ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenywards
THE hosts produced a classic fightback after trailing 0-15 at the end of the first quarter to score 35 unanswered points for a bonus victory and with it retain their narrow lead at the top of the BT Premiership table.
“Hawks were really good for the first twenty minutes. They kept the ball well and caused us a lot of bother, but our boys knew what they had to do. They were patient and they were mature about it.” said the Melrose coach, Rob Chrystie.
“It’s good to get to the eleventh game in the league in this position. We can recharge the batteries a bit before we resume the Premiership in December.” he added.
Hawks were hugely affected by their high injury toll that forced five of their players to leave the pitch, but even without these setbacks the Anniesland men would have found it difficult to contain a Melrose side containing a useful professional presence.
“Sometimes the world conspires against you and maybe that’s what happened today.” mused Finlay Gillies, the Glasgow Hawks coach. “That’s a Melrose team with a hard edge and a maul that is difficult to compete against.”
Melrose, too, suffered injuries but to a much lesser extent. Scrum-half Murdo McAndrew left the field with a suspected broken ankle and was followed not long after by his replacement Richard Taylor.
Jason Baggott moved in to fill the scrum half position and in the event gave an excellent display with first class distribution and some clever kicking. Moreover he converted all five of the Melrose tries and added to his points tally with a second half touchdown.
Hawks were a stiffer challenge than the final score-line perhaps suggest, especially in the opening quarter when their monopoly on possession left Melrose looking shipwrecked.
Whether it was in heavy traffic where flanker Grant Stewart excelled, or in the wider channels where the outside backs benefitted from the classy play of half backs George Horne and Josh Henderson, Hawks used the ball tellingly.
The first try after only four minutes was triggered by a Henderson break and then a tap free-kick that ended with Tommy Spinks crashing over .
Hawks were immediately hungry for more and this time it was a half break by Henderson followed by a subtle off-load that gave centre David Milne their second try, converted by Horne for a twelve point lead in as many minutes.
Then, after Melrose had lost first Murdo McAndrew and then his replacement Richard Taylor, through injury Horne inflicted further agony with a penalty kick.
Melrose finally got themselves into the game with two successive forward drives which were stopped illegally, resulting in a yellow card for Hawks prop Gary Strain , leaving the visitors’ forward pack unable to resist a further maul. That resulted in a try for hooker Russell Anderson, with Baggott’s touchline conversion planting leaving his side trailing 7-15 at the break.
With their confidence on the rise, Melrose quickly asserted themselves after the interval. George Taylor came close to scoring only to be tackled into touch but at the resultant line-out, Horne’s clearance kick was charged down giving Anderson his second try.
Baggott converted and then added the extras to his own try that resulted from a line-out overthrow by Hawks to put the home side 21-15 ahead.
By now Melrose were in full cry against a depleted and deflated Hawks side and when Austen Lockington showed his stepping skills to cut through the Glasgow side’s defence, back row Ruaridh Knott was in support to take the scoring pass for the bonus point try, expertly converted by Baggott despite the half back having to wait for twelve minutes while the injured Hawks replacement Sam Thomson was stretchered off.
Lockington, himself, then joined the list of Melrose scorers after Fraser Thomson and replacement Iain Moody had combined cleverly to set up their side’s fifth try.
If Melrose had looked the golden boys of round 11 of the championship then an incident towards the end of the game took the shine off their polished performance. At a line-out the Melrose second-row James Head was seen to elbow his opposite number Andy Redmayne in the skull causing the Glasgow player to drop to the ground.
Irish referee Sean Gallagher, who could scarcely have been closer to the incident, had no hesitation in showing the red card to Head, whose punishment could be considerable.
It was an unnecessary stain on an otherwise commanding performance by Melrose.
Melrose: F Thomson; R McCann, G Taylor, C Jackson, A Lockington; J Baggot, M McAndrew; D Elkington, R Anderson, R McLeod, J Head, L Carmichael, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman, I Moody Subs R Anderson, N Beavon, R Knott, N Godsmark, R Taylor
Glasgow Hawks: J Steele; J Bulumakau, B McGroarty, D Milne, K Gossman; J Henderson, G Horne; S Findlay, P Cairncross, G Strain, A Redmayne, A Kirkland, A Hill, G Stewart, T Spinks Subs A Linton, B Cullinane, S Thompson, P Boyer, L Tyley
Referee: S Gallagher (IRFU)
Melrose: Tries: Anderson 2, Baggott, Knott, Lockington; Cons: Baggott 5.
Hawks: Tries: Spinks, Milne; Con: Horne; Pen: Horne .
Score sequence (Melrose first): 0-5, 0-10, 0-12, 0-15, 5-15, 7-15 (ht), 12-15, 14-15, 19-15, 21-15, 26-15, 28-15, 33-15, 35-15.
Yellow Cards –
Hawks: Strain, Hill
Red Card –
Melrose : Head
Man-of-the-Match: Jason Baggott, who has a partnership contract with Melrose and Edinburgh, showed that he can play equally well at scrum-half and arguably better than at stand-off. His conversion kicks undoubtedly encouraged Melrose
Talking point: With so much professional experience in their pack Melrose have the wherewithal to wear down any opposition. And when their backs move the ball wide they look effective. Pity the red card put a stain on an otherwise top-drawer performance.
Image courtesy: Douglas Hardie