Melrose 20, Selkirk 23

Double delight for Selkirk players as Melrose's winning streak brought to an end

THEY SHALL NOT PASS. Selkirk stand-off Gavin Craig shows the spirit and determination which helped the Philiphaugh team pull off a stunning victory over Melrose at the Greenyards on Saturday.

HIGH STAKES. Rory Aglen rises high above the opposition to win clean line-out ball for Selkirk in Saturday's match at the Greenyards. (Photos: Grant Kinghorn)

IT is 13 long years since Selkirk last won at the Greenyards, a fact which helped make Saturday's Premier One victory over Melrose taste all the sweeter. Not only did the Souters' 23-20 triumph bring to an end Melrose's unbeaten run of eight matches, it also got the Philiphaugh club's defence of its BSPC Border League title off to the best possible start.

"I don't think a lot of people realised that points for both Premier One and the Border League were at stake today," said Selkirk coach Kevin Barrie after the match, "which made it doubly important that we get a victory. Winning the Border League last season meant a huge amount to everyone at Philiphaugh, and we certainly don't intend giving up the title without a fight.

"The boys played with a lot of heart today. Before the game I told them that coming to grounds like the Greenyards is what playing in Premier One is all about. It's a big occasion, and every member of the team has to stand up and be counted to meet that challenge head-on. The players did just that today, and thoroughly deserved their win."

The most crucial passage of Saturday's riveting contest came midway through the first half, when Selkirk were down to 13 men following the sin-binning in quick succession of Neil Darling and Sean Crombie. Trailing 3-6 at this point, Melrose pounded away at the visitors' line to try and gain an advantage, but their attacks foundered on some fanatical defending by Selkirk's short-handed team.

The Souters even had the audacity to increase their lead during this period, Ryan Crockatt breaking blind to send Lee Jones scampering up the left-hand touchline for a superb try, converted from the touchline by an equally fine kick from Michael McVie. There were to be many more twists and turns in a hugely exciting match, but Selkirk's refusal to buckle during the time Melrose boasted a two-man advantage set the tone for the rest of the match.

With almost every other game in the Borders falling victim to the weather, Melrose's ground staff had done a good job in ensuring Saturday's fixture could go ahead as planned. The home team kicked off into the sun, and it wasn't long before Selkirk wing Lee Jones set alarm bells ringing in Melrose's ranks with a 50-metre burst that was halted just 10 metres short of the home try line.

In the ninth minute Selkirk went 3-0 up from a McVie penalty after Melrose's forwards had been caught off-side in the wake of Scott Hendrie's midfield break. Almost immediately home skipper Scott Wight levelled the scores when Selkirk hands were spotted in a ruck, but in the 13th minute McVie's second penalty kick crept over the bar to put the visitors back in front.

Soon afterwards visiting skipper Neil Darling was shown a yellow card for what the stand-side touch-judge deemed over-rigorous rucking. This was the signal for Melrose to step up a gear, and a strong diagonal run by James King was stopped under Selkirk's goalposts by a crucial last-ditch tackle from Fraser Harkness.

Selkirk's large band of travelling supporters then had to endure a tense few moments as Melrose pinned the visitors back on their own try line, and things looked distinctly bleak for the visitors when hooker Sean Crombie was sin-binned for retaliation after spotting a piece of foul play on a team-mate. Once again the spirit of this Selkirk team shone through, and Melrose's attacks drew a blank.

On the half-hour mark Scott Hendrie had a golden opportunity to score after hacking the ball over Melrose's try line, but Macey somehow managed to sprint back to just beat Hendrie to the touchdown. Selkirk's first try was only temporarily delayed, however. Teenage hooker Stuart Forrest managed to win a strike against the head, with number eight 'Joe' Crockatt picking up and releasing Lee Jones, who brushed off Macey's challenge on his way to scoring in the corner.

Just before halftime Wight kicked his second penalty to cut the visitors' lead to 13-6, and despite Melrose applying yet more pressure on their opponents' try line, there was no further scoring before the interval.

At this stage Selkirk brought on Simon Cross to take over at number eight from the hard-working Ryan Crockatt, and the Edinburgh pro. almost found himself on the score sheet when Gavin Craig's scything break took play to within a few feet of the Melrose try line, but the No. 10 was tackled in possession with Cross unmarked outside him.

Two minutes later Selkirk did get their try. Ross Nixon's inside break was carried on by Cross, who checked before sending out a huge pass left to the unmarked Ross Armstrong, who sprinted 10 metres to the line and touched the ball down after a swallow-dive from a height which normally requires a pilot's licence.

Stung by this setback, Melrose finally gave their supporters something to cheer about when Wight's intelligently placed grubber kick off the outside of his boot saw wing Callum Anderson beat the Selkirk cover to touch down in the right-hand corner. Wight's fine conversion cut the Selkirk lead to 18-13.

After Melrose failed to clear their lines following a missed penalty attempt by McVie, Fraser Harkness came close to bursting through the home defence in typically bombastic style. Moments later it was Selkirk's turn to be on the receiving end, and only a brilliant tackle by McVie stopped Wight from scoring.

With play swinging from end to end, Cross charged down Wight's kick to set up Edinburgh team-mate Sean Crombie with a try-scoring chance, but the hooker was just stopped short. This pressure was turned into points soon afterwards.

Former Selkirk prop Richard Higgins received a yellow card for a high tackle on Crombie, and from the resultant penalty Selkirk kicked the ball to the home five-metre line. A clean line-out take by Rory Aglen, in fine form throughout, saw the ball mauled towards to the home try line, and Rob Taylor was able to touch it down for the visitors' third try.

Stung by this reversal, Melrose wasted no time in cutting the deficit. Full-back Macey had proved a handful for Selkirk's defenders all afternoon, and another jinking run by the No. 15 led to a try for fellow Australian James Lew. Wight's successful conversion narrowed the gap to just three points, setting the scene for a dramatic final 10 minutes.

A painful rib injury sustained by wing Scott Hendrie saw Michael Rutherford take the field, and the fly-half was immediately pressed into defensive duties as Melrose went all-out for the clinching score. Once again Selkirk's battle-hardened troops managed to hold their nerve as the seconds ticked away, with the final whistle signalling a rare but deserved Selkirk double over their hosts.

This week another Borders thriller looks on the cards when Hawick come visiting Philiphaugh on Premier One business. As befits a mid-December fixture, it promises to be an absolute cracker!

MELROSE - J. Macey, C. Anderson, J. Lew, J. King, D. Whiteford, S. Wight, S. McCormick, S. Williams, L. Gibson, R. Higgins, G. Dodds, K. Palepoi, B. Wallace, J. Dalziel, R. Miller. Replacements: N. Beavon, R. Ovens, B. Runciman, C. Hardie, A. Jessop.

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

Referee - Graham Know.