ball back we would create opportunities, which we did.”
It took 35 minutes of play to produce the first points, when Thomson made the running for a try by Baggott. Craig Jackson converted but Melrose were stung just before half time by a rolling maul try from Stirling, credited to hooker Reyner Kennedy.
A penalty by Andrew Goudie gave Stirling the lead but, from a driven line-out, Russell Anderson restored the Melrose advantage, with Jackson adding the extras.
Then Thomson fielded a loose kick and scorched past the ‘chasers’ to ignite a move that ended with a try for scrum-half Murdo McAndrew, again converted by Jackson.
As full time approached, Thomson ran from deep inside his own half before chipping ahead, and McAndrew gathered to complete his brace in the final action of the match.
Melrose: F Thomson; G Wood, G Taylor, C Jackson, M Mvelase-Julyan; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiels, R Anderson, C Young, J Head, A Runciman, P Eccles, G Runciman, I Moody. Subs: F Scott, R McLeod, B Colvine, A Jardine, I Sim.
Stirling County: J Hope; A McLean, E Macgarvie, C Robertson, C Jardine; A Goudie, P Jericevich; R Chies, R Kennedy, M Walker, J Pow, C Henderson, R Bundy, S MacDonald, H Burr. Subs: K Bryce, B Dineen, A Grant-Suttie, H Henderson, R Swan.
Referee: I Kenny
Melrose: Tries: McAndrew 2, Anderson, Baggott; Cons Jackson 3.
Stirling County: Try: Kennedy; Pen: Hope.
Scoring Sequence (Melrose first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5 (h-t) 7-8; 12-8; 14-8; 19-8; 21-8; 26-8
Man-of-the-Match: Melrose full-back Fraser Thomson is box-office material at the Greenyards and against Stirling he showed again that his vision and searing pace can turn games. Long may rugby produce players of his calibre.
Talking point: Melrose were eager to get back on track after a derailment at Millbrae last week and they did so with a bonus point to confirm that they remain one of the big beasts in the Tennent’s Premiership. For Stirling there has to be satisfaction that the club’s famed youth section is producing a number of talented players capable of performing at Premiership level. But as their coach, Eddie Pollock, has stated, they now need to adjust to the tough level of the Premiership, sooner rather than later.