ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards
MELROSE confirmed that they will again be a powerhouse side in the BT Premiership by over-running Watsonians in yesterday’s opening round at the Greenyards with a performance that blended strong forward play, sizzling attacking rugby and aggressive defence.
In all Melrose ran in eight tries to Watsonians’ three, the Borderers being helped by costly indiscipline and indecision on the part of the Myresiders. Watsonians had two players sent to the sin-bin in the 12th and 19th minutes, and Melrose made their opponents pay by scoring two converted tries during their absence.
“It’s a tough enough place to come and play rugby, but particularly when you get two yellow cards in the first half. And they were both absolutely yellow cards. That cost us 14 points. We were then chasing the game,” admitted Watsonians’ new coach, Steve Lawrie. “We need to look at our discipline and we need to look at the way we use possession.”
Lawrie certainly has a lot to work on with his charges, but there is enough individual talent in the Watsonians side in players such as Rory Drummond, Michael Fedo, Rory Hutton and Michael Allen to suggest that they will challenge a few sides. What is necessary, however, is to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
Melrose, of course, have the advantage of continuity and a settled side that has been together for some time. Moreover, they enjoy the benefit of having Edinburgh part-pro Jason Baggott and yesterday they had the added bonus of Ally Miller being made available by the capital side.
Miller came on as a replacement for Neil Irvine-Hess when the latter picked up an injury in the first half. As the more observant may have noticed it was one Watsonian for another. In fact the presence of both in the Melrose squad produced the odd fact that the Borderers had more former pupils of George Watson’s College in their side than Watsonians!
Miller is a class act in Premiership rugby and slotted into a Melrose back row that operates well and notably at the breakdown, where Grant Runciman in particular was in imperious form. Behind a winning pack, the Melrose backs looked sharp in attack, their strike runners accounting for five of their tries.
“We were very clinical in what we were doing and quite accurate for this time in the season. We wanted to set our stall early doors in the forward battle and we definitely did that.” said the Melrose coach, Rob Chrystie.
Melrose were much the more successful back unit in probing the gaps, Craig Jackson, Fraser Thomson and Niall Godsmark all finding space against a tight Watsonians defence. The Melrose bench also played its part, notably stand-off Ben Chalmers, who looks to have developed his game since returning from France.
Watsonians began the game by dominating possession, their ability to hold on to the ball through the phases providing an encouraging start. But against a quick-engaging Melrose defence, the Myreside men had to settle for a Ewan Fox penalty as their only reward.
Melrose, thereafter, quickly took control of the game, a rolling maul and then quick transfer of the ball giving Sam Pecqueur a try in the corner. Then when Angus Duckett was sent to the bin, Melrose took advantage of their extra man by producing another unstoppable maul before shipping the ball wide for Thomson to score the first of his three tries, converted from wide out by Craig Jackson.
Watsonians found themselves reduced to 13 men when prop Kyle Whyte was yellow-carded for taking out a Melrose player in the line-out. Once more the rolling maul was deployed, ending with a try for Russell Anderson and the conversion by Jackson.
Melrose then grabbed the bonus point with an individual try from Runciman, the skipper pirating ball at the breakdown before scorching through a gap. Jackson again converted before laying on a try and adding the extras for replacement Ally Miller with an accurate cross kick.
Then just before half time Watsonians showed their strength in the forwards with a catch and drive that ended with Duckett scoring and Fox converting.
Sixteen minutes into the second half Scotland under-20 cap Ross McCann side-stepped his way over for an individual try, this time converted by Jason Baggott. South African, Baggott then laid on the scoring pass for a second try by Thomson converted by replacement Chalmers.
Minutes later Thomson made it a hat-trick in scoring his 100th try for Melrose from a training-ground move, Chalmers adding the extras. A Mike Allen try converted by Fox and then an unconverted score by Duckett made Watsonians feel better, but it did little to mute the celebrations at the Greenyards.
Melrose: F Thomson; R McCann, N Godsmark, C Jackson, S Pecqueur; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiels, R Anderson, N Beavon, A Runciman, R Knott, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman, I Moody. Subs used: R Ferguson, R McLeod, A MIller, B Colvine, B Chalmers.
Watsonians: K Young; M Bertram, M Allen, D Innes, S McLeod; E Fox, W Thomson; F Hobbis, S Crombie, K Whyte, J Hodgson, C Borthwick, M Fedo, A Duckett, R Drummond Subs used: D Miller, N Borel, E Dods, E McKirdy, R Hutton
Melrose: Tries: Pecqueur, Thomson 3, Anderson, Runciman, Miller, McCann. Cons: Jackson 4, Baggott, Chalmers 2.
Watsonians: Tries: Duckett 2, Allen. Cons: Fox 2. Pen: Fox.
Scoring sequence (Melrose first): 0-3, 5-3, 10-3, 12-3, 17-3, 19-3, 24-3, 26-3, 31-3, 33-3, 33-8, 33-10 (ht) 38-10, 40-10, 45-10, 47-10, 52-10, 54-10, 54-15, 54-17, 54-22.
Yellow cards –
Watsonians: Duckett, Whyte.
Referee: S Grove-White.
Man of the match: Melrose skipper Grant Runiman got through a mountain of work at the breakdown and capped a strong performance with a well-taken first-half try.
Talking point: Melrose continuing where they left off in last season’s cup final. The Greenyards men certainly look serious title challengers at this early stage in the season. Mention should also go to referee Sam Grove-White, who controlled the game with a calm authority.