ALAN LORIMER @ Mansfield Park
TITLE holders Melrose flexed their rugby muscles in the opening round of this Tennents Premiership season to achieve a sumptuous seven try win over a Hawick side struggling to fill the absence of key players.
Missing from the Greens line-up were the quality half back pairing of Greg Cottrell and Lee Armstrong, and their captain and Scotland Club XV prop Shawn Muir. In the circumstances Hawick were forced to field a team that lacked the overall experience necessary for the Premiership.
Hawick coach George Graham admitted: “We’ve got a lot of young boys and a lot of guys who have not played rugby at this level. We have to play with what we’ve got. But I thought we had spells in the game where we dominated Melrose and we scored some good tries.
“The biggest thing for us is our organisation in defence. We’re not organising quick enough and sometimes the tackle is not as dominant as I’d like it to be. It was disappointing that we fell off tackles and allowed them to score. We have to fix these or they’ll become a problem.
“Melrose are very clinical when they get in behind you. They’re not one of the best teams in Scotland for nothing,” added Graham, who watched the defending champions run in seven tries from a performance that again underlined the value of Craig Jackson at stand-off, Fraser Thomson at full-back and the returning George Taylor, now contracted to Edinburgh, at inside centre.
The damage done
Taylor played only the first half, as is now the norm for pros in the club game, but did considerable damage in that period, running clever lines, distributing intelligently and showing defence-breaking footwork. “George is at that stage where he’s at a cross roads He’ll probably spend at bit if time with us and hopefully get his opportunity with Edinburgh,” commented Rob Chrystie, the Melrose coach.
After the departure of Taylor at half-time, Melrose moved Jackson to inside centre and gave Struan Hutchison a further chance to develop at stand-off. “Struan is a really talented rugby player. He is also a very good scrum-half which gives is three real quality nines in our squad. But he’s definitely got the ability to grow into a good ten,” said Chrystie.
The Melrose coach, while pleased with an opening win at Mansfield Park, knows that his side have considerable improvements to make to their teamwork. “We have to work on cohesiveness. We took a little bit longer time off in the pre-season because our playing season went on so long. Some of the boys needed freshened up after 35 games. It was important that they had longer time off but that means for this season they’ve not spent enough time together,” he explained.
The other Tennent’s Premiership match reports this week –
Melrose off the mark
Melrose certainly looked sharp in the opening quarter, scoring after only five minutes from a cleverly taken line-out, leading to a move down the blindside involving new wing recruit Iain Sim, before the ball was spread wide for the other new wing, Michael Mvelase-Julyan, to score in the corner, Jackson converting from the touchline.
Then, after Taylor and Thomson had shredded the Hawick midfield defence, Sim raced in for an unconverted try.
Hawick, however, recovered their composure and forced their way back into the game, gaining their reward when Bruce McNeil made the best of a Melrose overthrow at a line-out to score, with Ali Weir adding the extras.
Melrose quickly reasserted themselves and again it was Taylor who opened up the Hawick defence to lay on a try for his fellow centre Patrick Anderson.
Jackson goaled the easy conversion kick and then added a further two points to a try from a driven line-out by lock Angus Runciman, leaving Melrose in possession of a bonus point and a healthy lead at half-time with the scoreline at 26-7.
Melrose then dominated the opening minutes of the second half and Iain Moody laid on the scoring pass for Hutchison, and Jackson’s boot providing the conversion points.
Fortunately for the game, Hawick pulled themselves together and with the likes of Dalton Redpath at lock and McNeil at number eight leading a forward pack in which Premiership newcomers Callum Renwick and Daniel Suddon impressed, the Greens were able to narrow the points gap.
McNeil grabbed his second try after Hawick achieved a tighthead strike, the backrow picking up from the base of the scrum and darting through an unguarded gap.
Weir converted but the Hawick utility back was unable to add the extras to Hawick’s third try, scored by replacement Ruaridh McLeod from a driven line-out.
A Jackson penalty steadied Melrose nerves before Mvelase-Julyan raced on for his second try, the Greenyards men completing their victorious performance with a try by Hutchison from a clever kick by replacement Bruce Colvine, Jackson converting to give the stand-off a 13 points tally.
Hawick: K Young; L Ferguson, F Robson, D Buckley, A Roberts; A Weir, G Huggan; M Carryer, C Renwick, P Ceccarelli, D Redpath, K McNeil, A Grieve, S Graham, B McNeil. Subs: R MacLeod, J Linton, D Suddon, G Walker, L Gordon-Wooley.
Melrose: F Thomson; I Sim, P Anderson, G Taylor, L Mvelase-Julyan; C Jackson, M McAndrew; G Shiells, R Ferguson, R McLeod, J Head, A Runciman, R Knott, G Runciman, I Moody. Subs: B McLean, C Crookshanks, R Darge, S Hutchison, B Colvine
Referee: L Linton
Hawick: Tries B McNeil 2, McLeod; Cons: Weir 2.
Melrose: Tries: Mvelase-Julyan 2, Sim, Anderson, A Runciman, Thomson, Hutchsion; Cons: Jackson 5; Pen: Jackson.
Scoring Sequence (Hawick first): 0-5, 0-7, 0-12, 5-12, 7-12, 7-17, 7-19, 7-24, 7-26 (ht) 7-31, 7-33, 12-33, 14-33, 19-33, 19-36, 19-41, 19-46, 19-48.
Man-of-the-Match: Melrose full-back Fraser Thomson is a master of injecting pace into a game and against Hawick the he did just that. Aside from scoring two tries Thomson showed his shrewd sense of timing in helping to create several of his side’s scores.
Talking point: Melrose returned to winning ways after their pride was bruised by Stirling County in the Charity Shield last week. The double champions from last season showed that they have the depth to cover for the players they have lost to the international sevens squad and to Edinburgh, albeit they had the services of George Taylor this week. Hawick must hope that several experienced players who were unavailable will return in time to bolster their side, but in a season when relegation is no longer the Sword of Damocles Hawick have taken the opportunity to blood a group of youngsters and players inexperienced at Premiership level. Green shoots?