DAVID BARNES @ Goldenacre
BOTH teams should be congratulated for making it through this ordeal in atrocious conditions with no fatalities suffered.
This was rugby in the raw. The visitors just about deserved the win for the way they took advantage of having an extra man during the final 20 minutes, after Michael Maltman was sent-off midway through the second half; while Heriot’s probably have grounds for complaint at that crucial decision and a few other marginal calls by referee Graeme Wells which went against them.
This result means the Bill McLaren Shield heads back to Melrose – who will be now look to complete three home defences and get their name engraved on the Log o’ Wood.
“Job done – but it was ugly. Once we got into the top four the target became to get a home draw in the play-offs and we’ve achieved that now, but we know we need to play better than that,” said Melrose coach Rob Chrystie.
“You could see the boys were pretty nervous today. It’s been a pretty disjointed four weeks so we need just a little bit more time together to get the ship sailing again. Its an exciting six weeks coming up,” he added.
For Heriot’s, this defeat hands the initiative back to Currie in the battle for the fourth play-off slot, and head coach Phil Smith could not hide his frustration at the way this game slipped away from his team.
“I thought we were brilliant in the first half in playing the conditions and we planned to do similar in the second half and it was all happening quite nicely. There wasn’t much going against us. Then suddenly it just seemed to click and every single decision was anti us. That sounds ridiculous but every spilled ball [by Melrose] went back, there was never a knock-on, there was never anything for us,” he sighed.
Heriot’s took the lead through hooker Michael Liness, who sensed that Melrose were napping round the fringes of a ruck and took full advantage with a 25-yard romp to the line.
The absence of Craig Jackson (injured) and Ross McCann (on Scotland under-20 duty) will have been a factor in Melrose lacking their usual guile behind the scrum during the first half – but the big issue was the wet, windy and bitterly cold weather conditions. Poor Austin Lockington out on the right wing looked hypothermic. His schooldays growing up in Natal must have seemed like an awful long time ago.
Despite this, it was Lockington who sparked Melrose’s only real moment of fluidity in the first half, when he came off his wing on an arching run to release Sam Pecqueur on the left touchline, who then managed to offload out of contact for Fraser Thomson to hack ahead – but the full-back couldn’t quite make it the ball before it bobbled over the dead-ball line.
Melrose had to make do instead with a wind assisted Jason Baggott penalty just before the break.
With the weather deteriorating after the interval, and an increasingly forceful wind at Heriots’ back, they bossed proceedings during the third quarter. Then Heriot’s winger Rob Kay was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on as Melrose tried to exploit a two man overlap on the right, and before he had returned to the fray Maltman was given his marching orders.
“He lashed out at getting held in [at a ruck]. It was one of those reactionary things, I think. It put us down to 13 men and for that five-minute spell the guys had to work bloody hard, and we did some of it in their 22 but then we gave away a pile of penalties and it allowed them a bit of field position,” lamented Smith.
“Five minutes later I watched their guy career into our guys, off the ball, in the ribs and into touch – yet they don’t see that but they see a guy lashing out because he is being held in,” he added.
By now, almost every breakdown was like a bar fight in the wild west. There was bodies flying into the melee from almost every conceivable direction, with the offside line reduced to nothing more than an abstract concept.
The Goldenacre faithful made their disgruntlement clear when a scrum was awarded against their side during one of these free-for-alls but it could just as easily have been a penalty against either side. The real damage happened when that scrum went down giving Melrose the chance to kick a penalty into the corner, and, after a powerful catch-and-drive, visiting captain Grant Runciman scrambled past three tacklers and over.
Baggott’s conversion into a vicious wind was well wide of the mark, but Melrose were ahead – and having struggled to control the game for so long, they finally managed to exert a bit of composure to close the game out.
Heriot’s: C Simpson; G Parker, R Mulveena, J Semple, R Kay; R Carmichael, T Wilson; M Bouab, M Liness, S Mustard, R Nimmo, C Smith, M Maltman, J McLean, C Marshall. Subs: M Hughes, A Hagart, J Rasolea.
Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, N Godsmark, G Taylor, S Pecqueur; J Baggott, M McAndrew; D Elkington, R Anderson, R McLeod, J Head, A Welsh, R Knott, J G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: J Bhatti, A Greive, B Colvine, G Wood.
Referee: G Wells
Heriot’s: Try: Liness.
Melrose: Try: Runciman; Pen: Baggott.
Yellow Card –
Red card –
Scoring sequence (Heriot’s first): 5-0; 5-3 (h-t) 5-8
Man-of-the-Match: It wasn’t really a day for individuals to shine but Grant Runciman led by example and got the crucial try.
Talking Point: Red cards kill games – it will be interesting to see if the video evidence supports the decision to send Michael Maltman off.
Image courtesy: Roy Smith