MELROSE’S young squad have had some high points in 2019-20 on their way to 11 wins to date in National League One, but it is fair to say that the 55-12 defeat to Biggar in October was not one of them.
As a result, the men from The Greenyards, who recorded two wins from three in January, are highly focused ahead of their return meeting against the table-toppers this coming Saturday.
Given that Biggar are 15 points clear at the top of the table, any sensible turf accountant will have already closed the book on their promotion prospects as the season run-in begins, and it will take quite a performance from fourth placed Melrose to beat them.
However, Stuart Johnson’s side will have home advantage playing on the new synthetic pitch, and with a committed core of players in the squad who have come up through the system at the Borders club, they will be up for this one.
“We have had a good season, but there have been ups and downs,” said hooker/back-row Ben McLean. “For example, back in November we were thumped 54-5 at Cartha and then seven days later put in one of our best performances of the campaign to defeat Highland [32-14].
“We definitely have the talent in the group and it is so good seeing teenagers coming through at this level under the guidance of the likes of captain Richard Ferguson and Grant Runciman.
“Biggar are a good side, when we went to their place a few months ago they just overran us, but we are looking forward to playing them again.”
McLean has come right through the Melrose system and played sporadically for the 1st XV last season, and has taken the view that this campaign as an opportunity to really make his mark. “With the Southern Knights coming into being last summer there were a few changes at the club and I was keen to stick around and play for the Melrose 1st XV,” said the 21-year-old. “Hopefully I can push for Super6 selection in the future, but for now my focus is on helping us finish as high up the National One table as we can.”
Team-mate Gary McWilliam reckons the willingness to give players opportunities was a huge factor in the club’s success pre Super6 and is hopeful that will continue in this new era. “From a young age at Melrose you could see older teenagers getting there chance in the senior teams and that showed me a pathway that I wanted to be a part of,” he said.
“This is now my fourth year of senior rugby, I played for the Storm for three years while I was lucky enough to be involved on the Kings of the Sevens circuit in 2018 and 2019. That was great exposure for me and I learnt a lot playing in those events … it gives young players a good opportunity to grow and get more confidence.”
Like McLean, McWilliam highlights the leadership of hooker Ferguson and back-row Rucniman as key to helping the team progress this term and bounce back from defeats.
“They have been in and around the first team set-up for a number of years and know what it means to play for Melrose, as does Stuart Johnson, so the younger guys feed off that energy,” said the 21-year-old.
“I think at times in tight games or when things have got away from us in matches our immaturity has shown through, but we have all learnt a hell of a lot in recent months and after a little break we are all refreshed and ready for the run-in starting with Biggar.”
- Melrose v Biggar takes place in Tennent’s National League Division One at The Greenyards at 3pm on Saturday.
How it stands –