STEPHEN BRUNSDON @ Philiphaugh
MARR continue to keep the pressure on Premiership leaders Hawick having produced a clinical and silky eight-try bonus-point victory away to Selkirk.
It eventually became a runaway tenth win of the season for the visitors, buy the match was a tightly fought encounter for 40 minutes, as Selkirk took the game to the visitors and perhaps should have led at the break. But Marr showed their muscle and comfortably came out on top.
“I think it was probably one of the best performances of the season,” Marr coach Steven Adair said post-match. “Coming down to Selkirk is always really tough, but we’re really happy with the score, after a hit and miss first half.”
Despite plummeting temperatures, conditions underfoot appeared ideal and it was Marr who flew out of the blocks in the early stags, dominating possession and bagging two quick-fire tries to silence the home crowd.
Jake Jacobson touched down first after the visitors’ initial attack was snuffed out by desperate home defence. Undeterred, Marr went back down the blindside, with Conor Bickerstaff releasing Jacobson, whose nifty footwork left opposite number Findlay Wheelans in disarray.
It wasn’t long before Marr were in again, this time under the posts courtesy of prop Alex Apthorpe. Selkirk were slow to build round the fringes and Marr made them pay with a searing break from Scott Bickerstaff. Quick ball followed and Apthorpe was allowed a generous amount of space in the mid-field to canter in under the posts.
At 12-0 down after only seven minutes, Selkirk had to respond, and they did through a pair of tries from left-winger Josh Welsh.
The home side had barely had any munitions in attack but when they got a penalty advantage, they took it to Marr with full-back Callum Anderson nearly piercing the defensive line. The ball was then recycled through the backs with Welsh – on his opposite wing – sprinting in from the 22.
Now with momentum, Selkirk had Marr where they wanted them and got another penalty, which fly-half Cameron Easson kicked to touch. From the line-out, the backs produced almost a carbon copy of the first try, with Welsh again getting past the visiting defence to touch down.
Hugo Alderson kicked one conversion to bring the scores level, but Selkirk failed to build on that hard won momentum and coughed up possession far too often approaching half-time. Marr, on the other hand, profited when the game became scrappy after the half-hour mark and scored their third try via back-rower Blair Jardine largely against the run of play.
Marr ended the half with more points, with Selkirk’s inventive set-play and backline threat having gone largely unrewarded.
Although Marr came out of the sheds after half-time with the same sort of intensity as they started the match, it was Selkirk who had the first scoring opportunity, and Alderson’s penalty miss from the 10 metre line proved costly, because Marr kicked into gear after that let-off and secured the bonus point try via second-row David Andrew afterBen Johnston had burst through the defensive line when running a scrum free-kick.
Sturgeon converted and Marr’s fifth try followed barely two minutes later when Conor Bickerstaff brilliantly slewed through Selkirk’s defence from another dominant scrum.
Things then began to fall apart for the home side, who struggled to keep possession. Marr countered off the floor with Scott Bickerstaff bursting down the wing before being dragged down. The ball was then kept alive by Calum Smith and Andrew inside the 22, with the latter crashing over for his second of the afternoon.
The hectic five-minute period ensured the victory had quickly escaped Selkirk by now, but the home side never gave up. They looked more accurate in attack and Wheelans showed an incredible turn of speed to sprint in for his side’s third try and give the Borderers a sniff of a bonus point of their own.
Marr were not finished, though, and replacement Jack Scott put the final nail in the coffin with a well-taken interception try as Selkirk looked to spread it wide.
“We knew we had fallen short in the first half and we were able to break clear and avoid an arm wrestle, but fair play to Selkirk for always sticking in and fighting until the end,” concluded Adair.
Meanwhile, Selkirk coach Gordon Henderson was left to rue missed chances at the end of the first half.
“We stayed in the game but at the start of the second half, our discipline in defence let us down,” he said. “They have some great players, they play together a lot and they were the better side on the night. The good thing is that we’re really disappointed with the result [against one of the top teams in the league], we went for the bonus point but we just fell short.”
Selkirk: C Anderson; F Wheelans, B Pickles, R Nixon, J Welsh; C Easson, H Alderson; L Pettie, J Bett, Z Szwagrzak, Andrew McColm, A Cochrane, K Westlake, S McClymont, M Job. Subs: B Riddell, J Millburn, L Cassidy, J Beveridge, B Cullen.
Marr: C Inglis; S Bickerstaff, G Paxton, C Bickerstaff©, J Jacobson; C Sturgeon, G Baird; A Rogers, S Reekie, A Apthorpe, D Andrew, C Young, C Smith, B Johnston, B Jardine. Subs: B Sweet, F Grant, K Vallance, R Baird, J Scott.
Referee: S O’Neil
Selkirk: Tries: Welsh 2, Wheelans; Cons: Alderson.
Marr: Tries: Jacobson, Apthorope, Jardine, Andrew 2, C Bickerstaff, Scott, Grant; Cons: Sturgeon 5.
Scoring Sequence (Selkirk first): 0-5; 0-10; 0-12; 5-12; 7-12; 12-12; 12-17 (h-t) 12-22; 12-24; 12-29; 12-31; 12-38; 17-38; 17-43; 17-48; 17-50.
Man-of-the-Match: The talismanic Conor Bickerstaff was his usual dynamic self in both attack and defence for Marr and he was a perpetual nuisance for Selkirk all afternoon. He scored one try and effectively created another with his rush defence forcing Selkirk into a skewed pass which was snapped up by Scott for the final try.
Talking point: As Selkirk head coach Gordon Henderson said post-game, Marr looked like a top two side today and their execution simply gave Selkirk too steep a hill to climb. It was tight in the first half but once Marr got their bonus point, they used their collectiveness and nous to romp clear to a comfortable victory.