West of Scotland 34, Selkirk 25

Selkirk pick up bonus point at Burnbrae, but unable to hold on to sixth spot in table


TRY TIME. Selkirk wing Scott Hendrie manages to squeeze under the tackle of West's Stuart Malone to put Selkirk 10-8 ahead at Burnbrae on Saturday. (Photo: Grant Kinghorn)



SATURDAY'S Premier One game at Burnbrae could have gone either way, but in the end it was the home forwards' greater control and physicality at the breakdown which ultimately proved decisive.

On the plus side, the visitors did manage to secure a bonus point by scoring four tries, but the result sees West take over the Souters' sixth spot in the table, with Heriot's FP climbing to seventh and Selkirk pushed back to eighth.

This was the Philiphaugh side's first match for five weeks, and not surprisingly the visitors looked a little ring-rusty in the early exchanges. However, indiscipline proved far more damaging to Selkirk's cause, no fewer than three visiting players being shown yellow cards in the second half - skipper Michael McVie, centre Ross Nixon and openside Callum Johnston.

The lack of game time being given to Kiwi lock Jon Smyth is also puzzling some of Selkirk's supporters. The Wanganui provincial player only took the field for the final 35 minutes of Saturday's game, when Selkirk were already behind 27-15. The visitors suffered a further setback six minutes from full-time when full-back Fraser Harkness had to be helped from the field with a leg injury.

After camping on West's try line in the opening minutes of the match, Selkirk conceded two penalties in quick succession, allowing the home team to relieve the pressure. A third penalty to West in front of Selkirk's posts was taken quickly by Gordon Bulloch, and the visiting pack did well to repulse a series of pick-and-drives by the home forwards.

In the eighth minute Selkirk found themselves short of defenders on the left-hand touchline following a driving maul by West, and when the ball was switched blind to Elliot McLaren, the West prop exploited the overlap to crash over for the Burnbrae side's first try.

To their credit Selkirk's players refused to let their heads drop, and a piece of fine individual skill by Darren Clapperton put the visitors right back in the frame. Collecting a clearance kick on his 10-metre line, the teenage wing beat one defender before chipping the ball over the head of another, cleanly collecting it first bounce and releasing Ross Nixon on the inside. The move was carried deep into West teritory by Gavin Craig, and after half-a-dozen more phases Martin Murray appeared on the right to bulldoze his way over for a try near the corner.

Spurred on by this success, booming line kicks by Michael McVie and Fraser Harkness kept West pinned deep in their own half. However, a quickly taken tap penalty by McVie backfired when the ball was turned over, and yet another penalty against the Souters allowed Conor Davis to step up and kick the goal to edge West 8-5 in front.

Selkirk took the lead three minutes later when Lee Jones did well to wrest the ball from Gary Dempsey and race clear up the stand touchline. Despite being collared just over the halfway line, Jones somehow managed to flick the ball inside to Scott Hendrie, and the centre sprinted 40 metres for a try in the corner to put the visitors 10-8 in front.

Straight from the restart another piece of classy play by Clapperton saw the wing launch a counter-attack, with Craig and then Hendrie breaking the gain line. Good support play by Ross Nixon kept the move alive, with the outside centre weaving his way past defenders before off-loading to Fraser Harkness, who burst over wide on the right for his side's third try and a 15-8 lead.

Unfortunately all Selkirk's good work was undone in five frantic minutes before halftime, when indifferent tackling allowed first Elliot McLaren and then home skipper David Young to cross for tries, one converted by Davis, to leave West 20-15 ahead at the interval.

Things looked promising for the visitors three minutes into the second period when Harkness made a scorching break up the left touchline, but West's defence was up to the task and the danger passed. By contrast a brace of missed first time tackles by Selkirk led to West's fourth try by David Young, increasing the home side's lead to 27-15.

Soon afterwards Scott Hendrie sent a 30-metre penalty attempt just wide, and worse was to follow when Ross Nixon was yellow-carded by the referee for tackling a West player while in an offside position. Despite being down to 13 men, Selkirk cut the deficit to 27-18 when Hendrie was successful with a second penalty attempt.

With McVie back on the pitch, and Rory Aglen and Callum Johnston continuing to shine up front, Selkirk's supporters finally had something to cheer about on the hour mark. McVie took a quick free kick just outside West's '22', and found Dan Moussa up in support on his left shoulder. The former Moray House prop coolly dummied his way past two defenders to crash over for a try beside the posts. Hendrie's conversion cut West's lead to 27-25.

With Ross Nixon's sin bin time now up, teenage threequarter Rory Banks came off the bench to take over at fly-half, with Gavin Craig moving to inside centre. Andrew Renwick then engineered a turnover on the halfway line, and some scintillating interplay involving Harkness and Craig and a clutch of other visiting players resulted in the full-back almost crossing for a try under the posts.

It looked as though Selkirk would win a scrum, but instead a penalty was given in the home side's favour. Clearly stunned by this turn of events, Selkirk nevertheless had a chance to hit back when an overlap on the left looked odds-on to produce a score, but the opportunity went begging and West were able to snuff out the attack. Soon afterwards Selkirk lost the services of Fraser Harkness.

With four minutes to go the Burnbrae side struck a killer blow when Graham Fisken broke free to score the home team's fifth try of the afternoon, with Davis' conversion kick sailing between the posts to put West nine points ahead.

To compound matters openside wing forward Callum Johnston became the third Selkirk player to be yellow-carded following a flare-up between the forwards in front of the stand, and the visitors were unable to cut West's lead in the remaining four minutes of the match.

A point was the least Selkirk deserved from a hard-fought encounter, but the Souters are going to have to improve in a number of areas if they are going to be able to keep the shackles on title challengers Ayr at Philiphaugh this Saturday.

SELKIRK - F. Harkness, D. Clapperton, R. Nixon, S Hendrie, L. Jones, G. Craig, M. McVie, G. Patterson, D. Grieve, M. Murray, R. Aglen, S. Willet, N. Darling, C. Johnston, A. Renwick. Replacements: R. Banks, J. Smyth D. Moussa, S. Forrest, R. Taylor.

Referee - Robert McHenry (Dumfries).