Stewart's/Melville FP 12, Selkirk 14

Harkness the hero as never-say-die Selkirk edge past Colleges

SELKIRK returned to winning ways in dramatic fashion at Inverleith on Saturday, where an injury-time drop-goal by Fraser Harkness saw the visitors clinch an outstanding victory over Stewart's/Melville FP.

What made the win even sweeter, was the fact this was Fraser Harkness' first drop-goal in a 15-a-side match. "I've landed a few while playing sevens, but never in a proper game. Coach Brian Cassidy had told us at training on Thursday that instead of kicking the ball behind the opposition when inside their 22, it might be a better idea to try a drop-goal. His advice paid off!"

This was also the first time the home side had fallen behind in the match, and when the referee blew for no-side seconds after the restart, there was no disguising the elation felt by the Selkirk team and its large following of cock-a-hoop supporters in the grandstand.

Missing three players through injury - Alistair Lyall, Scott Hendrie and Michal Adamzcewski - Selkirk were fortunate that centre Alistair Dickson was able to return to duty after a four-week spell on the sidelines with a cracked rib. The former pro. player had a terrific game, repeatedly breaking the gain line to carve out space and time for his fellow threequarters.

Young fly-half Gavin Craig was another of Selkirk's stars on the day, never once shirking a tackle and always alive to the half-chance in attack. Up front Rory Aglen dominated the line-out exchanges, while the whole pack battled hard for each other against a lively and heavier Colleges eight.

However, perhaps the most pleasing aspect of Selkirk's performance was the discipline shown by the team. After a spate of sin-binnings in recent weeks, not a single yellow card was waved in the direction of a Selkirk player, with the visitors conceding just a handful of penalties throughout the 80 minutes.

It was Stewart's/Melville who made all the running in the early exchanges. From the kick-off lock Alex Clarke broke free up the right-hand touchline, and after a 45-metre dash, cleverly offloaded to skipper Stuart Clark just yards short of the Selkirk try line. Luckily for the visitors, the ball was knocked forward and the danger cleared.

After 17 minutes Stewart's/Melville did take the lead through a try from wing Alex Cox. Harkness' speculative kick into Colleges' territory was gathered by home full-back Richard Borthwick, who burst two tackles and made ground up the grandstand touchline. A series of rucks inside Selkirk's 22 saw the ball moved right, with a miss pass from McCall allowing Cox to go over in the corner.

Shortly afterwards a high tackle on Lee Jones gave David Cassidy the opportunity to cut the deficit, but his penalty kick rebounded off a post. However, 90 seconds later the outside centre had a chance to make amends when Aglen was dangerously dumped in midair after cleanly taking Goudie's 22 drop-out kick. This time Cassidy made no mistake from the other side of the field.

In the 24th minute Stewart's/Melville struck again. Clark sent a grubber kick behind the visitors' defence, and quickly followed up to fly-hack the ball over Selkirk's try line. The ball squirted from the clutches of both Clark and the diving Harkness, allowing Colin Goudie to touch it down for an opportunist try. Borthwick's successful conversion put Colleges 12-3 in front.

Unfortunately Selkirk openside Denver Rumney sustained a painful knee knock in the build-up to the try, having to be helped to the touchline and playing no further part in the contest. His place on the flank was taken by skipper Darren Hoggan, with replacement Ian Walling assuming the hooker's berth.

On the half-hour mark Selkirk managed to cut the deficit to 12-6 thanks to another well-struck penalty from Cassidy, after a Stewart's/Melville player had been penalised for straying offside at a breakdown. There was no further scoring before the halftime whistle.

After the break both sides had chances to put more points on the board. Stewart's/Melville almost went over in the right-hand corner, and a series of line-outs and scrums on the Selkirk try line ensued. Solid first-time tackling, followed by a powerful surge from Martin Murray, eventually helped lift the siege.

The visitors then struck a decisive blow. At a scrum on the halfway line, Alister Heatlie picked up and fed Michael McVie. The nippy scrum-half broke blind and passed the ball inside to Harkness. The full-back chipped towards the home try line, and replacement wing Bruce Armstrong was quickly up in support - coolly dribbling the ball before scooping it up and crashing over for a try.

Cassidy's conversion attempt drifted wide, and with the minutes ticking away and Stewart's/Melville still 12-11 ahead, it looked as though Selkirk's frustrating run of near-misses was going to continue.

The visiting forwards then showed tremendous resilience to repulse a series of assaults on their try line, culminating in a 35-metre penalty attempt by Borthwick which just dropped under the Selkirk crossbar.

Deep in injury time, Alistair Dickson took a quick tap penalty outside Selkirk's 22 and broke up to the 10-metre line, where he found Gavin Craig in support. The No. 10 continued the move for a further 25 metres, managing to find Neil Darling on his right, who then off-loaded to Alister Heatlie.

The ball was taken forward at the next ruck by the indefatigable Craig, with Fraser Harkness positioning himself in the vacant fly-half slot. The ball was duly shipped to the former Selkirk Youth Club skipper, who kept his nerve to send over the match-winning drop-goal. For once fortune had favoured the brave, and seconds later the whistle blew, allowing Selkirk's players and coaches to leave the Inverleith pitch positively radiating relief.

SELKIRK - F. Harkness, R. Nixon, D. Cassidy, A. Dickson, L. Jones, G. Craig, M. McVie, A. McDowall, D. Hoggan, M. Murray, R. Taylor, R. Aglen, N. Darling, D. Rumney, A. Heatlie. Replacements (all used) - I. Walling, G. Patterson, S. Renwick, B. Armstrong.

Referee - A. Healey (GHA).

HEAD-TO-HEAD. The Selkirk front row prepares to scrum down against their Stewart's/Melville FP opponents in Saturday's Premier 2 match at Inverleith. (Picture: Grant Kinghorn)

GRIN AND BARE IT! Try scorer Bruce Armstrong and match-winner Fraser Harkness make a clean breast of it in the Inverleith changing rooms after Saturday's thrilling 14-12 victory over Stewart's/Melville FP. (Picture © Playboy Magazine)