BT Premiership: Melrose march on as the Chieftains rue set-piece failings

Image courtesy: Douglas Hardie



ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards

MELROSE cruised to their fifth win in the BT Premiership to consolidate their table-topping position, again demonstrating that they are the team to beat in this season’s championship by blending the ruthless and the sublime in a display of irresistible rugby. 

At times you had to have sympathy for the Chieftains, who, for much of the game were forced into defensive alignment trying to stop wave after wave of Melrose attacks.  If possession statistics had been available they would have made sombre reading for the Currie supporters, who saw little of their side’s  talented back division in scoring mode. Currie were up against it at the scrum and with a non-functioning line-out, it all added up to a one-way direction of ball.

“They controlled the set-piece. Our set-piece was really poor. We struggled early doors with the scrum and our line-out,” said the visiting coach Ben Cairns.

Click on image to purchase your ticket

“If you don’t have a set-piece and you give them so much ascendancy then it’s very hard to defend.  And if you can’t look after the ball when you have it, then they are given loads of opportunities to counter attack. It was just a tough day at the office,” he continued.

“We weren’t very good in the first half but we got away with it to an extent. The start of the second half just about sums it up for us. We had a half time chat about looking after the ball and getting ourselves back in the game and the first thing we do is drop the kick-off and then lose a try.”

“It was just a catalogue of errors from lots of different individuals. At some point the floodgates were going to open on the back of that. There wasn’t a lot that went right.”

The opposite was, in the main, true for Melrose, albeit their coach, Rob Chrystie,  admitted that neither he nor the his side were totally satisfied with their performance.

“We were pretty critical of ourselves to be honest and rightly so because we just weren’t on it today,” he said.

“I’m not making excuses for the boys. Their application is fine. It’s just the execution at times. But that’s fine. We know we can do a lot better than that. The players reacted to what we wanted them to do and 41-10 against a team that Ben [Cairns] talked about having a real good shot at the championship this year is not bad.

In spite of the coach’s misgivings about aspects of their play, Melrose looked very much the in-form team as they set about squeezing the life out of Currie. With a front five that is very strong and a lively back-row, the frontal battle was a guaranteed victory for Melrose.

Behind the scrum, centre Craig Jackson again controlled the midfield play masterfully, his distribution and timing helping winger Ross McCann to a four try tally.  The other Melrose player to impress was full-back Fraser Thomson. The former Glasgow Warriors professional used his pace and kicking ability to both create overlaps and to make huge territorial gains.

Collectively Melrose were supreme when they deployed the maul but the ease with which they made ground with this particular weapon will cause concern within the Currie coaching team.

As for Currie, the negatives were spelled out by their coach. But there were a number of encouraging flashes of form. Aside from dropping the ball at start of the second half, scrum half Charlie Shiel constantly tested the Melrose defence, number eight Rhys Davies came close to scoring and Tommy Gordon did a useful stint at centre after an injury to Robbie Nelson.

Melrose should have led by more than the 10-3 score at half time after a near monopoly of possession, but the over-eagerness by several of their forwards in the red-zone limited their haul to just two tries, the first by McCann and the second by Neil Irvine-Hess, both created by Jackson.

The Greenyards men struck immediately after the break, profiting from a mistake at the kick-off that gave Melrose possession and ultimately a try by Thomson, converted by Jackson.

Thomson then provided the scoring pass for McCann to touch down for his second, Jackson again converting. The irrepressible winger made it a hat-trick after replacement scrum-half Bruce Colvine had taken a quick tap penalty and the Melrose midfield backs had shipped the ball with fingertip precision.

A driven line-out gave replacement Richard Ferguson a try before Currie centre Harvey Elms bagged the visitors’ only touchdown score after Gordon had broken clear, but it was only a temporary reprieve as Melrose had the final say as McCann stretched his total of tries to four, Jackson completing the point scoring with his third conversion.

Purvis Marquees support Currie Chieftains


Teams –

Melrose: F Thomson; R McCann, N Godsmark, C Jackson, G Wood; J Baggot, M McAndrew; G Shiells, R Anderson, R McLeod, J Head, A Runciman, I Moody, N Irvine-Hess, A Miller. Subs used: R Ferguson, D Elkington, R Knott, B Colvine, B Chalmers.

Currie Chieftains: B Robbins; R Smith, H Elms, R Nelson, C Gray; J Forbes, C Shiel; K Burney, C Mackintosh, G Carson, V Wright, M Vernel, L Crosbie, T Gordon, R Davies Subs used D Ferguson, J Cox, S Ainslie, S McGinley, C Smith.


Scorers –

Melrose: Tries: McCann 4, Irvine-Hess, Thomson, Ferguson; Cons: Jackson 3.

Currie Chieftains: Try: Elms; Con: Forbes; Pen: Forbes.

Scoring Sequence (Melrose first): 5-0; 10-0; 10-3 (h-t) 15-3; 17-3; 22-3; 24-3; 29-3; 34-3; 34-8; 34-10; 39-10; 41-10


Yellow cards –

Currie Chieftains: Luke Crosble (24mins), Vince Wright (56mins)

Referee: K Allen


Man-of-the-Match: Fraser Thomson looks very much the consummate professional he once was with Glasgow. The full-back opted out of the pro game and now seems to have found fulfilment in the ‘amateur’ ranks. His sheer pace shreds defences but it is the timing of his pass and his vision that marks him out as a special player.

Talking point: It is becoming a weekly question but here goes again: Who can stop Melrose? With such a strong pack, and with an array of talent in the backline, it’s hard to find weaknesses in this side. But they have yet to be tested against a team that matches them up-front and which can run the ball against their backline defence. Then, and only then, will we see if they are championship material.

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.