DAVID FERGUSON @ Poynder Park
KELSO showed how much they have learned as a new Premiership side in gaining revenge for a 48-14 defeat at Fullarton early in the season by comprehensively routing the league challengers on their first-ever Premiership visit to Poynder Park.
Three tries in the last six minutes added gloss to the scoreline for the away team and secured what may prove to be a valuable bonus point. Bar that finale and a period of seven or eight minutes in the middle of the first half, they were convincingly outshone by the Borderers. It started after only 29 seconds when Dwain Patterson pounced on a dropped pass from Marr’s first attack to hack downfield and score the game’s opening try, and Kelso were relentless thereafter.
Kelso captain Frankie Robson was delighted with his side’s seven-try performance, which pushed them to fifth and within sight of the top four, but insisted they were not yet thinking about play-offs.
“We’re really happy and there’s a great buzz in the team,” he said. “We knew we needed to use that strong wind and we had to score points with it, and we did, but it was also really important to stop them and so I was pleased at how we really closed the game down in that third quarter, because that demoralised them a bit.
“We were still finding our feet in the Premiership when we lost heavily at Marr early in the season, but we’re learning; we’ve stepped up in our physicality, we’ve changed our game a bit and we are in a bit of a purple match at the minute. But we’re still taking it a game at a time, and no-one here is talking about play-offs.
“We have two weeks off and then are away to Hawks, and we gave them a good game here and beat them, so they’ll be gunning for us. We know we’ll have a tough game there and we’re not looking any further than that.”
Marr skipper, Conor Bickerstaff, insisted Kelso had not taken them by surprise. “We know Kelso have been very good at home, and Borders teams are always a different prospect at home to away, but the way they scored tries today was disappointing – from us dropping the ball in the first minute to some soft scores, and the way we played into their hands a bit in that first half,” he reflected.
“But Kelso have definitely got better as the league has gone on. They have the pack to do well, big boys, and they deserve the credit and deserved their win today.
“If we’d won today I think we’d have banked a play-off spot, so we have more work to do now, but the top two is still what we want, and we need to go to Currie on the 20th January and make sure we win. We’ll take this as an off-day – we’ve had three of them now, unfortunately, away to Heriot’s, home to Musselburgh and today we were under par – but if we win our final games we’ll be in the play-offs and have a shot at the title, so it’s still in our hands.”
Kelso were so quick off the mark that many enjoying the pre-match hospitality, including club president Neil Hastie, were only entering the packed stand when the first try was being celebrated. Marr claimed their own kick-off, but when the ball was moved wide, wing Scott Bickerstaff lost it and Patterson was on the loose ball in a flash. The centre kicked deep into the Marr half and was too quick for the cover, chipping the ball over the line and diving on it, before converting himself for a 7-0 lead.
The strong wind was a factor with Marr stand-off Colin Sturgeon struggling to relieve pressure with kicks, and Patterson slotting a penalty from near halfway to extend the home lead. The Kelso scrum and line-out was dominant in the first half and after a series of penalties against the visiting side cost them No 8 Blair Jardine, Kelso’s No 8 Bruce McNeil exhorted his pack to drive Marr back over their line, where he duly touched down after 16 minutes. Patterson then showed his goal-kicking skill by sending the ball wide of the uprights and allowing the wind to pull it in and over.
Marr full-back Greg Montgomery marked his return from injury with some terrific running form deep, and two missed tackles on him, one on halfway and another later in the attack, finally handed Marr their first period of concerted attack in the home half. Kelso’s discipline in defence was tested, and after a team warning from Fergus Hollins, McNeil was sent to the sin-bin. Marr finally earned reward and tight-head prop Ali Rogers was the man who dived over, after a series of tap penalties.
Patterson fell just short with a penalty from inside his own half but with Kelso dominant in scrum and lineout, and the pace and intensity of their defence suffocating Marr in their own half, Kelso were swiftly back on the front foot and effectively put the game to bed in the second quarter.
After 40-year-old McNeil scored his second off a solid five-metre scrum – a minute after springing from the sin-bin – 18-year-old full-back Archie Barbour showed the talent emerging at the other end of the age spectrum when he took Patterson’s pass, after a sublime chip over the Marr defence by Murray Hastie and catch by Patterson, to leave Montgomery for dead with a stunning looping run from 35 metres out. Patterson’s conversions sent Kelso into the break with a comfortable 31-7 lead and the home crowd singing Christmas songs.
The defence of both teams after half-time ensured precious few glimpses of the try line, then, after Marr lost lock David Andrew to a yellow card, Kelso scored again. Their big Irish lock, Keith Melbourne, who was in outstanding form, claimed a deserved try, charging down Robbie Baird’s attempted clearance behind a scrum five and diving over the line. Both teams used their full bench, and while Marr benefited from some Super Series players and Kelso were handing experience to youngsters, it was the hosts who scored again, prop Angus McGregor bursting clear on the left wing to score a minute after coming on.
With Marr’s scrummage back on top, the visitors finally enjoyed time in possession. It was too little too late to salvage the game, but tries for Conor Bickerstaff, Gregor Paxton and Willie Farquhar secured the bonus point that keeps them in second spot.
Barbour also chimed in with another for Kelso in a chaotic finish to a thoroughly entertaining pre-Christmas match.
Kelso: A Barbour; J Thompson, D Patterson, F Robson, R Tweedie; M Hastie, N Stingl; G Shiells, E Knox, T Logan, E Thompson, K Melbourne, C Thompson, C Brown, B McNeil. Subs used: J Glendinning, A Frame, A Mcgregor, E Thompson, D Smith.
Marr: G Montgomery; S Bickerstaff, G Paxton, C Bickerstaff, J Scott; C Sturgeon, R Baird; A Rogers, S Reekie, B Sweet, D Andrew, F Grant, C Young, B Johnston, B Jardine. Subs used: C McMillan, W Farquhar, C Folan, E Bulger, J Jacobson.
Referee: F Hollins.
Kelso: Tries: Patterson, Barbour 2, McNeil 2, Melbourne, McGregor; Cons: Patterson 5; Pen: Patterson.
Marr: Tries: Rogers, C Bickerstaff, Paxton, Farquhar; Cons: Sturgeon 2.
Scoring sequence (Kelso first): 5-0; 7-0; 10-0; 15-0; 17-0; 17-5; 17-7; 22-7; 24-7; 29-7; 31-7 (h-t) 36-7; 41-7; 41-12; 41-14; 46-14; 48-14; 48-19; 48-24
Yellow card –
Marr: Jardine, Andrews.
Man-of-the-Match: Bruce McNeil belied his years with a typically dominant performance that had the bearded menace chuckling from the first minute, while Archie Barbour, Frankie Robson and Dwain Patterson shone in the backs, but they were just edged out this week by lock Keith Melbourne, whose work-rate was phenomenal and big mitts appeared at times to be suffocating the life out of Marr.
Talking point: Kelso’s dominance of a team that will be in the mix for the Premiership title left both home and away supporters making respectful nods to each other at the finish. Kelso might have started the season as callow newcomers, but whether or not they make the play-offs they are having a big influence on how the league might.