ALAN LORIMER @ Mansfield Park

MELROSE reached the half-way stage of the BT Premiership in prime position despite an off-colour, but admittedly winning performance at Mansfield Park. Indeed, had Hawick taken their chances in the second half this match might have resulted in the upset of the season. The home certainly deserved something from their battling performance after the break that both prevented the opponents from adding to their points tally and which also put huge pressure on the visitors’ defence. 

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“We won ugly.” admitted the Melrose coach, Rob Chrystie, who was returning to the ground at which he started playing senior rugby. “We made a lot of errors today. I expected to get a win  but we know that Hawick are battling for their lives and they showed that in the second half.”

Melrose, even looking far from a championship-winning  side, still packed enough power to ensure a win, their cause helped by a neck injury to the Hawick second row Michael Robertson, that increases the  pressure on an already injury-hit Greens squad.

David Lowry came on as Robertson’s replacement and played his part in a dynamic second half performance by Hawick that suggests they are not yet dead and buried.  And with the return of Rory Hutton, Greig Cottrell and several other leading players expected soon, Hawick will be aiming to put up a massive fight to avoid the drop.

For their part, Melrose will be disappointed with a disjointed performance and a failure to use choice ball from the set-piece. They may well consider re-tuning their backline. Fraser Thomson is due back soon and that will add a dynamic element to their play. They had their moments but their inability to control the game in key positions must worry the Melrose coaching team.

Yet in the opening quarter, Melrose looked certain to take a try bonus point from the game as the Greenyards men piled on the pressure forcing Hawick to concede four consecutive penalties in their own 22, each one resulting in a kick to the corner.

Hawick resisted tenaciously but on the fourth such line-out Hawick’s skipper Bruce McNeil was penalised for taking down the driving maul, earning the backrow ten minutes on the sidelines.

From the resultant penalty, Melrose again drove the line-out and this time the depleted Hawick pack was unable to resist, resulting in a try credited to Neil Irvine-Hess and the conversion by Jason Baggott.

Hawick briefly gained a foothold in their opponents’ red zone but despite some slick handling the Greens were unable to cross the Melrose line and had to be content with an Ali Weir penalty as a reward for their efforts.

Melrose looked certain to score when Irvine-Hess broke clear but a wonderful tackle by Neil Renwick stopped the rangy back row.

If Hawick had been under intense pressure then worse was to befall the Greens when they lost Michael Robertson, the injury to the lock forward halting the game for eighteen minutes as on-field attention was administered before the luckless second-row was stretchered off.

When the game resumed, Melrose produced quick ball from a scrum allowing winger Ross McCann to pick a direct route to the line, Baggott again adding the extras.

Melrose pressure then resulted in a penalty kick but this time Baggott was off target leaving his side going into the break with a 14-3 lead which didn’t really reflect their first half dominance.

Instead of kicking on from their first half lead, Melrose suddenly found themselves up against a Hawick side that was determined not to capitulate. And it was the visitors who were under pressure. The home team were narrowly prevented a try when Wesley Hamilton was tackled just short of the line.

Hawick had two further chances to convert their daring rugby into points but bad decision-making meant there were no dividends.

Melrose too had a number of chances in the second half but somehow the Greenyards men managed to fumble the wet ball when the line beckoned.

All of which added up to a no-score second half but it was still a victory which secured the top-of-the-table spot for the Greenyards men, while for Hawick it was a reminder that they could still stage a rescue. Just don’t mention the ‘R’ word at Mansfield.

Teams –

Hawick: N Renwick; N McColm, G Johnstone, K Brunton, W Hamilton; L Armstrong, A Weir; M Landels, F Renwick, C Mackintosh, M Robertson, D Harlenl, R Gibson,B McNeil , K Davies  Subs G Douglas, B Robertson, R Hogg, D Lowrie, J Coutts

Melrose: C Jackson; R McCann, G Taylor, R Taylor, A Lockington; J Baggot, M McAndrew; D Elkington, R Ferguson, R McLeod, J Head, L Carmichael, A Grieve, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman Subs C Cruickshank, R Anderson, R Knott, D Colvine, N Godsmark,

Scorers –

Hawick: Pen: Weir.

Melrose: Tries: Irvine-Hess, McCann; Cons: Baggot 2

Score sequence (Hawick first):  0-5, 0-7, 3-7, 3-12, 3-14 (h-t) no more scores

Yellow Cards –

Hawick: McNeil, Mackintosh

Melrose: Runciman, Anderson

Man-of-the-match: Neil Irvine-Hess is a classy performer

Talking point: If Melrose are to fulfil their potential then they will have to play more accurate rugby.

 Image courtesy: Scottish Rugby/SNS Group

About Alan Lorimer 360 Articles
Scotland rugby correspondent for The Times for six years and subsequently contributed to Sunday Times, Daily and Sunday Telegraph, Scotsman, Herald, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald and Reuters. Worked in Radio for BBC. Alan is Scottish rugby journalism's leading voice when it comes to youth and schools rugby.