Selkirk 17, Melrose 24

Selkirk's fighting spirit runs Melrose close

THIS cracking match illustrated just why the notion of a winter shutdown has received so little support in the Borders. The biggest crowd seen at Philiphaugh this season were treated to a game brimming with passion and pride, with both teams giving their all to secure the Southern Reporter Border League points. A try deep in injury time allowed Selkirk to salvage a richly deserved bonus point, while Melrose had the satisfaction of notching their first victory in the competition, following last week's reversal at Netherdale.The visitors' power and pace both forward and aft kept Selkirk's defenders at full stretch throughout the afternoon, and the home players' willingness to tackle themselves to a virtual standstill will have pleased their coaches no end.
Playing with the strong, gusting wind at their backs, Selkirk found themselves deep in Melrose territory in the opening exchanges thanks to two thumping line kicks from fly-half Michael Rutherford. However, the visitors soon gave a glimpse of their attacking capability when Barry Watson sprinted clear, only to be brought down by an equally impressive cover-tackle by David Cassidy. When Jarrod Murphy was penalised for not releasing at a ruck wide on the right-hand touchline, Rutherford judged his penalty kick to perfection to put Selkirk 3-0 up after 11 minutes.
On the 20-minute mark Melrose caught Selkirk off-guard following a turnover in front of the grandstand. Centre Jamie Murray tore though the home cover on a 40-metre burst, before passing inside to fellow centre Barry Watson, who scored under the posts. Scott Ruthven's conversion put the visitors 7-3 ahead. Melrose were soon pressing once more on the home try line, but an infringement by Graham Dodds allowed Selkirk to clear the danger.
Roared on by their supporters, Selkirk regained the lead in the 31st minute. Rory Aglen stole Melrose line-out ball, and a penalty allowed Rutherford to force a line-out on the visitors' 22-metre line. The indefatigable Neil Darling won possession, with the referee eventually awarding a scrum to Selkirk. Alister Heatlie picked up at number eight, the ball was quickly transferred to Rutherford, and full-back Fraser Harkness steamed into the line to burst through the visitors' defence and score near the posts. Rutherford's conversion made it 10-7 to Selkirk.
No-one epitomised the home team's do-or-die spirit better than Ben Rawcliffe. Just before halftime the Kiwi prop somehow managed to match Melrose wing Geoff Caldwell stride for stride, and clear the danger after the Greenyards speedster had chased after his own quickly taken 22 drop-out. Now facing the elements as well as a fired-up Melrose team, Selkirk continued to frustrate the visitors with some dogged defending, Denver Rumney in particular proving a thorn in the division one side's flesh. A Ruthven penalty in the 52nd minute drew the scores level, and although the wing missed a similar kick soon afterwards, he atoned by converting flanker Jamie Murray's try wide out on the left.
Within a matter of minutes the visitors had gone further ahead when Caldwell charged down Harkness' clearance kick and gleefully picked up the loose ball to dive over. Determined to salvage something from the game, Selkirk's players gathered themselves for an all-out assault on the visitors' try line. Darling, Jeffrey, Aglen and replacement Gavin Craig all came close to breaching the Melrose defence, before Martin Murray finally managed to burrow his way over the line for a gutsy try.
With Harkness steadying the ball for Rutherford's conversion attempt into the strong wind, the Edinburgh student kept his nerve to send the kick between the posts and secure his team a well-earned bonus point. The only downside to the afternoon came in the shape of injuries to both scrum-halves - Michael McVie sustaining a hand knock, and Philip Robson a painful knee injury. Each player was taken to the BGH for X-rays.

SELKIRK - F. Harkness, M. Jaffray, A. Lyall, D. Cassidy, C. Craig, M. Rutherford, M. McVie, B. Rawcliffe, E. Robbie, M. Murray, N. Darling, R. Aglen, S. Jeffrey, D. Rumney, A. Heatlie. Replacements (all used): R. Crockatt, I. Walling, R. Taylor, G. Craig.

MELROSE - J. Murphy, G. Caldwell, J. Murray, B. Watson, S. Ruthven, S. Wight, P. Robson, R. Higgins, G. Innes, I. Cornwall, G. Dodds, S. Aitken, C. Robson, J. Murray, R. Miller. Replacements (all used): A. Clark, M. Ovens, L. Robson, S. Johnston.

Referee - D. Dods (Gala).

Photo: Alister Heatlie releases the ball to the backs, protected by Scrum Half Michael McVie from his opposite number.

Photo: taken by Grant Kinghorn.