DAVID FERGUSON @ Riverside Park
KELSO marched on to the play-offs in their first season back in the Premiership after more than two decades’ absence with a comprehensive routing of their Border rivals.
This Kelso side, guided superbly by Kevin Utterson and on-field general Bruce McNeil, have got better with each passing week and they showed great maturity at Riverside Park by sticking tightly to a game-plan to dominate up front and not play fast and loose.
Jed-Forest showed in glimpses that they are a squad with no little ability, but their problems with attracting players to training regularly, and so be forced to try to create cohesion on Saturday afternoons, told in this game – as it has over the course of the season. And it is why they are heading to the National Leagues, where their players and supporters will hope they can rebuild in much the way today’s conquerors have done.
Kelso came out of the traps quickly with young right wing James Thompson scoring the first of his two tries just four minutes, and they were 14-0 up after 20 with powerful full-back Archie Barbour scoring in the corner, then led 19-7 at the interval after lock Euan Thompson, brother of James, ran in for a good score. By then news had filtered through that Heriot’s, Edinburgh Accies and Musselburgh – the challengers for the final play-off spot – had all lost and coach Utterson made his players aware of it.
“We just said ‘look, this is on, so let’s go out and do the business,” he explained. “It was a huge boost to know that at half-time and you could see how positively they reacted; they came out and put the game to bed early and what pleased me was that they kept playing, kept to the game-plan and scored some good tries.
“The bunch of boys we have, they have a great togetherness, strength of character, and we have tried not to say too much at any stage about play-offs. But Bruce and I also knew that if this team could learn and play to their potential each week then it was maybe possible. We have gone game by game, but you could see a change in the boys’ attitude in recent weeks, and the boys are enjoying their rugby.
“To play well and consistently at a good level you have to enjoy it. I’ve been lucky, I’ve been there, and these boys are in an enjoyable place now, and we’re thriving.”
Kelso’s left winger Robbie Tweedie scored the bonus point three minutes into the second half, which put them out of reach of their challengers for fourth place, and Dwain Patterson, who, with visiting fly-half Murray Hastie, controlled this game, showed his fleet of foot to dart through the Jed defence and under the posts in the 48th minute.
Kelso went on to finish with eight tries, the forward pack dominant in the set-piece – winning their own and stealing Jed line-out ball and driving Jed off several of their own scrums – to tee up the backs for seven of them.
Young wings Thompson and Tweedie claimed two each, full-back Barbour, who was a powerful counter-attacking presence throughout, grabbed one and Hastie fittingly finished off with a fine burst of pace to take him clear of the cover and under the posts, underlining their ability to finish but also the team’s shrewd timing of when to release the backs.
For Jed, it was another ignominy in a season they will quickly want to forget. Their struggle this season has simply been the lack of players, with a clutch of old-timers helping out when they can but not available every week. Indeed, they have more Jedburgh-born youngsters of rugby-playing age living in Australia, currently, than in the squad. But veterans like Dom Buckley, Robert Hogg, the Young twins, Lewis and Gregor and Owen Cranston strengthened the back line for this derby, with Buckley taking on the fly-half reins and Gregor Young stepping in alongside Cranston in the centres to try to nullify the attacking threats of Frankie Robson and Patterson.
That is a tough ask at any time, but when your pack is going backwards it is impossible. So, while Lewis Young exploited sleepiness in the Kelso rearguard after they’d gone 14-0 up to rip open the visitors’ defence for wing Robbie Shirra-Gibb to score a fine try after 23 minutes, and their other big talisman, lock Clark Skeldon scored a well-deserved try in the 64th minute, it failed to hide the fact that Jed had no real cohesion or structure to their play.
That said, their spirit was not in doubt, and exemplified by a fine spell around half-time when down to 14 men, after No 8 Ben Fotheringham had been yellow-carded for a no-arms tackle.
Buckley has seen it from both sides, living and working in Kelso and being part of the Kelso squad when they were relegated to the third tier back in 2016. Now, he has his hands full with a new business and young family, like many of the thirty-somethings persuaded out of retirement to ensure Jed could field a XV each week.
“We knew what we were going to face today,” he said. “Kelso have been the form team in the league for the last few weeks and they stuck to their game-plan here much better than they did against us at Poynder Park. We have struggled and when you only have small numbers training, then skills, fitness and structure are not there and you saw that today.
“Kelso have built back well back from their relegation a few years ago, and they now get about 40-odd boys at training, and have a good seconds team and youth teams, and that’s what you need to compete at this level.
“But rugby goes in circles. Kelso have good young boys who have come through together, Hawick have that too with Jae Linton, Andrew Mitchell and others who came through under-18s together, so for us it’s about finishing strongly against Glasgow Hawks, and then using a first season in the National League to bring young boys through from our youth, and build again.”
It is a tale of two Borders towns, swapping positions in the past year, but while the proud Jed-Forest club prepare for a rebuilding phase there appears to be no limit to Kelso’s newfound ambition, and an all-Borders semi-final at Hawick now looks to be a very tasty prospect.
Jed-Forest: L Young; B Irvine, G Young, O Cranston, R Shirra-Gibb; D Buckley, M Glen; J Ferguson, H Keith, D Campbell, G Law, C Skeldon, R Thomson, G Law, D Wardrop, B Fotheringham. Subs: H Stenhouse, J Bowie, J Laing, L Elder, R Hogg.
Kelso: A Barbour; J Thompson, D Patterson, F Robson, R Tweedie; M Hastie, A Tait; G Shiells, E Knox, T Logan, E Thompson, K Melbourne, C Brown, M Woodcock, B McNeil. Subs: A McGregor, A Asante, J Glendinning, C Thompson, N Stingl.
Referee: John Smith.
Jed-Forest: Tries: Shirra-Gibb, Skeldon; Con: Buckley.
Kelso: Tries: J Thompson 2, Barbour, E Thompson, Tweedie 2, Patterson, Hastie; Cons: Patterson 4.
Scoring sequence (Jed-Forest first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-12; 0-14; 5-14; 7-14; 7-19 (h-t) 7-24; 7-29; 7-31; 7-36; 12-36; 12-41; 12-46; 12-48.
Yellow cards –
Jed-Forest: Fotheringham (34 mins).
Man-of-the-Match: There were countless contenders across the Kelso team, with Murray Hastie, Dwain Patterson and Archie Barbour particularly impressive in the backs on a day they scored seven tries, but the forwards did the hard yards to create the opportunities and no-one worked more tirelessly than flankers Murray Woodcock and Cammy Brown. It’s impossible to split them for their defence, set-piece work, attacking carries and ability to get themselves to the heart of everything, so they share the award this week.
Talking point: Having spent the past few months trying to keep a lid on expectations, all everyone of a Kelso persuasion was talking about after the final whistle was ‘the play-offs’. No-one in the Kelso camp dared to imagine that a first season back in the Premiership could finish with a top four spot – they started with a simple aim to avoid relegation – but today they used it as motivation to make new history for the club.