West of Scotland 29, Selkirk 17

 West of Scotland take the plaudits as below par Selkirk driven off-course


CRUNCH TIME. Selkirk centre Ross Armstrong is collared by opposite number Ian Keith at Burnbrae on Saturday.


AS far as Selkirk is concerned, home is most definitely where the heart is. At Burnbrae on Saturday, the Souters struggled to replicate the form which toppled league leaders Ayr so dramatically at Philiphaugh the previous week, with West exploiting an error-strewn display by the visitors' to record a bonus point victory.

Selkirk had the services of two of their allocated professionals for the match - Sean Crombie starting at hooker, with Kiwi scrum-half Ben Meyer sitting on the replacements bench. The visitors were without the services of lock Rory Aglen, who failed a late fitness test.

It all started so promisingly for Selkirk. Callum Johnston and Scott Tomlinson combined well after the latter had stolen possession from a West line-out, and when a home player handled at the ensuing ruck, David Cassidy stepped up to kick a 30-metre penalty.

This early plus-mark was quickly cancelled out, giving a foretaste of things to come. Straight from the restart Selkirk put themselves under unnecessary pressure when Lee Jones' infield pass was knocked on by Fraser Harkness inside the 22. From the scrum West attacked down the blindside, with number eight Graham Fisken eventually driving over for the game's first try. Conor Davis' conversion kick sailed over.

This sparked a spell of intense West pressure, with centre Ian Keith proving a hot handful and home skipper Gordon Bulloch co-ordinating a series of slick handling moves deep into Selkirk territory. Only a brave piece of defending by Eddie Gauché saved the day for the visitors, but his good work was immediately undone when Selkirk were penalised at their own scrum, allowing Davis to put the home side 10-3 ahead.

The Burnbrae men continued to call the shots, aided it must be said by some poor handling and decision-making by the visitors, and it took two booming positional kicks by Michael McVie and Gavin Craig to finally gain Selkirk a significant chunk of territory. In the 25th minute David Cassidy's penalty attempt was pushed past the left-hand post by the westerly breeze.

Next a powerful run by Lee Jones up the left touchline rang alarm bells in the home defence, but Selkirk once again failed to capitalise and eventually ceded possession. When a towering kick by Davis was knocked on by Harkness just outside his 22, a quick heel at the resultant scrum saw West's threequarters stretch the visitors' defence to breaking point - centre Michael Sim just beating McVie to the touchdown for the home side's second try.

As the interval approached Selkirk were forced on the back foot by a series of pick-and-drives by the West pack, but Martin Murray managed to halt the momentum by wrestling the ball free for a vital turnover. The visitors' relief was short-lived, however, and a neat piece of interpassing between Bullock and Fisken down the left flank resulted in a try for Bulloch. Davis landed the conversion to give West a 24-3 halftime lead.

Alex Dunbar came off the bench for the second half in place of Fraser Harkness, with David Cassidy moving to full-back. The Scotland Academy player made an immediate impact, scoring Selkirk's first try of the contest following excellent leading-up work by Gavin Craig and Scott Hendrie. Cassidy's conversion cut the deficit to 24-10.

This try injected some badly needed life into the Selkirk players, with the visiting eight picking up the pace and Lee Jones continuing to trouble West's defenders out wide. After 56 minutes Dunbar was forced to retire after taking a knee knock, allowing Harkness to resume at full-back, with Cassidy returning to the centre. Shortly afterwards Ben Meyer replaced McVie at scrum-half,

Another Jones counter-attack kept West pinned in their own half, and in the 69th minute Cassidy had a chance to reduce the deficit from a penalty, but pushed his attempt just wide. The introduction of Ryan Crockatt and Stuart Forrest kept things on the boil for Selkirk, but the Burnbrae team struck a killer blow when Scott Hunter dived on a chip-ahead over the visitors' line for West's fourth try of the match.

To their credit Selkirk kept battling right to the end, and Ben Meyer's quick thinking was rewarded when he took a tap penalty to himself and burst over for a try from six metres. Cassidy converted, bringing the visitors to within one score of a losing bonus point. The home defences held firm in the dying seconds, leaving Selkirk's players and supporters to make the journey home without anything in the bag except disappointment.

No doubt coaches Kevin Barrie and Michael Jaffray will be doing everything in their power at training this week to try and sort out their side's Jekyll and Hyde complex, ahead of Saturday's crunch away fixture with Stirling County.



DOUBLE TEAMING. Selkirk's David Cassidy and Scott Hendrie join forces in a bid to halt the progress of giant West lock forward Richard Gray in Saturday's Prem. 1 game at Burnbrae. (Pictures: Grant Kinghorn)

SELKIRK - F. Harkness, S. Hendrie, D. Cassidy, R. Armstrong, L. Jones, G. Craig, M. McVie, G. Patterson, S. Crombie, M. Murray, S. Willet, E. Gauché, N. Darling, C. Johnston, S. Tomlinson. C. MacDougall, D. Scott, A. Lyall. Replacements: A. Dunbar, B. Meyer, R. Crockatt, S. Forrest, R. Taylor.

Referee - David Jack (Madras).