Peebles 14, Selkirk 20

Photo G. Kinghorn

AFTER six successive away defeats in the BT Premiership, Selkirk broke their duck in rousing style at The Gytes on Saturday, defeating Peebles in a match brimming with passion and drama.
With both clubs struggling to escape the Division Two relegation zone, this was always going to be a no-holds-barred contest, with referee Grant Wilson drawing on his experience as a Strathclyde police officer to keep both teams in law-abiding mode.
The home side suffered a devastating blow when scrum-half Drew Moore - fresh from replacements duty with the Borders pro. team in Llanelli - had to be stretchered from the field in the 10th minute with a serious knee injury. Backs player/coach Dan Gordon took over behind the scrum, with Calum Anderson coming off the bench.
Having been caught cold in their last three outings, Selkirk skipper Scott Jeffrey had impressed upon his players the need for an explosive start, and the visitors duly obliged. Kiwi prop Ben Rawcliffe led the way in the opening exchanges with a rampaging charge to within 10 metres of the home try line, following a neat chip ahead from Michael Rutherford.
The breakthrough for the visitors came in the 16th minute. Rory Aglen won line-out possession, and the ball was carried forward by Rawcliffe on the peel. An Alistair Lyall break up the middle set up a series of rucks deep inside Peebles' '22', and from one of these Martin Murray emerged to bulldoze his way past a couple of defenders and stretch over the line for a try. Rutherford converted.
Centre David Cassidy marked his return to midfield with several penetrating runs, but some dogged defence by the home side kept Selkirk at bay. Peebles had the chance to cut the deficit with a 28th minute penalty from Chris Noble, but his attempt was wide of the posts.
Another Cassidy break and a neat scrum pick-up from Alister Heatlie took play to the halfway line, and when Peebles were penalised for entering a ruck from the side, Rutherford stepped up to slot home a superbly struck penalty kick from 40 metres.
Three minutes later the visitors increased their lead in spectacular fashion. Number eight Alister Heatlie fed Michael McVie from a scrum, and full-back Fraser Harkness timed his blindside intrusion to perfection and set off down the grandstand touchline.
The former Youth Club skipper sidestepped his way past three would-be tacklers, before cutting inside last man Don Anderson and haring over the line for a breath-taking solo try - his seventh of the season for Selkirk.
Rutherford's conversion increased Selkirk's lead to 17-0, spurring Peebles to an all-out assault on the visitors' try line. A big hit by Denver Rumney on home skipper James White signalled the Souters' steely resolve to keep their try line intact, and there was no further scoring before halftime.
After the break it was Peebles' turn to apply the pressure, and when the home pack set up a rolling maul from a line-out that pushed the Selkirk eight 25 metres towards their own line, it became clear that this was the tactic Peebles would use to wear down the visitors' resistance.
The appearance from the replacements bench of Peebles war horse Jim Currie only added to the visitors' troubles, as the Peebles pack set up maul after maul to gain huge chunks of yardage at Selkirk's expense.
In the 55th minute Rory Aglen was yellow-carded for a line-out offence, and during his absence Peebles were awarded a penalty try after Selkirk were deemed to have deliberately collapsed a scrum on their own try line. Keith Nisbet kicked the conversion.
Breaks upfield by Cassidy, Rumney and Rob Taylor relieved the pressure as Peebles again turned the screw, and Selkirk fly-half Michael Rutherford took advantage of a Peebles ruck infringement to land a penalty from in front of the posts to put his side 20-7 ahead.
In the 71st minute lock Rory Aglen received a red card for a second technical offence - lying over the ball - and left the field with Peebles camped on the Selkirk try line.
The home team's pressure finally took its toll when the ball was moved wide to Zane Gardiner on the right, who went over in the corner for his team's second try. Nisbet's excellent conversion cut the deficit to six points, setting the stage for a frenetic finale as both teams battled it out for priceless league points.
At the end of the day it was the determination of 14-man Selkirk which eventually prevailed, thanks to a do-or-die defensive display epitomised by the phenomenal work rate of Neil Darling, whose fearsome commitment to the Selkirk cause is never less than heroic, and whose gutsy display earned him the sponsor's 'Man of the Match' award.
Christmas at Philiphaugh had just become a whole lot cheerier.

SELKIRK - F. Harkness, F. Jack, A. Lyall, M. Jaffray, B. Armstrong, M. Rutherford, M. McVie, B. Rawcliffe, E. Robbie (rep. I. Walling 70 mins), M. Murray (rep. R. Taylor 42 mins), N. Darling, R. Taylor, S. Jeffrey, D. Rumney, A. Heatlie (rep. R. Crockatt 59 mins).

Referee - G. Wilson (Strathclyde Police).

 THEY KNOW THE SCORE! Try scorers Martin Murray and Fraser Harkness celebrate Selkirk's vital 20-14 victory over Peebles after the final whistle at The Gytes on Saturday.