COLIN RENTON@ Myreside
MELROSE remain on track for a league and cup double after seeing off battling Watsonians in a fiercely contested encounter in difficult conditions. It was a case of ‘job done’ for the Greenyards men who endured a few nervous moments in the latter stages as the home side sought to prolong their season and post a first win in four meetings against Rob Chrystie’s men since last summer.
Watsonians coach Steve Lawrie had emphasised the need to prevent Melrose from counter attacking if his side were to have any hope of avoiding a repeat of the previous week’s defeat in the BT Premiership play-off. But his advice appeared to have gone unheeded when, in the fifth minute, Murdo McAndrew broke from deep and saw the defence drift off, allowing him to race into the Watsonians half where he offloaded to Jason Baggott, who freed Ross McCann to open the scoring. Craig Jackson added the extras.
And it got worse for the hosts in 22 minutes when Baggott was thwarted just short of the whitewash but James Head was on hand to act as the link and send Austin Lockington over for a second Melrose touchdown, with Jackson again landing the conversion.
Watsonians had to score next and they came close twice as Craig Borthwick was held up and then lost possession at the breakdown on the next attack.
But the points eventually arrived four minutes before the break when Michael Allen raced into contact and the recycled ball found Rory Steele. He sprinted towards the line then picked out Jasion Harries with a looping pass and the Edinburgh pro completed the job. The conversion by Ali Harris left the home side seven points adrift at the end of a bruising first half that had featured a solid contribution for Melrose from international hooker Ross Ford on his return to action after a lengthy absence through injury.
The introduction of Ford’s Edinburgh colleague Darryl Marfo at half-time gave Watsonians the ascendancy in the scrum and that created a platform to put Melrose under real pressure in the early part of the second period. However, the Borderers survived that spell on the back foot and responded with a counter attack that eventually yielded a penalty which Jackson stroked over.
The response from Watsonians came in the form of a fresh wave of attacks. Once again, the visitors showed their impressive game management, repelling the latest onslaught and earning a penalty that allowed them to return to the opposition half and run down the clock.
But there was still time for Lawrie’s men to mount a last desperate challenge. Their efforts to overturn the ten point deficit received a boost when Ali Grieve was yellow-carded for a late tackle on Ewan Fox with four minutes left to play.
And they converted pressure into points when Harris opted to go for the posts with a penalty as the clock ticked past the 80 minutes. There was still time for frantic finale but Melrose held out to book a trip to Murrayfield.
The small matter of the championship before the final
Before that they will face title holders Ayr in the showdown for the BT Premiership trophy next Saturday.
Chrystie acknowledged that facing the same opposition on consecutive weekends can be tricky.
“We talked about it during the week – it’s hard when you are backing up against the same team,” he said. “Psychologically, after you lose a game I think it can be easier to be ready for it and say: ‘That’s definitely not happening again’. This game was harder than last week for a number of reasons. The score-line reflects that.”
“We will dust ourselves down. We’ve got a final next week so we will move onto that then we’ll take it from there.”
Chrystie’s efforts have earned respect and admiration from his fellow coaches and Lawrie is no exception.
“We are on a process here. They had to have a bad day and we had to have a really good day. It was close. We had our opportunities but we found ourselves wanting at key times. But this group will be a lot stronger for two semi finals,” he said.
“Fair play to Rob, what a job he has done at Melrose. He has taken them to the next level this year. That is what everyone is aspiring to create and that’s what I want to create for Watsonians.”
Watsonians: A Chalmers; M Bertram, M Allen, D Innes, J Harries; R Hutton, A Harris; N Fraser, S Crombie, N Borel, E Dods, C Borthwick©, J Miller, G Nelson, M Fedo. Subs: D Miller, D Marfo, A O’Neill, E Miller, W Thomson, E Fox, R Steele.
Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, G Taylor, C Jackson©, R McCann; J Baggott, M McAndrew; D Elkington, R Ford, N Beavon, J Head, A Runciman, R Knott, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: R Ferguson, R Anderson, R McLeod, A Grieve, B Colvine, G Wood, P Anderson.
Referee: L Linton
Watsonians: Try: Harries; Con: Harris; Pen: Harris.
Melrose: Tries: McCann, Lockington; Cons: Jackson 2; Pen: Jackson.
Scoring Sequence (Watsonians first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-12; 0-14; 5-14; 7-14 (h-t) 7-17; 10-17.
Yellow cards –
Man-of-the-Match: Among the good contributions from players on both sides, Melrose scrum-half Murdo McAndrew was a llivewire and earns the accolade for sparking the game into life then repeatedly testing the home defence with a series of sniping runs.
Talking Point: Steve Lawrie can reflect on an impressive first season as Watsonians coach and if his side can start next season the way they finished this campaign they may be ready to challenge for honours.