Selkirk 26, Stewart's/Melville FP 17
Selkirk players' pride and passion wins day in Philiphaugh nail-biter
CALLUM'S SCORING TOUCH. Selkirk openside Callum Johnston races past visiting full-back Jimmy Moran to notch his team's second try in Saturday's thrilling 26-17 victory over Stewart's /Melville FP at Philiphaugh. (Picture - Grant Kinghorn)
SO fired-up were the Stewart's/Melville FP players for Saturday's crunch match at Philiphaugh, that an outsider
wandering into the ground might have wondered which of the two teams was the one battling for Premier 2 survival.
Thankfully, and to the relief of the vociferous home crowd, Selkirk's players were in equally uncompromising mood, and throughout a pulsating contest stood toe to toe with their Edinburgh opponents to secure what could turn out to be their most crucial victory of the season.
Even the loss of prop Martin Murray after just four minutes with a groin injury failed to dishearten the Souters, and his replacement Gordon Patterson went on to have an outstanding afternoon. Yet it would be unfair to single out any individual home player for special mention, so tenaciously did the Selkirk team battle over the 80 minutes from numbers one to 15.
With bottom club Hillhead-Jordanhill also winning on Saturday, it was just as well Selkirk were at the top of their game. In fact Saturday's victory was the first time this season the Souters have managed to record back-to-back wins, and the gutsy manner in which victory was achieved will do wonders for the Philiphaugh side's self-belief and confidence.
From the first kick of the ball Stewart's/Melville showed how switched on they were - fly-half Stuart Ker changing his kick-off to the opposite side from his forwards in a pre-planned move aimed at catching the Souters unawares.
Moments later Selkirk wing Michael Jaffray had to leave the field to have four stitches inserted in a face wound (ex-skipper Guy Blair taking his place). In his absence the home team suffered a further blow when Martin Murray limped to the sidelines, but David Cassidy settled home nerves after nine minutes by kicking a penalty when the visitors were penalised for not binding at a scrum.
A thumping clearance kick by Gavin Craig was followed by an equally decisive defensive tackle from Scott Hendrie, before an illegal shoulder-charge on Alan McDowall gave Cassidy a second penalty attempt, but his kick drifted wide.
With 120 enthusiastic lady supporters (the match's official sponsors) urging them on, Selkirk's players refused to allow the visitors to settle, and a clever inside break by Gavin Craig created the platform for Patterson to be driven over the line, only for referee Andrew Healy to rule the ball had been held up.
At the next ruck Stewart's/Melville lock Stephen Dalgleish was caught off-side, allowing Cassidy to step up and slot his second successful penalty for a 6-0 lead.
Now it was the visitors' turn to put pressure on the home side. After Jimmy Moran and Cassidy had both sent penalty kicks wide, Colleges finally got on the score-sheet from a well-executed line-out drive - skipper Stuart Clark getting the touchdown.
At the next ruck Dalgleish was yellow-carded for persistent infringement, and Cassidy exacted maximum retribution from a sweetly struck penalty to put Selkirk 9-5 ahead.
With five minutes left until halftime, the game stood evenly poised. Two quick-fire tries by Selkirk dramatically swung the contest in Selkirk's favour.
A powerful blind-side break by Fraser Harkness saw the ball moved to Craig, whose perfectly judged pass found Craig Hunter in space on the left touchline. With two men still to beat, and little room in which to operate, the rangy wing tucked the ball under his left arm in textbook fashion, handed off his opposite number, before skipping past the full-back to score a superb try.
Moments later home skipper Darren Hoggan crunched Stewart's/Melville prop Areta Tanoai into touch with a shuddering tackle, and from the overthrown line-out Rory Aglen pounced to secure the loose ball. Gavin Craig was on hand to slice through the visitors' defence, with teenage openside Callum Johnston (later named Selkirk's 'Man of the Match') quickly up in support to take the off-load and race clear for a stunning try. Cassidy's conversion gave Selkirk an interval lead of 21-5.
Clearly stung by the hosts' first half ascendancy, Stewart's/Melville wasted no time in trying to regain the initiative. Harkness did well to race back and clear his lines when under fierce pressure, while Patterson managed to wrestle the ball from Dalgleish when it looked as though a score was imminent.
After 65 minutes Selkirk struck a decisive blow. Scrum-half Rob Primrose fired out a wild pass from a scrum on Stewart's/Melville's 10-metre line, and in the subsequent scramble Ker was unable to regain possession. The home breakaways arrived on the scene to win the breakdown, and Hunter had just enough room and momentum to squeeze over at the corner flag for his second try of the match.
This was the signal for Stewart's/Melville to bring on all their replacements, including Scotland under-20 threequarter Colin Goudie, and after 66 minutes the lanky threequarter burst clean through the middle to stride clear from 45 metres for a try wide on the right. Richard Borthwick's successful conversion cut the deficit to 26-12 in Selkirk's favour.
With home legs beginning to tire, and Alister Heatlie yellow-carded for preventing release at a ruck, Selkirk found themselves with their backs against the wall as Stewart's/Melville's pacy backs began to flex their muscles.
Five minutes from time Scotland under-19 forward Adrian Duncan touched down following a swift counter-attack, but Borthwick's missed conversion meant the visitors would have to score twice to deny Selkirk a famous victory.
Despite Colleges throwing everything bar the kitchen sink at Selkirk's rapidly tiring players, the Souters managed to stem the tide - no-one doing more for the Selkirk cause in the closing stages than wing-forward Neil Darling and lock Rob Taylor, both of whom turned in exceptional displays.
When referee Andrew Healy blew for no-side the home crowd erupted to acclaim a famous victory. Selkirk's pride and passion had won the day.
SELKIRK - F. Harkness, C. Hunter, D. Cassidy, S. Hendrie, M. Jaffray, G. Craig, L. Jones, A. McDowall, D. Hoggan, M. Murray, R. Taylor, R. Aglen, N. Darling, C. Johnston, A. Heatlie. Replacements - G. Patterson, R. Crockatt, M. McVie, G. Blair.