Selkirk 14, West of Scotland 14

Honours even, but passion and pride of West players almost proves too much for Selkirk


MAIN MAN. Selkirk wing Lee Jones, who was later named Four Seasons Forestry's 'Man of the Match', finds himself up against daunting odds as he tries to break through West's blanket defence.



SELKIRK were almost hoisted by their own petard at Philiphaugh on Saturday, where a stuffy young West of Scotland side displayed the kind of pride and passion which has been the hallmark of Selkirk's home performances this season, but which on Saturday seemed to have been appropriated by the visitors.

Both sides had chances to snatch victory in the dying seconds of the game. West fly-half Conor Davis pulled his 40-metre penalty attempt just wide of the left-hand post, while moments earlier Selkirk had unsuccessfully laid siege to the West try line after turning down the opportunity to take a kick at goal.

Each team showed several changes in its starting line-up. Scrum-half Michael McVie and centre Ross Armstrong were absent through injury for Selkirk, while the visitors had lost the services of Roddy Grant and Jamie Hunter (sevens duty) and under-20s duo Richie Gray and Peter Horne.

Selkirk suffered further disruption when scrum-half Ben Meyer arrived at the ground 15 minutes after kick-off, having had to rush his wife to hospital in Edinburgh earlier in the day. Supporters will be pleased to learn she is now making a good recovery.

It was the visitors who made by far the more positive start to the game, exploiting some weak home tackling to put pressure on the Selkirk try line. This paid dividends as early as the eighth minute, when lock Andrew Kennedy cut between Ian Walling and Alistair Lyall to romp over for a try under the posts. Conor Davis added the conversion to put West 7-0 ahead.

Even this reversal couldn't raise the tempo in the Selkirk ranks, with players continuing to fall off tackles and turnovers being conceded both in set piece play and in the loose. The home side's subdued start only served to increase West's confidence, with skipper David Young giving a lively and committed lead.

In the 27th minute West struck again when No. 8 Graham Fisken found himself unmarked on the left touchline as the visiting pack executed a series of pick-and-drives close to the Selkirk line. A simple pop-up pass from scrum-half Colin Duck saw the lanky Fisken take a couple of strides and dot the ball down for the simplest of tries. Davis' conversion sailed over, increasing West's lead to 14-0.

This was the signal for Selkirk's mightily frustrated skipper, Neil Darling, to give his players the benefit of a few home truths as they huddled behind the goalposts - making it crystal clear to anyone within earshot just how far short of expectations the home players were falling.

The captain's coruscating salvo had the desired effect. Despite the visitors' best efforts in defence, which were mighty impressive, Selkirk managed to claw back a score just before halftime.

Rory Aglen's lineout take saw the ball recycled to Scott Tomlinson, who released Fraser Harkness on a surging run up the left flank. The full-back drew his man and fed Lee Jones, who burst clear before stepping inside Park to score in the corner. Hendrie's peach of a conversion brought Selkirk right back into the game, with the halftime score standing at 14-7 in West's favour.

Selkirk made a much livelier start to the second half, with Gordon Patterson and Eddie Gauché hitting ball up the middle. Hendrie had a chance to cut the deficit with a 47th minute penalty, but the attempt faded left. Five minutes later Harkness left the field to have a shoulder knock treated, and during the 10 minutes he was absent Neil Darling forced his way over the West line but the try was disallowed for 'crossing'.

With eight minutes left on the clock, Lee Jones blazed down the left touchline following Hendrie's initial thrust, and Rob Taylor came close to bulldozing his way over the line. However, seconds later a neat interchange of passes between Gauché and Ben Meyer saw the latter burst clean through the West defence to score under the posts. Hendrie seemed to take an age over the conversion, but his kick eventually flew over to level the match at 14-14.

In a frantic closing period, both sides went all-out for the killer punch, but found each other's defences equal to the task. There was no further scoring before referee John Steele's whistle signalled the end of the match.

West looked the happier team as the players trooped from the pitch, but in fairness to Neil Darling's men this was the first below par display witnessed at Philiphaugh this season. Even so, the home side still managed to haul themselves back and protect their unbeaten league record at Philiphaugh, which stretches back to September 1, 2007.

The bottom line is that by any yardstick Selkirk have performed miracles in their first season back in the top flight, and continue to defy expectations. They entered Saturday's match against West in third place in the league, and by full-time had risen to second spot by a clear two points - solid progress in anyone's books.

If you had predicted a year ago that Selkirk would be lying second in Premier One some 18 matches into the league schedule, then in all likelihood you would have been advised to see a psychiatrist. But this is the reality of the team's current position, and full credit must go to the players who have helped the club reach this exalted position.

Even singer Elton John turns out the odd record which fails to top the charts, and far from dwelling on Saturday's disappointments, Selkirk supporters should instead take a moment to reflect on the team's incredible success over the past five months. Fear not, Neil Darling's brave young band are still striding confidently along rugby's Yellow Brick Road. Watch this space.

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

Referee - John Steele (Dumfries).

ON TARGET. Scott Hendrie shows plenty of composure as he coolly converts Lee Jones' 40th minute try from the touchline at Philiphaugh on Saturday. (Photos: Rob Gray, digitalpic)