BRITISH & IRISH CUP
STUART CAMERON reports from The Greenyards
EIGHT days previously, inside Notts County’s football ground at the halfway point in the match between Nottingham and Melrose, it was 35-5 to the home side, one of the top teams in the English Premiership.
Fast forward to Saturday at the same point in the game against the same opposition, and Melrose were leading 6-3 at the Greenyards. What a difference in the space of just over a week and what a tremendous turnaround.
Within a minute Sep Visser looked as if he had scored in the corner, chasing up a clever Bruce Colvine kick ahead.
The referee was in a good position to judge and decided the ball wasn’t grounded, but it sparked Melrose into life and it saw them pick up from where they had left off when they finished the game at Nottingham in fine fettle.
But it was Rory Lynn who put Nottingham ahead on the eight-minute mark with a penalty, which was matched by Andrew Skeen’s three-pointer on 15 minutes.
Joe Helps had two long-distance efforts at goal – the first had the distance, but wasn’t on target; the second crept over the posts from 50m out to give the Black and Yellows the lead.
Just on half-time, Rhys Crane scampered over for a try in the corner for the visitors, but following intervention from assistant referee Robert McHenry, the touchdown was chalked off for foul play and prop Ryan Bower yellow-carded as a result.
But it didn’t take long for Nottingham to get a try – this time Andy Forsyth wrong-footed Richard Mill, handed off Andrew Skeen and just managed to fend off Fraser Thomson to dot the ball down. Lynn converted.
Nottingham skipper Brent Wilson got over the line for their second try following a show of power from the visiting pack, which bulldozed through the Melrose defence just before the hour.
Lynn converted again before the best try of the match. A break down the far right saw Visser take the scoring pass and go over for a touchdown, Skeen adding the extra points.
Fraser Thomson was yellow-carded for holding on to the ball, but looking at the replay I am still at a loss as to how Irish referee Kieran Barrie awarded it.
Thomson was visibly upset at the decision and it cost Melrose 10 points, which were scored while he was off the pitch.
Both teams used their bench considerably – 13 of the 14 subs from both sides got some game time – and Nottingham’s talented James Alridge kicked a penalty and then converted his own try following up a kick from Alex Lewington.
Suddenly it was 27-13, but on 80 minutes a break from Visser fed Fraser Thomson on the stand side of the pitch.
He drew the defence and threw a magnificent pass back to Visser, who managed to get to the line. Skeen judged the conversion perfectly to grab what most thought would be a bonus point, but deep into stoppage time Lewington gathered the ball and ran in at the corner to give his side a four-try bonus.
There’s been a lot of talk about how Gala have refused offers of pros for their British & Irish Cup campaign, while Melrose (who had seven in their squad on Saturday) have welcomed them with open arms.
There’s no doubt that Jonny Gray (Scotland international Richie’s 18-year-old brother) and Visser made a big impact at the weekend.
After the game, player-coach John Dalziel addressed the subject.
He said: “We’ve tried to embrace the bridge of pros. As clubs we’ve always complained about not getting the support from the pro teams, so when these guys become available it’s good to get them.
“We’d never do it to the adversity of our own guys and we understand Gala’s stance, but we’ve got an extensive injury list right now and when we’re offered people of the calibre of Jonny Gray and Sep Visser to fill the gaps we’re not going to turn them down.”
Melrose: F. Thomson; S. Visser, B. Dick, R, Mill, J. Helps; A. Skeen, B. Colvine (c); N. Little, A. Walker, G. Holborn, J. Gray, R. Ovens, A. Nagle, H. Watson, R. Miller. Subs: C. Keen, W. Mitchell, R. Ferguson, P. Eccles, S. McCormick, H. Leonard, L. Mallin.