ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards
THE play-offs are a few months away but even with four rounds still remaining Melrose appear to have booked their place in the top four and crucially secured a home tie.
Against Ayr, Melrose showed why they are the top side at this stage in the season with a performance that more than matched Ayr’s physicality and which was defensively tight, limiting the Millbrae men to just one try.
Ayr, however, will reflect on a faulty performance that played into the hands of Melrose. “I think that we played too much rugby in our own half. The ball should have gone down to their 22m a bit more often.
“We had the chance to come back at them but fair play to them their goal-line defence was very good,” said the Ayr coach, Calum Forrester, unhappy that it was ultimately discipline that cost his his side, Will Bordill collecting two yellow cards and Ross Curle one.
“Discipline hurt us,” conceded Forrester.
“It’s something we’ve talked about recently. You can get away with it against teams in the lower half but not against the likes of Melrose.”
Melrose may have ended with a clean discipline sheet but there was no doubt where the Greenyards men won the game.
“I think our forwards did the job today,” said Melrose skipper Grant Ranchman. “Our driving mauls were very good today. The backs, too, did well. They were great in defence and took their opportunities with ball in hand.”
Ayr’s addiction to coloured cards proved costly in the last quarter, the loss of Bordill and then Curle costing the visitors two tries from the driving maul.
The anticipated tension was evident in the opening phases of the match as both sides struggled to achieve any fluency to their game. Then when Bordill was sent to the sin-bin for a late hit on Craig Jackson Melrose had a numerical advantage.
In the event the Greenyards men were unable to make their extra man count, their best chance coming when Jackson’s pass gave the outside backs a three-on-one advantage only for Melrose to make a hash of the finish.
A second chance was lost when Murdo McAndrew was unable to find a way past Ayr’s depleted back row from a scrum five metres out.
Having soaked up Melrose pressure, Ayr turned the screw on the hosts, resulting in a penalty for Ross Curle. But straightaway the home side replied with a similar effort by Jackson.
Ayr then worked their way into the Melrose 22 with accurate pick and drive tactics, but from a penalty near their own liine, Melrose full-back Fraser Thomson opted to run out of his red zone and when the ball was recycled Jackson put George Taylor into the clear before the inside centre, with more than a hint of a forward pass, sent Austin Lockington in under the posts, leaving Jackson with a simple conversion.
The match was interrupted for five minutes while Neil Irvine-Hess received on-field attention for a game-ending head injury. On resumption Curle had a chance to eat into the Melrose lead only for his penalty attempt to drift wide, leaving the home side with a 10-3 interval advantage.
Melrose extended their lead early in the second half with a penalty by Jackson after the stand-off had chipped deftly and after good work at the ruck by replacement Lewis Carmichael.
The score produced a positive reaction from Ayr, who, after camping in the Melrose 22 , went through multiple phases before skipper Pete McCallum crashed over, Curle’s conversion narrowing the Melrose lead to just three points.
Immediately Melrose hit back through a penalty kick to the corner by Jackson. At the resultant lineout drive, Bordill converted his yellow card into the red variety with a second offence, this time dropping the maul.
Melrose again kicked to the corner and this time the extra forward made the moving mass that is the maul work well, ending with Russell Anderson touching down, Jackson’s conversion opening up a ten point gap.
Ayr’s plight became worse when Curle was yellow carded for a no-arms tackle. Melrose again kicked to the corner and once more made their extra men count to produce a rolling maul try for replacement prop Ruairi McLeod,. Jackson then added the touchline conversion, to make it five from five off the tee in a telling performance by the fly half.
Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, N Godsmark, G Taylor, R McCann; C Jackson, M McAndrew; J Bhatti, R Anderson, N Beavon, J Head, R Knott, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman, I Moody. Subs: C McKay, R McLeod, L Carmichael, S Hutchison, S Pecqueur
Ayr: G Anderson; R Dalgleish, A Russell, D McCluskey, C Taylor; R Curle, D Armstrong; G Hunter, P MacArthur, A Prentice, B MacPherson, R McAlpine, A Ashe, W Bordill, P McCallum. Subs: J Malcolm, D Sears-Duru L Anderson, S McDowell, J Bova
Referee: Keith Allen
Melrose: Tries: Lockingtson, Anderson, McLeod; Cons: Jackson 3; Pens: Jackson 2
Ayr: Try: McCallum; Con: Curle; Pen: Curle
Scoring Sequence (Melrose first): 0-3, 3-3, 8-3, 10-3 (h-t) 13-3, 13-8, 13-10, 18-10, 20-10, 25-10, 27-10
Yellow cards –
Ayr: Bordill 2, Curle
Man-of-the-Match: For a second successive week Craig Jackson posted an impressive performance that must surely bring him into consideration for the Scotland Club XV. The Melrose stand-off distributed astutely, used the chip-ahead to good effect and capped an elegant display with faultless kicking off the tee.
Talking Point: Melrose have now opened up a five point gap on Ayr and should have assured themselves of a home tie come the play-offs.