Efficient Melrose front up to topple league leaders

Melrose vs Galashiels RFC. Graeme Dodds facing Opeta Palepio.
Melrose vs Galashiels RFC. Graeme Dodds facing Opeta Palepio.
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Melrose will travel to Ayr this weekend with a higher reservoir of confidence than in recent weeks after outpowering their near neighbours in a tense Border derby match at the Greenyards.

The key to this victory was undoubtedly the heightened performance of the Melrose forwards, who on Saturday after a modest start gradually took control of the game.

Crucially Melrose had the better of the set-scrums where the rock-like stability supplied by prop Ewan McQuillin, a Gala player until this season, underlined the value to any team of a genuine tighthead.

McQuillin is an Elite Development Player (EDP) with Edinburgh and thus far has been on permanent release to Melrose, but given his performances at Premiership level it should not be long before the capital coach, Alan Solomons, recognises his ability.

Melrose coach John Dalziel told TheSouthern: “Up front I thought we dismantled what is a good Gala pack.

“I thought the driving line-outs were outstanding and I thought today that this was our best defensive performance of the whole season.

“We’ve still got loads to do and think about as we head to Ayr on Saturday but we’re now moving in the right direction.”

Another reason for Dalziel to feel better about his side was the return, after a pre-season arm injury, of the influential centre, Joe Helps, who in his first game back, provided midfield leadership and, importantly, accurate goal kicking.

Melrose will also be pleased, too, about the confident performance of teenager George Taylor. The younger of the two Taylor brothers is still at Loretto School and therefore will not be available every weekend for Melrose. On Saturday Taylor played on the left wing but his experience in youth rugby is mainly at inside centre and that could be the position in which Melrose might choose to play him.

Gala must be asking themselves what is it about Melrose that makes them so difficult to beat in the Premiership. Last season the Maroons lost twice to Melrose in the championship; last Saturday’s result signalled no change of direction.

Yet Gala at times put huge pressure on Melrose especially in a ten minute period before half time. But their attempts to bludgeon their way through the Melrose defence came to nought and thereafter Gala never seemed to have the same fighting spirit.

Admittedly Gala were missing several key players, among them Craig Dods, Gavin Young, and Graham Spiers, resulting in the Maroons being forced to field their highly promising stand-off Ruairi Howarth at full back. Howarth, an EDP with Edinburgh, could eventually offer the capital side and, who knows, even Scotland, a possible option for the pivot role but what the teenager needs right now is as much time as possible in the ten position to develop his game.

In the event the talented Rex Jeffrey, as he has done already this season, filled the stand-off berth but the young half back will want to forget a couple of unforced errors he committed that essentially handed Melrose two tries, both scored by number 8, Graham Dodds. These contributed to a Melrose 15-5 lead at half time, Helps having kicked a conversion and a penalty, and number 8 Euan Dods having touched down for Gala from a five metre scrum. Then on the hour mark Melrose killed off the contest by driving a line-out for a try by Peter Eccles converted by Helps. The Maroons responded with a late try by replacement wing Shaun Law but thereafter they could play only a secondary role as Melrose wound down the clock with the grim efficiency of an executioner towards an unstoppable victory.