STUART BATHGATE @ Myreside
TEN WINS out of ten and ten bonus points too. The Melrose machine rumbles on remorselessly, and as long as they keep playing like this there is not a team in the country who can touch them.
Last night’s visit to Watsonians promised to be one of the tougher tests for Robert Chrystie’s side, but that promise soon evaporated. The win and the try bonus were both secured before the interval, and although only one try was added in the second half to Watsonians’ two, the conscientious hard work continued almost unabated to the end.
“Our defence in the first half was outstanding, with loads of intensity,” the Melrose head coach said. “Watsonians have got some really good rugby players in their team, some really good attacking players, so we knew we’d have to defend well. I think the boys have done really well for the last 12 hard weeks and they really deserve a break now.”
After thumping Ayr last week, Watsonians must have harboured hopes of inflicting another shock last night, but they were soon dispirited by opponents who were slicker, speedier and sharper. They will remain seventh no matter what happens in today’s matches, but it is obvious that to pull clear of the relegation zone entirely once league action resumes they will need to make more consistent use of their undoubted virtues.
“The first half blew us away,” Watsonians head coach Steve Lawrie said. “We need to look at 80-minute performances. We showed we can play [in the second half], but the game was gone by then.
“Fair play to Melrose, they were more physical at the breakdown today. The boys went through to Ayr last week and were physical and we dominated that game and deserved to win. But today we weren’t physical enough in the first half.”
After withstanding heavy pressure for the first five minutes or so, Melrose began to gain the upper hand , and took the lead through a Craig Jackson penalty after quarter of an hour. Having made the breakthrough, they wasted little time in adding to their lead, with full-back Fraser Thomson coming into the line to score close to the left corner following good build-up work by the pack. Jackson failed to add the conversion, but as the first quarter ended there was already a feeling that the Borderers had the contest under control.
Both teams were deprived of their hookers after 25 minutes when Ross Graham and Russell Anderson were simultaneously sinbinned, with the latter reacting angrily to an illegal tackle from the former. With a little more space opening up, Melrose got their second try just before the half-hour, lock Iain Moody crashing through from close range. Jackson was on target with the conversion this time.
Within minutes the centre was lining up to take another, after a rapid break up the right involving Neil Irvine-Hess ended with Thomson scoring again. Jackson missed, leaving Melrose’s lead at 20-0, but even at that stage it seemed irrelevant: the win was in the bag, and the only question was when the bonus point would come.
We had our answer five minutes before the interval, when the left flank again proved a fruitful route to the Watsonians line Sam Pecquer was the one to cross it as another Melrose attack proved too quick and too smart for the home defence.
Watsonians began the second half as they had the first, with a lot of possession and territory. Again, however, they were unable to turn pressure into points, as Melrose proved as resolute in defence as they were ruthless in attack.
Having withstood that offensive for ten minutes and more, Melrose went back up the park and thought they had got their fifth try through Pecquer only for the score to be disallowed for a knock-on in the build-up. Watsonians then returned to the attack, and opened their account on the hour, substitute prop Nathan Borel eventually making it over the line after Michael Fedo, among others, had come close.
Andrew Chalmers converted, and the full score restored some life to a match that had become a little becalmed. Watsonians threatened to add another score for a time, but some of their attacks lacked conviction. Melrose, conversely, were able to display their cutting edge had not deserted them, and Thomson got their overdue fifth try – his own third – with seven minutes left, flying over in the right corner. Jackson got his own overdue second conversion, and although Melrose then tried to play out the remaining time in the Watsonians half, it was the home team who had the last word when Ali Harris went over in the last move of the game.
Watsonians: A Chalmers; J Harries, R Hutton, D Innes, A Davidson; E Fox, A Harris; N Fraser, R Graham, K Whyte, J Hodgson, C Borthwick, R Drummond, J Miller, E Dods. Substitutes: J Harrison, M Fedo, N Borel, S Crombie, W Thomson.
Melrose: F Thomson; R McCann, N Godsmark, C Jackson, S Pecquer; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiells, R Anderson, N Beavon, J Head, I Moody, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman, A Miller. Substitutes: R Ferguson, R McLeod, A Runciman, B Colvine, G Taylor.
Scorers: Watsonians: Try: Borel, Harris. Con: Chalmers.
Melrose: Tries: Thomson 3, Moody, Pecquer. Cons: Jackson 2. Pen: Jackson.
Scoring sequence: 0-3, 0-8, 0-13, 0-15, 0-20, 0-25, half-time, 5-25, 7-25, 7-30, 7-32, 12-32.
Yellow cards: Watsonians: Graham. Melrose: Anderson.
Referee: B Blain.
Man of the match: Fraser Thomson, the Melrose full-back, scored three tries and was a threat whenever he came up to join in an attack.
Talking point: Can Melrose go through the whole season with a winning bonus in every game? There certainly seems no reason why they cannot on form like this.