Selkirk 29, Heriot's FP 11

Selkirk players' spirit shines through the mud and murk as high-flying Heriot's brought down to earth

TRY TIME. Referee Graham Knox raises his arm to award Gavin Craig's bonus point try on Saturday. Team-mates Michael McVie, Neil Darling and Lee Jones are on hand to salute the fly-half's score.

THAT Selkirk's game against Heriot's FP managed to go ahead at all was something of a minor miracle, given the glutinous state of the Philiphaugh pitch. Every bit as phenomenal was the way Selkirk's players then proceeded to defy the mudbath conditions to run in no fewer than five tries… then keep their own try line intact for the whole of the second half when facing not only the elements, but the power and skill of Premier One's top try-scoring team.

"This was a tremendous performance by the boys," Selkirk coach Kevin Barrie told the web site after the game, "and every player in the squad showed huge character today. Despite going behind early doors we kept our shape and didn't panic, and as the game went on we grew in confidence and took our chances when they came.

"Three of our tries this afternoon materialised out of defence. It's an area we've worked hard on this season, and the boys' efforts are now paying dividends. An even bigger test lies ahead of us at Millbrae next week, but I'm confident the players will again rise to the challenge, just as they have done throughout the Premier One campaign."

In the opening exchanges of Saturday's match Selkirk looked anything but a confident outfit. Despite playing with the gusting wind at their backs, the home side struggled to assert any kind of authority, losing their own line-out ball and flinging loose passes when tight possession was called for. Heriot's took full advantage to open up a 6-0 lead in the opening 10 minutes through two Graham Wilson penalties.

Worse was to follow, when home number eight Ryan Crockatt was yellow-carded for persistent infringement at the breakdown. At the very next scrum Heriot's number eight Jamie Syme picked up and released Wilson down the blind side, with wing David McCall bursting clear to score in the right-hand corner.

Still rattled and a man short, the home side finally began to settle, with Lee Jones racing after Gavin Craig's positional kick and successfully forcing Heriot's full-back Colin Goudie into touch, before Rory Aglen stole line-out ball from the visitors to give hope to Selkirk's huge support around the ground.

The return of Crockatt to the field put fresh heart into the home pack, and a series of well controlled pick-and-drives took Selkirk deep into the visitors' territory. From a scrum outside Heriot's 22, Crockatt picked up and burst over the gain line, and when the ball was whipped along the line to Fraser Harkness, the full-back confidently stepped inside his man to score wide on the left. McVie's conversion sailed over to cut the deficit to 11-7 in the visitors' favour.

In the 33rd minute Gavin Craig was body-checked off the ball by Heriot's giant lock Ian Nimmo, and from the penalty Michael McVie found touch 10 metres from the visitors' line. Rory Aglen's clean line-out take then saw the home pack rumble over the try line, only for the referee to rule the ball had been held up. From the resultant scrum Gavin Craig and Ross Nixon were both stopped short, but Martin Murray was on hand to power over for a try against his former club and edge Selkirk 12-11in front.

Roared on by their supporters, the home side stepped up the pace. Gordon Paterson's well judged pass to Fraser Harkness saw the No. 15 burst 30 metres down the stand touchline before being stopped, and shortly afterwards Ross Nixon's delicate chip over the Heriot's try line saw Scott Hendrie just pipped to the touchdown by Stuart Bell.

A brave charge-down by Nixon just before the interval kept Heriot's pinned inside their own 22, and when visiting skipper Tam McVie was sin-binned for a ruck infringement, Selkirk sensibly opted for a scrum six metres from the visitors' try line. A knock-on meant this scoring chance was lost.

However, in the dying seconds of the half another storming run by Ryan Crockatt put pressure on the Heriot's defence, and when the ball was moved wide to Lee Jones on the left he somehow managed to keep himself in play long enough to touch the ball down next to the corner flag. The halftime whistle sounded straight afterwards, with Selkirk now 17-11 ahead and very much back in the game.

Home coach Kevin Barrie made three substitutions at the interval, with Ian Walling and Rob Taylor replacing Stuart Forrest and Martin Murray, while pro. scrum-half Ben Meyer was sent on to take over from Callum Johnston in the back row. Despite facing the strong wind, it was Selkirk who made the livelier start, Lee Jones and Gavin Craig both coming within inches of scoring as Heriot's players found themselves forced into desperate defence.

Five minutes into the second period the visitors had yet another kick charged down while attempting to clear their lines. Selkirk won possession at the next set piece, and although fly-half Gavin Craig's grubber kick was meant to land in the path of Lee Jones, the ball became stuck in the mud and Craig himself dived over to touch the ball down for a bonus point try. McVie's conversion sailed over from the touchline, putting Selkirk 24-11 in front.

For the next 20 minutes it was the Selkirk players' turn to go on the defensive, as Heriot's battled resolutely to get back into the game. However, by now the home side's tails were most definitely up, and time and again the city team's runners came crashing to the ground as the mud-soaked Souters - with Eddie Gauché deserving special praise for soldiering on despite having a heavy cold - took man and ball time and again to keep the fired-up Goldenacre team in check.

Twice the visitors' forwards were held up over the line, while on another occasion a knock-on in the act of scoring from a pushover attempt let Selkirk off the hook. Thumping clearances by Craig and Meyer from within the dead ball area helped ease the unrelenting pressure, before a knock-on by Richard Mill then scuppered a particularly promising Heriot's move.

Ten minutes from full-time Fraser Harkness turned defence into attack with a blistering 60-metre run up the middle of the field from just in front of Selkirk's try line, but Neil Darling (who had an immense afternoon) just failed to hold on to the full-back's off-load under pressure from Goudie.

With black clouds now gathering behind the cricket field, and the first spots of rain beginning to fall, it was left to inside centre Ross Armstrong to set the seal on a famous victory. The former Greens player somehow managed to get a fingertip to Jamie Syme's chip-kick and deflected the ball up into the air, before calming gathering it in and sprinting 30 metres to the line for Selkirk's fifth try.

The referee's whistle sounded soon afterwards, bringing the curtain down on a magnificent display by the whole Selkirk team, and moving the club into second spot in Premier One - a remarkable achievement by a team many had predicted would struggle in the top flight.

Finally, full marks must go to groundsman Alan Seal, ground convener Eric Forster and committee member Dave Rodgerson for so assiduously working on the pitch in the hours before kick-off to ensure the contest could go ahead. Their hard work was a foretaste of the tremendous effort put into the match by the home players - teamwork and dedication of the highest order.

SELKIRK - F. Harkness, S. Hendrie, R. Nixon, R. Armstrong, L. Jones, G. Craig, M. McVie, G. Patterson, S. Forrest, M. Murray, R. Aglen, E. Gauché, C. Johnston, N. Darling, R. Crockatt. Replacements: B. Meyer, G. Blair, R. Taylor, I. Walling, S. Willet.

Referee - G. Knox (Greenock Wanderers).

ROSS SHOWS WHO'S BOSS! Inside centre Ross Armstrong dives over the line for Selkirk's fifth try in Saturday's victory over Heriot's FP. Wing Scott Hendrie gets ready to add his congratulations. (Photos: Grant Kinghorn)