DAVID BARNES @ Malleny Park
A TENSE entanglement featuring two well matched sides was ultimately decided by the superior composure demonstrated by the more experienced visitors at key moments. Neither team will feel they hit their straps in terms of the brand of rugby produced, but the ferocity of the battle ensured that there was never a dull moment.
“It was a really tough game. I thought it was a pretty good standard. It was fairly dogged, it wasn’t fast-flowing, open rugby – but some big collisions and really good stuff defensively,” said victorious coach Rob Chrtystie.
“You’ve got to work out ways to win games and the boys did that. There was loads of guts and desire, which is fine, but when you blend that with the ability they can play with, it is excellent.”
“I think a lot of people looked at this fixture and thought Melrose would slip up, so it was nice to show that we can come away to a place like this, where it is really tough to win, and put in a performance like that.”
Melrose took the lead when Jason Baggott, ordinarily a stand-off but filling in at scrum-half as injury cover, showed that he was unfazed by the change of position when breaking from the back of a rolling maul and darting over the whitewash unchallenged from 15 yards.
Jamie Forbes and Baggott exchanged penalties, then Melrose claimed try number two when Fraser Thomson rose majestically to collect a high ball, and because Currie wing Ratu Tagive (a recent signing from Australia for Glasgow Warriors) had overshot the kick, the whole left-hand side of the pitch opened up for the full-back. He duly touched down a few seconds later after an exchange of passes with Ross McCann.
Not to be outdone by his rival for the Scotland Club XV number 15 jersey, Harvey Elms wriggled through three tackles and stretched over for a try, and the hosts then took the lead just before the break through skipper Ross Weston.
That score came off the back of an inch-perfect kick into the corner from Charlie Shiel, which forced Melrose to concede a line-out five yards from their own line. Working out what the opposition are going to do, and stopping them from doing it, are often two very different propositions. Nobody was surprised when the ball was thrown to the middle and collected cleanly for the drive, but Melrose could do nothing about stopping the Currie juggernaut as it chuntered over their line.
A haphazard start to the second half from Currie allowed Melrose to set up camp in enemy territory. Twice the visitors kicked penalties to the corner and the hosts did well to stun momentum on both occasions, but eventually the pressure told, and when the ball was shipped across the park, Nyle Godsmark squeezed over on the far touchline.
Again Currie fought their way back into the match and recaptured the lead when Ryan Grant rumbled over from a close-range ruck, with Forbes adding his third successful conversion for good measure.
With their noses in front, Currie needed to play sensible rugby, but they shot themselves in the foot. After soaking up some serious pressure they managed to earn a scrum on their own line, and then a vintage Weston charge from the base took play out of the home team’s 22 for the first time in several minutes. A long kick downfield would have given Melrose a mountain to climb, but the ball was sent aimlessly across the park instead, and eventually fumbled by Scotland international and Glasgow pro Grant as he ran towards the touchline.
Currie paid a heavy price. Melrose worked their way back into the scoring zone, and Ruairidh Knott took the credit when the ball was eventually grounded over the line under a pile of bodies.
In a tense finale, Currie had Melrose on the rack, but the Borderers kept their cool, and home coach Ben Cairns conceded at the end that the visitors had just about deserved their narrow victory.
“I am frustrated. I don’t think we started the game very well, but we got ourselves going and made it to half-time in the lead, but at the start of the second half we give a penalty away in the middle of their 22, we get it back then kick it out on the full, and then we give away another two penalties – we’ve essentially just opened our arms and let them help themselves to seven points at a crucial moment in the match,” he said.
“We tended to play too much rugby in our own half. We said we wanted to use forward momentum to relieve pressure but instead we used it to try and play a bit more rugby. We ended up waiting until it had slowed down before we kicked and it was easy for them to deal with, or we turned it over and ended up defending again – so we just didn’t get that balance right.”
“We were never going to win this comfortably. It was always going to be a tight game based on pressure, and the boys need to understand how to play that sort of environment. For me that is about being a bit cleverer in terms of where in the park we are playing, using that front foot ball to get in the right areas, and then trusting our defence and discipline to make sure we stay in those areas and build pressure.”
Currie: H Elms; R Tagive, R Nelson, C Hutchison, C Gray; J Forbes, C Shiel; R Grant, F Scott, J Firth, G Carson, L Crosbie, S Ainslie, S McGinley, T Gordon, R Weston©. Subs: J Cox, J Firth, M Vernel, B Robbins, R Snedden.
Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, N Godsmark, G Taylor, R McCann; C Jackson, J Baggott; J Bhatti, R Anderson, N Beavon, J Head, R Knott, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: C McKay, R McLeod, A Grieve, S Hutchison, S Pecqueur.
Referee: Cammy Rudkin
Currie: Try: Elms, Weston, Grant; Con: Forbes 3; Pen: Forbes.
Melrose: Try: Baggott, Thomson, Godsmark, Knott; Con: Jackson 2; Pen: Baggott.
Scoring sequence (Currie first): 0-5; 3-5; 3-8; 3-13; 8-13; 10-13; 15-13; 17-13 (h-t) 17-18; 17-20; 22-20; 24-20; 24-25; 24-27.
Man-of-the-Match: On a day when pressure really did mean points, Craig Jackson made sure Melrose played in the right areas, and after taking over kicking duties from the injured Baggott he slotted two tricky conversions from just inside the right touchline – which ultimately proved to be the difference between the two teams.
Talking Point: Will Ben Cairns’ exciting young team take on board the lessons from today about playing the percentages? Because if they do then they surely have the ability to elbow their way into a play-off slot before the end of the season.
Image courtesy: Ian Gidney