Stirling County 28
GRANT McRAE @ The Greenyards
A DRAMATIC, and controversial, last-minute penalty by Jonny Hope gave Stirling County victory in this lively Charity Shield encounter at the Greenyards. Having seen a commanding half-time lead eroded by a fierce Melrose fightback, County had slipped behind four minutes from full-time, but when Melrose were penalised for a dangerous tackle on Hamilton Burr, Hope stepped up to edge his side back in front.
The question was whether the tackle on Burr constituted a ‘spear tackle’. Burr was lifted past horizontal, but the Melrose players, realising the risk, made a clear effort to put him back down safely. The decision caused bewilderment among Melrose officials, but Rob Chrystie, their coach had no complaint about the overall outcome, admitting that County deserved to win.
Peter Jericevich, the County player/coach, wasn’t minded to disagree. “When you put a lot of work in, it instils confidence, and there’s a lot of that in this group. We appraoched the game with no fear. We’re on a better place than where we finished last season.”
Having watched his side win a domestic double last season, one Greenyards diehard suggested that the season-opening BT Charity Shield should actually have been contested by Melrose and Melrose seconds. The comment was probably tongue-in-cheek (you can never quite be sure in the Borders), but as Stirling County ‘earned’ their place in this game by being on the wrong end of a 45-12 hammering by Melrose in the BT Cup final, he might just have had a point.
But the suggestion that this would be an easy stroll in the sunshine for Melrose clearly wasn’t one that County were ready to accept. The Bridgehaugh lot had vengeance in mind as they made their way down the A7, an they tore into their tormentors like men possessed. You could measure their determination by the fact they lost two players to the sin-bin for their over-vigorous approach midway through the first half, but they shook off the setback, conceded no points while short-handed, and powered back with two tries to hold a 20-7 lead at the interval.
When Charlie Dineen slipped over in the left corner to add another five points to County’s tally five minutes after the break, Melrose truly had a mountain to climb. And given that the Charity Shield is, essentially, a pre-season friendly, you would have forgiven them for abandoning any thoughts of reaching the summit at that point. To their enormous credit, though, the double champions refused to give in, and a smart try by Murdo McAndrew, the former Clermont ‘espoir’, renewed hopes of a home win.
Two tries by Fraser Thomson changed the complexion of the game entirely. When Craig Jackson converted the second of them, Melrose held a one-point lead with just a few minutes left. They looked home and dry, but County, not for the first time, had other ideas, and Hope stepped up to give them their victory and the first silverware of the season.
Earlier, County had got things underway with a Jonny Hope penalty after nine minutes. They probably deserved their lead at that point, but Melrose responded by cranking up the intensity and dominated the next 15 minutes. It was during that time that Melrose claimed their first try through Patrick Anderson and County’s Craig Robertson and Alasdair Mackie were sent to the sin-bin, but the visitors coped wonderfully, taking what looked like a decisive lead with tries by Jericevich and No 8 Ally Mackie.
Suddenly the momentum was all with County. Melrose struggled to get their phases together, while their visitors played a smart and fluid offloading game. However, it petered out after their third try and Melrose dominated most of the second half. Most, but not the critical moment at the end.
Melrose: F Thomson; G Wood, P Anderson, T Klein, L Mvelase-Julyan; C Jackson, M McAndrew; G Shiells, R Ferguson, R McLeod, A Welsh, A Runciman, R Knott, R Darge, G Runciman. Subs used: C Crooshank, C Wilde, D Colvine, B McLean, S Hutchinson.
Stirling County: J Hope; M Lamb, C Robertson, G Hughes, C Dineen; A Goudie, P Jericevich; R Chies, R Kennedy, M Walker, S Yarrow, H Burr, S McDonald, A Mackie. Subs used: G Holborn, C Henderson, G Arnott, B Gilchrist
Referee: S Grove-White
Melrose: Tries: Anderson, McAndrew, Thomson 2; Cons: Jackson 3.
Stirling County: Tries: Jericevich, Mackie, Dineen; Cons: Hope 2; Pens: Hope 3.
Scoring sequence (Melrose first): 0-3; 5-3; 7-3; 7-8; 7-10; 7-15; 7-17; 7-20 (h-T), 7-25; 12-25; 14-25; 19-25; 21-25; 26-25; 26-28
Yellow cards –
Stirling County: Robertson, Mackie
Man of the Match: Recruited by County from Dundee, Ally Mackie could be vital for County’s prospects this season. Against Melrose,the big number 8 carried ball effectively and when given a tilt at the line made sure no defender was going to stop his moment of glory.
Talking Point: Was County’s winning penalty the correct call? Hamilton Burr, was lifted off his feet and past horizontal by a couple of Melrose players, but they clearly made an effort to put him down safely.