Melrose 14, Selkirk 14

Selkirk bandwagon continues to roll as Greenyards draw takes team into top half of league

THEY'RE BEHIND YOU! Selkirk's teenage wing Darren Clapperton finds himself heavily outnumbered by Melrose players at the Greenyards on Saturday. (Photo: Grant Kinghorn)

SELKIRK continued to climb away from the Premier One drop zone with a hard-earned draw in sub-zero conditions at the Greenyards on Saturday. The Souters remain unbeaten in their last six league fixtures, with the Melrose result lifting Michael McVie's men to sixth place in the table.

"I thought the boys showed a lot of character out there today," coach Kevin Barrie said after the game, "and I was particularly pleased by the way we held our shape in the second half. Late in the game Melrose had a lot of pressure on our line, but our defence was rock-solid and we managed to keep them out.

"The players have worked hard to regain their self-belief in recent weeks, and today showed how far they've come against a team who've only been beaten once at home this season. We're still not out of the woods yet, and no-one's taking anything for granted, but the corner's definitely been turned, and Selkirk supporters can look forward with confidence to the rest of the league campaign."

Full marks go to the Melrose club for getting the pitch playable on a day which saw just two fixtures completed in the whole Premiership programme. Although soft underfoot, long white streaks of snow still flecked the playing surface, but with the touch, 22, halfway and try-lines all having been painted bright yellow, there was little chance of these markings becoming obscured.

Selkirk went into the match without injured wing Lee Jones and number eight Scott Tomlinson, and still missing suspended prop Rob Taylor, while Melrose centre James King dropped out of the home back line and was replaced by pro. player Peter Horne.

It was Horne who made the first significant break of the match, bursting down the right touchline to take play deep into Selkirk territory. Following the next scrum, visiting number eight Andrew Renwick (who had another impressive afternoon) was penalised for not releasing, and Scott Wight stepped up to put Melrose's first points on the board.

Soon afterwards an incisive break by Callum Anderson had Selkirk's defence at full stretch, and the visitors' position was further weakened when referee David Crudge yellow-carded Ross Nixon in the ninth minute. Just before the centre's return to the field, Wight put Melrose 6-0 up after a Selkirk player had been judged offside as Michael Rutherford hoisted a garryowen.

Things began to look ominous for Selkirk when the heavier Melrose pack wheeled a scrum to win the put-in, but the visiting eight surprised their opponents by immediately wheeling the scrum on the Melrose put-in, sending out the message that Duoro's diehards were not for turning.

In the 26th minute, Andrew Renwick's quickly taken tap penalty was driven upfield by Gordon Patterson and Fraser Harkness, with further ground then being made by Ross Nixon and Gavin Craig. Melrose were penalised at the next ruck, allowing Scott Hendrie to kick a 30-metre penalty and cut the deficit to 6-3.

Encouraged by this change in fortune, Selkirk began to put the home side under further pressure - Renwick and McVie combining well at the back of the scrum, and Rory Aglen managing to steal possession on Melrose's next line-out throw. Selkirk's Darren Clapperton then appeared on the opposite wing to make good ground up the stand touchline, following Callum Johnston's clean take at the line-out tail.

However, in the minutes leading up to halftime, the visitors twice failed to press home their advantage - first when Rutherford's penalty touch kick went the wrong side of the corner flag, and secondly when Hendrie missed what appeared a straightforward penalty chance from in front of the posts. Halftime score: Melrose 6, Selkirk 3.

The start of the second half coincided with the onset of more persistent snow showers, and almost immediately Selkirk lost the services of Michael Rutherford with a badly cut chin. His place at stand-off was taken by teenage threequarter Rory Banks, who showed no sign of nerves on his senior debut.

With 53 minutes gone Melrose extended their lead when Wight's towering up-and-under was spilled by a Selkirk defender. In a flash Melrose had recovered the ball and sent it out wide to Lindsey Gibson, who galloped over in the right-hand corner for the game's first try. Wight's conversion attempt drifted wide, leaving Melrose 11-3 ahead.

Soon afterwards a spirited drive upfield by Moussa and Hendrie set alarm bells ringing in the home defences, and when Melrose full-back Fraser Thomson received a yellow card at the next ruck, Hendrie took full advantage to kick his second penalty and reduce the deficit to 11-6.

Wight had the chance to restore Melrose's eight-point advantage from a penalty in the 62nd minute, but his attempt was wide. This let-off encouraged Selkirk to launch another all-out attack, with Martin Murray and Rory Aglen combining to penetrate the home defences.

Selkirk levelled the scores in dramatic style. Rory Banks' delicate chip down the left touchline was gathered first bounce by Darren Clapperton, who in turn managed to off-load to Fraser Harkness. The full-back needed no second invitation to power his way over near the corner flag for a fine try - his third successive score in Selkirk's last three matches. Although Hendrie's conversion kick just fell short, the game's momentum had swung back in the visitors' favour.

With 15 minutes left, Rutherford returned to the fray having had five stitches inserted in his chin, and linked well with Clapperton and Darling down the blindside. Melrose eventually regained the initiative, however, opting for a scrum when Selkirk were penalised within touching distance of their own try line.

Although managing to prevent a try, Selkirk received a major setback when Simon Willet was yellow-carded for an offence at the breakdown. Home skipper Scott Wight took full advantage by successfully kicking the resultant penalty to put his side 14-11 up, and only a couple of minutes left on the clock.

With the snow flurries increasing in intensity and the cold conditions beginning to take their toll on both sets of players, it looked all over for the visitors. However, a penalty to Selkirk in injury time offered one last chance for the Philiphaugh side to square the match. Despite the 45-metre kick being at the very edge of Scott Hendrie's range, the wing made perfect contact to send the ball straight between the posts.

Another four minutes of injury time were played, and although Melrose pressed hard for the clinching score, Selkirk's players stood their ground to capture two priceless league points - a Christmas present guaranteed to warm the cockles of their loyal supporters' hearts.

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

Referee - David Crudge (Hawick).