ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards
MELROSE regained the Waverley Cup after two years of the trophy residing at Netherdale by defeating their arch-rivals and close neighbours, Gala, in a Boxing Day clash that attracted a large crowd to the Greenyards, suggesting that club rugby still has its audience.
“I don’t think I’ve played in front of such a large crowd for a long time. But that’s the nature of the Boxing Day derby. It was great to see both sides of the ground packed and behind the posts as well,” was the pointed observation of Gala back-row, Craig Keddie, who has returned to the Maroons after several seasons with Boroughmuir Bears in Super Series rugby.
In Keddie’s view, Melrose won because they were perhaps more aware and more accurate at the right time. He said: “Melrose took their chances. Simple as that. We had a lot of possession first half and probably had the edge in the first half but didn’t convert it into points on the scoreboard. We did in the last ten minutes of the game. Probably a case of too little too late.
“If we were being honest with ourselves, it was the detail round the set-piece that let us down, particularly the line-out. Maybe that’s because it’s been a bit disjointed in the last few weeks – we’ve not had a game recently – but we’ve got a good run in the New Year and we can sort out these problems. We’ve got Melrose next [on 13th January] and it’s at Netherdale.”
Melrose, too, had the benefit of players with exposure to the semi-pro game but crucially to a much greater extent and overall their collective experience tilted the balance of the game. But for much of the match there was little between the two sides, both ending with two tries apiece.
The victorious Melrose skipper, Struan Hutchison, acknowledged that victory was by a fine margin. He said: “Close game. Boxing Day is always going to be like that. We were pleased to get over the line. In the first half we got ourselves into good positions but passes didn’t quite stick. The half-time message was to keep at it and we scored first in the second half. But Gala hung in there for the full 80 minutes.”
Although this was not a league match, it was still a pointer to the ambitions of each of the two Border clubs in the National One Championship. “Ayr won the league before Christmas, so our focus is to try to finish in second place,” said Hutchison, adding: “Strangely, our next league game is against Gala, away, and that’s going to be another feisty affair.
“And then we have three or four games after that. Hopefully we can pick up points in the remaining games. We’ve then got the Border League to go for and, of course, the sevens. If I’m being honest we’ll probably start building for next year,” concluded the winning captain.
Melrose looked the more determined of the two sides in the opening minutes but could not convert initial pressure into profitable points. Having failed to do so, the hosts then retreated into themselves as Gala gained confidence, but the visitors too found it difficult to deliver the breakthrough try, despite some well-worked midfield moves.
Then, as the possibility of a nil points first half loomed, Melrose found the confidence to attack meaningfully as centre Roly Brett pulled the defence wide before linking with second-row Elliot Ruthven, who showed good pace over 30 metres to romp home for an unconverted try.
A huge touch-finder from Hutchison put Melrose on the front foot once again and it looked as though the Greenyards men would strike again only for flanker Craig Fairbairn to be stopped inches from the line.
Minutes into the second half, Melrose again came close to scoring when scrum-half Douglas Crawford broke clear following a driven line-out, but his pass to the unmarked Fairbairn was intercepted by Gala wing Ben Gill.
Fairbairn, however, did not have long to wait before scoring his due try, the flanker chasing a kick by Hutchison after the referee had signalled a penalty. This time Hutchison added the conversion before kicking a penalty goal for a 15-0 lead.
Gala brought on their talented centre Dan Nicholson, and minutes later the powerful midfield player rewarded the decision with a solo try after beating three defenders on his way to the line.
Then, sensing a possible upset, Gala stepped up the pace, putting pressure on the Melrose line, ending with Gill diving over from close range for the final score of the match but not enough to prevent the home supporters from erupting into celebration.
Melrose: D Crawford; K Clark, C Spence, R Brett, M Bertram; S Hutchison, D Crawford; W Owen, B McLean, G Mukendi, D Cockburn, E Ruthven, C Fairburn, W Ferrie, L Gaddie Subs S Fairbairn, A Kirk, T Brown, R Lindsay, S Clark, J Brown, B Colvine, H Weir.
Gala: M Wilson; B Gill, Callum Pate, G Mein, R Mitchell; R Kerr, J Niven; M Angus, J Easson, K Scott, R Irvine, G McCrum, A Dun, L Scott, C Keddie Subs R Tod, N Turnbull, Cammy Pate, S Smith, D Kerr, M Brown, D Nicholson, B Simmonds.
Referee: Gordon Glashan
Melrose: Tries Ruthven, Fairbairn; Con: Hutchison: Pen Hutchison
Gala: Tries: Nicholson, Gill.
Scoring Sequence (Melrose first): 5-0 (h-t) 10-0; 12-0; 15-0; 15-5; 15-10.
Yellow cards –
Man-of-the-Match: Home stand-off Struan Hutchison has vast experience in the game including representing Scotland in age-grade rugby and playing Super6. And it showed as he was the key player pulling the strings for Melrose and crucially striking accurately off the tee when it mattered.
Talking point: Always good to see a Borders derby game and this one lived up to expectations, entertaining a crowd eager to watch rugby even if the cynics might suggest that the folk gathering at the Greenyards were simply bored out of their skulls after a long build-up to Christmas and the incarceration on the day itself.