THERE was silverware at stake here in the shape of the Charity Shield, but for both teams the real prize on offer was a chance to build some serious momentum ahead of the resumption of full-blooded Premiership hostilities next weekend.
It will come as no great surprise as to which of the two head coaches was more encouraged by what they witnessed on a damp, grey evening in the Scottish capital – although Phil Smith of Heriot’s did his level best to laugh off the comprehensive demolition his team had just endured.
“At half-time I was really encouraged because I saw that they had pretty much their full team out and we didn’t. I was thinking that we could hang in there, but then we just kept giving them the ball. Our positive moments in attack were actually quite encouraging,” he said.
“We struggle to get pre-season friendlies, so this is our first live encounter – even when London Scottish visited on Tuesday night they were struggling for numbers so we couldn’t go live. So, it’s great for us, genuinely,” he added.
“We’ve rested everyone who has a niggle and so forth because Watsonians [in the first round of league matches next weekend] is the big match.”
Opposite number Rob Chrystie pointed out that this was also his team’s first pre-season run-out, although he was at pains to avoid appearing too triumphant.
“It’s a start. They’re obviously not at full strength as well so let’s not get carried away. But we focussed on just ourselves coming into this game – we didn’t look at Heriot’s – and I thought we achieved the things we had targeted. Our shape was really good, we created opportunities, and we managed to execute a few of them as well. There’s obviously still a couple of things we want to look at but generally I’m pretty happy with that,” he said.
Some of Heriots’ woes in this match can be viewed as a function of the turnover in players at Goldenacre this summer, with Jack Turley, Jason Hill, Gregor McNeish, Jamie Syme and Roan van Heerden among the influential characters who have disappeared from the roster.
However, Melrose have had to deal with a few departures of their own, including the totemic Graeme Dodds, props Nick Beavon and Ewan McQuillin, and exciting youngsters Lewis Carmichael, Ally Miller and Tom Galbraith. They have only brought four new faces in (Russell Anderson, Ian Moody, Craig Jackson and Ross McCann), but each of those individuals demonstrated here that they are ready to hit the ground running, and that was key because the Borderers looked far more comfortable in terms of general shape and self-assurance in attack.
Smith will be hoping that some of the rustiness evident among his charges in this performance will be brushed off before the season gets into full swing. A moment which seemed to encapsulate Heriots’ shortcomings in this match came towards the end of the first half, when Michael Liness charged onto a cross-field kick and thundered for the right hand corned. Melrose’s cover defence managed to get him down a few yards short of the whitewash, but their defensive line had been pulled dreadfully out of shape. The home team recycled quickly and the score was on, but the transfer back across the park was ponderous, and there was nobody willing to take control of the situation, meaning the move eventually fizzled out without a shot being fired.
At least Heriots’ scrum looked pretty handy during the first half, and it was this platform which provided the home team with a try on the stroke of half-time, when Callum Marshall picked up from the base and flopped over after Melrose had been marched back over their own line.
By the end, though, even that area of strength was beginning to look significantly less impressive, with a solid Melrose scrum providing the platform for number eight Iain Moody to pick-up and swat off a couple of limp tackles for his team’s sixth and final try.
The opening quarter was fairly evenly balanced, with both sides prepared to defy the soggy conditions to attack with the ball in hand. Josh Laird showed his potential with a sparky break for Heriot’s, and Jason Boggott ghosted through a gap for Melrose only to send what should have been the scoring pass behind the support runner.
Slowly but surely Melrose began to get on top and the breakthrough came when Murdo McAndrew scurried over after a series of punishing phases close to the Heriot’s line. That was followed up by a Neil Irvine-Hess try off the back of a typically sharp breakout and kick ahead from Fraser Thomson. And the visitors were three tries to nil up by the 35th minute when George Taylor sent McCann scurrying down the left touchline, then collected the return pass to dive over.
Baggott neglected the man outside him to force his way over for the first try of the second half.
This match might not count for much when we reach the business end of the season in eight months’ time, but there was no doubting the psychological boost it was giving on the Melrose players when Ruaridh Knott went over for try number five just a few minutes later, prompting all fifteen players on the park to jubilantly embrace in the in-goal area.
Moody’s try finished off the scoring, and although Heriot’s kept plugging away, you got the sense that they were desperately waiting for the final whistle, which would give them the chance to regroup and refocus ahead of next Saturday’s showdown against the Premiership’s new boys.
Heriot’s: G Parker; J Rae (A McLean 52), J Laird, D Crawford, C Simpson; A Hagart, A Simmers (L Christie 66-80); M Bouab, M Liness (D Mason 50), R Mitchell (S Cessford 26-54), R Nimmo, C Smith, A Henderson, J McClean, C Marshall.
Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, G Taylor (G Wood 40), C Jackson (R Taylor 40), R McCann; J Baggott, M McAndrew (B Colvine 45); J Bhatti (D Elkington 31), R Anderson (C Mackay 59), R McLeod (R Anderson 73), J Head (H Borthwick 54), A Grieve (R Knott 45), N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman, I Moody.
Heriot’s: Try: Marshall; Con: Hagart.
Melrose: Tries: McAndrew, Irvine-Hess, Taylor, Baggott, Knott, Moody; Cons: Taylor, Baggott 2.
Referee: Mike Adamson