COLIN RENTON @ The Greenyards
MELROSE booked a return visit to BT Murrayfield for finals day with what was ultimately a comfortable win that featured flashes of outstanding rugby. However, the Borderers had to work hard for their success, fighting back after a slow start in which they were caught cold by a fired-up Stirling side that established an early lead before being reeled in as the hosts raised their game.
All recent form suggested that Melrose were strong favourites but it was the visitors who blazed from the blocks and grabbed an early lead. A neatly-judged box-kick by Alex Black fell perfectly for Logan Trotter, who dotted down with only two minutes on the clock. Johnny Hope missed the conversion. Ross Jones assumed the kicking duties for the next attempt on goal five minutes later and the stand-off banged over a long range penalty to extend his side’s advantage.
Jason Baggott had a chance to claw back three points with a penalty but he recorded an uncharacteristic miss – albeit from distance – that was in keeping with the error strewn pattern of the hosts play at that point. And it got worse for Melrose when Jones was on target with another penalty.
The visitors were being rewarded for their aggression and nowhere was that seen to greater effect than at the breakdown, where one of Stirling’s back row trio invariably emerged with possession.
The Melrose engine may have been spluttering but it did occasionally spark into life and gather points. The first contribution came in 22 minutes when Fraser Thomson broke out and Grant Runciman was involved in a slick handling move that ended with Sam Pecqueur racing in between the sticks to leave Baggott a simple conversion.
And the home side snatched a lead they would not relinquish when Austin Lockington did the spadework before offloading to Runciman who made ground before freeing Thomson for the score. And, with the momentum now firmly in their favour, the hosts stretched clear shortly before the interval. A powerful surge carried play to within a few metres of the line and Russell Anderson was on hand to pick-up and plunge over. Baggott banged over the conversion for a 19-11 lead at half time.
Melrose restarted well and a fourth try within ten minutes looked to have secured the win. A driven line-out shunted the Stirling defence backwards and Nick Beavon, back on his home patch after being released for the day by Edinburgh, ploughed over. Baggott struck the conversion sweetly to extend the gap to 15 points.
However, Stirling were not yet ready to hoist the white flag and Adam Sinclair gave them renewed hope when he powered over from close range, with Jones adding the extra points.
But, any flickering hopes of a fightback were doused when Baggott clipped over a penalty then slotted the conversion after Beavon had blasted over for his second try of the afternoon.
And the hosts added gloss to the score line when Thomson sent Ruaridh Knott over for try number seven with the final play of the game.
“They put us under a lot of pressure in the first 20 minutes and that gave us a lot to worry about. We made a lot of mistakes that allowed them to do that. Credit to Stirling, I thought they played pretty well and they were up for it,” said Melrose coach Rob Chrystie. “We were just a little more accurate and we kept the ball when there were opportunities there. We had to be patient – it’s the semi final of the cup so you need patience. The boys are happy with the result but they know they can be better which is a great position to be in.”
There was little time for Chrystie to look ahead to the Murrayfield final, with attention now switching back to the BT Premiership.
“It’s great, we’ve got a cup final but we’ll pack that and our next challenge is Currie in the semi final of the league,” he added.
For Stirling coach David Adamson, it was a disappointing end to the season.
“We started really well and went 11-0 up. The momentum was with us at that stage but we conceded a try shortly after the kick off when we didn’t exit properly. It’s always frustrating from a coaching pint of view when you have worked really hard to get to that position and it’s just down to sloppy play. We knew we had to be at the top of our game and unfortunately we just weren’t,” he said.
“But we got to a cup semi final. We would have loved to have gone to Murrayfield but it’s something to build on for next year.”
Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, N Godsmark, G Taylor, S Pecqueur; J Baggott, M McAndrew; J Bhatti, R Anderson, R McLeod, J Head, A Welsh, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman©, R Knott. Subs: C McKay, D Elkington, N Beavon, A Grieve, B Colvine, C Jackson, G Wood.
Stirling: J Hope©; S MacDonald, C Pringle, S Johnson, L Trotter; R Thomson, A Black; M MacDonald, R Kennedy, A Nicol, H Burr, A Sinclair, A Taylor, C Fusaro, R Leishman. Subs: M Emmison, M Hunter, F Bradbury, A Grant-Suttie, C Turnbull, L Bonar, A McLean.
Melrose: Tries: Pecqueur, Thomson, Anderson, Beavon 2, Godsmark, Knott; Cons: Baggott 5; Penalty: Baggott
Stirling: Tries: Trotter, Sinclair; Conversion Penalties; Jones 2
Referee: G Wells
Scoring sequence: (Melrose first) 0-5, 0-8, 0-11, 5-11, 7-11, 12-11, 17-11,19-11 (h-t) 24-11, 26-11, 26-16, 26-18, 29-18, 34-18, 36-18, 41-18, 43-18, 48-18
Man-of-the-Match: Impressive in ball-winning, ball-carrying and in assisting with three of his side’s seven tries, Grant Runciman was the stand out performer.
Talking Point: Melrose and Ayr are two of the better supported clubs in Scotland – will they halt the recent trend of dwindling crowds for finals day?
Image courtesy: Douglas Hardie