Melrose v Heriot’s: capital side too sharp for understrength hosts

Narrow loss flatters champions after late fightback

Stuart Edwards
Stuart Edwards was man of the match for Heriot's. Image: David Gibson

Melrose 21

Heriot’s 26

ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards

HERIOT’S bounced back from their reverse against Currie last weekend to defeat Melrose in a manner that the scoreline disguises and which, with two rounds remaining, keeps the Goldenacre men firmly in the chase for a high finishing place in the BT Premiership.

“This was a must-win because of last week and so it will spice things up a bit in the top four with Currie coming down here next weekend. Winning today keeps it in our hands.” admitted the Heriot’s coach, Phil Smith.

With a near full-strength side, Heriot’s put on a display that suggests that with a bit more consistency from week to week they can offer a serious challenge to the Premiership favourites.  At times Heriot’s looked sharp in attack, and the fact that all their tries were scored by backs was testament to the efficiency of the men behind the scrum.

“It was a really good performance, but there were bits of frustration in it,” Smith added. “We can’t keep giving teams the ball for long periods. Compared to last week our attack was good. We looked threatening at last. The set piece wasn’t brilliant but our defence was strong and our attack was good – so there’s two bits.”

Rather like Saracens, Heriot’s have a strong bench. And when Jason Hill and Adam Sinclair – 220kg of solid rugby players – emerged from the sidelines for the second half there must have been a sense of dismay in a Melrose side which was considerably below full strength. And it showed. After dominating the first half of the BT Premiership season, Melrose no longer looked the invincible side they were. In the circumstances they did well to dig deep in extra time to claim a losing bonus point, and one that could prove valuable in the race to the line.

“We’re not going to use excuses of having players missing,” said Rob Chrystie, the Melrose coach. “The good thing is that a lot of boys are getting put through it. At some point we’ll get everyone back together and we’ll really kick on. There’s quite a few missing.

“I thought Heriot’s played pretty well throughout. The game eventually got away from us, but we did well to come back and get the bonus point. We need to get as many boys back as we can.”

It became clear early in the game that Heriot’s were on song, proof of which came with a sparkling try from centre Rob Kay after good interpassing from Rory McMichael and Charlie SimpsonRoss Jones converted and the centre was on target again when he added the extra points to a try by Heriot’s lively scrum-half Alex Ball from good approach work by Craig Robertson and Callum Marshall.

It looked as though the Heriot’s tally would mount further before half-time but it was Melrose who claimed the final try of the first half when from a driving maul Ruaridh Knott forced his way over,’s conversion leaving his side just seven points in arrears at the break.

Melrose were unlucky to lose their talismanic full-back Fraser Thomson early in the second half. After his departure from the field Heriot’s mounted a siege on the Melrose line only to spill the ball with a try beckoning.

But after further pressure by the Heriot’s forwards close to the Melrose try line, the ball was spun wide for Charlie Simpson to score on the overlap, extending the visitors’ lead to 19-7. Minutes later from a line-out Heriot’s secured the bonus point when Robertson appeared off his wing to race through midfield for his side’s fourth try, this time successfully converted by Jones.

Trailing 7-26, prospects for Melrose looked grim and more so when centre Patrick Anderson limped off the field.  Melrose, however, reminded themselves that they are the defending champions, the spirit of last season’s campaign showing through with clever inter-passing that put Knott in for his second try, converted by Craig Jackson.

Then in the seventh minute of stoppage time after the game had gone to uncontested scrums following the sin-binning of Heriot’s Struan Cessford and an injury to what was left in their props department, Melrose won possession and from a clever move scrum-half Murdo McAndrew darted over for the the try that gave the home team a losing bonus point, Jackson’s conversion adding further respectability to what at one stage in the game had threatened  to be a humiliating scoreline.

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Teams –

Melrose: F Thomson; G Wood, P Anderson, C Jackson, I Sim; S Hutchison, M McAndrew; G Shiells, R Ferguson, C Young, A Runciman, R Knott, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: F Scott, C Crookshanks, A Jardine, D Colvine, M Muelace-Julyan.

Heriot’s: C Simpson; R McMichael, R Jones, R Kay, C Robertson; S Edwards, A Ball; M Bouab, M Liness, S Cessford, R Leishman, C Marshall, I Wilson©, J McLean, S Dewar. Subs: A Johnstone, J Scott, A Sinclair, J Hill, S King.

Referee: B Blain.

Scorers –

Melrose: Tries: Knott 2, McAndrew. Cons: Hutchison, Jackson 2.

Heriot’s: Tries: Kay, Ball, Simpson, Robertson. Cons: Jones 3.

Scoring sequence (Melrose first): 0-5, 0-7, 0-12, 0-14, 5-14, 7-14 (h-t) 7-19, 7-24, 7-26, 12-26, 14-26, 19-26, 21-26.

Yellow card  –

Heriot’s: Cessford.

Man of the match: Heriot’s had many fine excellent individual performances, not least from the likes of back rows Jack McLean and Iain Wilson, but the player who really guided them to victory was stand-off Stuart Edwards, whose distribution, vision with ball in hand and kicking game made him the outstanding member of the visiting side.

Talking point: Heriot’s will have injected a load of confidence into themselves after their win over Melrose but to prove themselves as serious title challengers they have to be able to perform consistently. As for Melrose, the points they gained from the first half of the season are proving valuable. And having earned a losing bonus point with a less than full-strength team, they too will take much from this game.

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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.