DAVID FERGUSON @ Poynder Park
THREE first-half tries effectively sealed this first Premiership derby between these age-old Border rivals in 24 years in Kelso’s favour, but two Jed scores in the final quarter created some late drama.
With another sold-out hospitality lunch at Poynder Park, there wasn’t a spare seat in the main stand when the teams took to pitch to renew old hostilities, and when the home pack scrummaged Jed back over their line for Bruce McNeil to dot down an opening try just six minutes in, the noise around Poynder will have matched the finish line at nearby Kelso Races.
A scintillating second on 21 minutes when Dwain Patterson carved open the visiting defence with a great attacking line and put in talented young full-back Archie Barbour – a player who impresses more with each game – and a third from another fine attack before half-time finished well by skipper Frankie Robson, to re-establish dominance after Owen Cranston
My had scored for Jed, sent Kelso into half-time seemingly in cruise control.
“That’s been our problem,” admitted Robson afterwards. “We have played some good first halves, but we haven’t started a second half well this season, and we let Jed into it in the second half.
“I don’t think it’s complacency, that we think the game is won. It’s more that when we’re up we seem to think we need to change how we’re playing, be a bit more conservative, kick to the corner, and just take the sting out of the game, rather than continue playing the way that got us the lead. Fair enough for the last ten maybe, but 40 minutes is a long time to try to play conservatively.”
As good as Kelso were in the first half, earning a deserved 24-7 lead, Jed went into the break knowing they had under-performed, particularly after their best performance of the season at home to Marr the previous week. They had still lost to the Troon side, but they had run the then league leaders very close, and so while they came into this game with just three points, the Royal Blues were full of belief that their near neighbours would be the team to be vanquished so that they could start to move up the table closer to the pack.
Skipper Clark Skeldon provided a terrific lead to his charges, enjoying a great duel with Kelso lock Keith Melbourne, but their misfiring line-out was a thorn in Jed’s side and the half-time interval didn’t provide immediate succour.
The metronomic kicking of Kelso’s Patterson nudged Kelso into a 20-point lead ten minutes into the second half, and having already lost talismanic centre Dom Buckley to the sin-bin, strangely for an offside, they were reduced to 13 men shortly after when influential Kiwi No 8 Ben Fotheringham was yellow-carded after one too many Jed infringements for Glasgow referee Tom French.
Supporters of both sides could have been forgiven for thinking it was game over at that point, but this Jed side have a fighting spirit in the mould of their skipper that made for an entertaining last 20.
With the chips on the floor, they showed a terrific energy to take the game to their hosts. Skeldon said: “We were really disappointed with that first half and knew we hadn’t shown what we were capable of, and while you’d rather we did it with 15 men on the field, we showed when our backs were to the wall what we can do.
“I was proud of the boys for that second half, because that’s the first time we have kept a team from scoring any tries after half-time, and our defence with 13 men was excellent; everyone working for each other. It’s frustrating that it took us until then to play, and it’s really frustrating that we had the chance at the end to score and get at least two bonus points, and we didn’t get it. But that was one of a few decisions that didn’t quite go our way today.”
What had turned a ‘dead game’ after 50 minutes into a frenetic period of injury-time were two tries, the first coming almost as soon as Buckley, a former Kelso player, returned from the sin-bin, and owing much to his and Skeldon’s attacking skills. Neither player would worry their wingers over 20 yards, but they have good feet, an impressive ability to step tacklers and bounce others, that invariably takes them in behind defences. And that was key to Jed’s tries, providing platforms inside the home 22 for scores superbly finished by Cranston and hooker Harvey Keith, the latter off a line-out maul earned by Buckley’s neat chip, that brought a yellow card for flanker Liam Tait.
Kelso squandered chances of their own, and there was plenty of dropped balls and frustrating rugby to draw groans from the crowd, but Skeldon upped the ante in the last minutes when he broke the Kelso defence to score at the posts, and Gary Munro’s perfect kicking cut the gap to just nine points.
The fly-half then had a chance to reduce it to six, and secure a bonus point, but opted for a kick to touch and a lineo-ut maul – clearly intent on two bonus points.
Few could have argued if Jed had finished with a try, which they seemed set to do five minutes into injury-time only for Kelso to splinter the maul and prevent a score with a pile of bodies on the ball-carrier.
Referee French saw it as a penalty to Kelso, and his subsequent final whistle brought a palpable sigh of relief from the home players, who deserved their win but perhaps need to work on their 80-minute fitness, and signalled another weekend of ‘so near, yet so far’ for this hard-working Jed-Forest team.
Kelso: A Barbour; A Roberts, D Patterson, F Robson (c), R Tweedie; M Hastie, A Tait; G aShiells, E Knox, T Logan, C Brown, K Melbourne, L Tait, M Woodcock, B McNeil. Subs (all played): A Frame, A Asante, A Sweenie, J Glendinning, J Thompson.
Jed-Forest: L Young; L Elder, O Cranston, D Buckley, R Shirra-Gibb; G Munro, M Glenn; S Anderson, H Keith, H Meadows, C Skeldon (c), D Wardrop, J Ferguson, B Roff, B Fotheringham. Subs (all played): M Purves, H Stenhouse, J Hynd, A Bambrick, B Irvine.
Referee: Tom French.
Kelso: Tries: McNeil, Barbour, Robson; Cons: Patterson 3; Pens: Patterson 3.
Jed-Forest: Tries: Cranston, Keith, Skeldon; Cons: Munro 3.
Scoring sequence (Kelso first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0; 14-5; 14-7; 17-7; 22-7; 24-7 (h-t) 27-7; 27-12; 27-14; 30-14; 30-19; 30-21.
Yellow cards –
Jed-Forest: Buckley, Fotheringham.
Man-of-the-Match: Clark Skeldon and Dom Buckley were prominent for Jed, and Keith Melbourne, Cammy Brown and Bruce McNeil impressed in the home pack. However, in the end, the goal-kicking of Dwain Patterson proved the difference between the sides, with his kick from over 45 metres out in the second half ultimately ensuring Jed left without any points. But the centre also made a sublime break and beautifully timed pass to Archie Barbour for the second try, and was an all-round stand-out.
Talking point: The yellow cards shown to Buckley and Fotheringham were certainly talked about at length afterwards, as decisions which baffled Jed supporters, and right or wrong they added a steepness to Jed’s incline that ultimately proved insurmountable.