Selkirk 19, Kelso 16
SELKIRK SURVIVE LATE FRIGHT AS BATTLING TWEESIDERS TAKE GAME TO THE WIRE
DESPITE dominating the first half of Saturday's opening RBS National League fixture against Kelso at Philiphaugh, Selkirk were unable to convert this pressure into points… almost paying the penalty when the visitors staged a comeback in the final 10 minutes to come within a whisker of stealing the home team's thunder
Both sides showed changes to their original line-ups. Selkirk centre Scott Hendrie failed a late fitness test and was replaced by Lewis MacLennan, with Josh Welsh moving to the right wing. The visitors showed four changes - forwards Kieran Cooney, Ian Wallace and Michael Robertson all dropping out, along with wing Jamie Pick.
It was Kelso who put the first points on the board - Murray Hastie kicking a 12th minute penalty, after Selkirk scrum-half Michael McVie had missed a similar award six minutes previously.
Throughout the opening exchanges Selkirk launched attack after attack deep inside the visitors' territory, but a series of errors (misplaced passes, knock-ons and line-out turnovers) allowed the visitors to resist Selkirk's pressure.
The breakthrough finally came in the 16th minute when Gavin Craig's neat sidestep opened up a gap in the Tweedsiders' defence. Forwards Angus Duckett and Matt Kissick kept the move alive, with Stuart Forrest's angled run allowing the hooker to burst clear and dive over for the first try of the game.
From the restart Selkirk maintained the momentum, and Fraser Harkness almost squeezed in at the corner flag. Earlier in the same movement home No. 8 Ryan Crockatt had received an elbow in the face which required five stitches, necessitating his absence from the game for the remainder of the half (Neil Darling came on as replacement).
Soon afterwards Duckett squirmed over the line for what he thought was a legitimate try but, after conferring with his assistant referee, Lloyd Linton ruled the ball had not been grounded. Almost immediately Selkirk were awarded a penalty. A quick tap by prop Catalin Graur resulted in a ruck close to the Kelso line, and this time Duckett made certain of grounding the ball for his side's second try, converted by Welsh.
Despite keeping up the pressure on Kelso, including two line-outs on their opponents' five-metre line, the home players couldn't penetrate the Black & Whites' defence. As a result Kelso's confidence began to rise, with Ewan Ford and Darren Gillespie linking well to drive Selkirk back into their own half.
Just before the interval McLennan was penalised for not releasing, and Hastie stepped up to send over his second successful penalty, making the halftime score 12-6 in Selkirk's favour.
Early in the second period a promising move by Selkirk was halted when Kissick was adjudged to have put a foot in touch, and Kelso again regrouped to push Selkirk back upfield thanks to Hastie's astute line kicks.
Crockatt's return to the field coincided with Selkirk's best passage of play in the match. Welsh's booming kick to Kelso's 10-metre line was followed by surging breaks from Craig and Kissick, and when another Graur breenge set up a ruck wide on the right, Andrew Renwick was on hand to power his way over for his side's third try. Welsh's conversion stretched the home team's lead to 19-9.
Far from letting their heads drop - and in spite of losing prop Stuart Lowrie with a serious leg injury - Kelso's players kept battling and were rewarded three minutes from time when an eight-man shove created disarray in Selkirk's scrum. A couple of wild passes saw the ball eventually ricochet over the Selkirk try line, where Gregg Minto was on hand to dive on it for a try. Hastie's conversion left the Tweedsiders just 19-16 in arrears.
In a nail-biting finale, both sides had chances to have the final say, but in the end it was Selkirk who managed to hold their nerve and prevent Kelso from capping what would have been a remarkable fightback.
After the match skipper Gavin Craig said it had been a testing afternoon. "We had so much possession early on that I thought we were carrying on where we'd left off at Jed. However, basic errors and final passes not going to hand meant we weren't able to press home the advantage.
"Giving away so many penalties also didn't help our cause, but all credit to Kelso, whose blitz defence caused us problems. At the end of the day I'd say there were more positives than negatives for us, and when all's said and done we achieved what we set out to do - win our first match.
"We'll be working hard on a number of areas at training this week, and the players know they'll have to be at their very best when they take on Hawick at Mansfield Park this weekend."
SELKIRK: F. Harkness, J. Welsh, L. McLennan, R.
Nixon, C. McColm, G. Craig, M. McVie, C. Lacour, S. Forrest, C. Graur, M. Kissick, A. Renwick, E. MacDougall, A.
Duckett, R. Crockatt. Reps, M. Rutherford, P. Forrest, G. Patterson, N. Darling, F. Orr.