Watsonians 30, Selkirk 30

Myreside men kept in check as Selkirk battle to escape drop zone

UNSTOPPABLE. Selkirk centre Alex Dunbar outpaces the Watsonians defence on his way to scoring the visitors' third try at Myreside on Saturday. (Photo: Grant Kinghorn)

THE stakes couldn't have been higher for both teams at Myreside on Saturday, and this was reflected in a high-scoring, nail-biting contest. Despite being under the cosh for long periods of the match, Selkirk's players refused to concede defeat and ultimately deserved a share of the spoils following a gutsy second half fightback.

"We knew we had to come away with something today," Selkirk coach Kevin Barrie said after the game, "and despite a few scary moments that's what the boys managed to achieve. Things are getting very tight in the lower half of the table, and the players know they're going to have to pull out all the stops in every match from now on to make sure we don't lose momentum."

A major plus-point for the Philiphaugh team on Saturday was the second half display of their new Kiwi lock Jon Smyth. The 6' 5" Wanganui player, who only arrived in this country on Wednesday, came off the replacements bench for the final half-hour and looked a class act.

Fellow lock Rory Aglen was also in fine form, while Gavin Craig's introduction after the break helped kick-start Selkirk's recovery. Flankers Callum Johnston and Neil Darling also got through a power of work in the loose, but Watsonians' strong-running back division posed problems for Selkirk all afternoon, and missed first-time tackles opened up acres of space for centres Ashlea McCulloch and Doug Brown.

It took the home team just over 60 seconds to open the scoring. Although Mike Ker's kick-off was safely fielded by Selkirk, turn-over ball allowed 'Sonians to make headway down the right flank, and it was McCulloch who took the final pass to race over in the corner. Ker's touchline conversion kick sailed between the posts.

Soon afterwards skipper Michael McVie's box kick put Selkirk back on the front foot, and Alex Dunbar came close to scoring when he charged down Nick Montgomery's clearance kick and just failed to gather the wickedly bouncing ball. From the resultant five-metre scrum McVie broke blind and fed Fraser Harkness, with Scott Hendrie gratefully receiving the full-back's off-load to touch down near the corner flag. Michael Rutherford's conversion levelled the scores at 7-7.

After 10 minutes the Selkirk stand-off put the visitors in front with a sweetly struck penalty from the 10-metre line, but almost immediately Watsonians blindside Harris Grant crossed for his side's second try, after another missed tackle had left a huge gap in the visitors' midfield.

Mike Ker's deep positional kicks proved a thorn in Selkirk's side all afternoon, and the visiting pack did well to defend a 20-metre rolling maul by Watsonians after another booming kick by Ker had set up the attacking platform.

An offside offence after 24 minutes allowed Rutherford to kick his second penalty to reduce the deficit to just one point, before a touchline burst by Lee Jones, carried on by Fraser Harkness and Simon Willet, took play deep into Watsonians territory. However, the home defences held firm. Two penalties by Mike Ker rounded off the first half, making the interval score 20-13 in the home side's favour.

Watsonians made the stronger start to the second half, and in the 47th minute opened up a 12-point gap thanks to a try by left wing Max Learmonth after Dunbar's chip out of defence was returned with interest by the home threequarter line.

The match's turning point came in the 50th minute when Watsonians' Scotland 'A' lock Mark Rennie was yellow-carded for an offence at a ruck. Sixty seconds later Selkirk hauled themselves back into the game thanks to a brilliant solo try by Gavin Craig. The stand-off, who had just come on to replace Michael Rutherford, cut inside the defence following a scrum outside 'Sonians' 22, before calmly chipping over Montgomery's head to collect the ball and touch down near the posts. Scott Hendrie converted.

Soon afterwards a high garryowen by Craig saw the ball bounce off the chest of a Watsonians defender, and Alex Dunbar was on hand to collect the rebound and race 35 metres for a try in the right-hand corner. Hendrie's conversion put Selkirk 27-25 ahead.

Watsonians pressed hard to regain the lead, and did so when McCulloch won the race for a touchdown after the ball had been hacked over Selkirk's try line. Ker missed the conversion, leaving Selkirk trailing 30-27.

Stung by this reversal, Selkirk upped their game. Michael McVie cleverly dispossessed opposite number Jamie Blackwood at a scrum just inside Watsonians' 10-metre line, and shortly afterwards a penalty for offside gave Scott Hendrie the chance to level the scores. Although his kick drifted just left, two minutes later the Selkirk wing had a chance to make amends from another penalty award. This time Hendrie's kick flew cleanly between the posts, making the score 30-30.

The final six minutes of the match saw both sides throw everything bar the kitchen sink at each other, but there was to be no further scoring. This Friday night Selkirk face a big challenge against high-flying Edinburgh Accies at Philphaugh, the match having an 8pm kick-off.

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

Referee - N. Paterson (Dundee HSFP)