For a second successive championship match, Joe Helps’ accurate goal kicking provided the winning points for Melrose.
The centre’s three successes from the tee, in maliciously-wet and windy conditions at The Greenyards, showed again just how invaluable the midfield back has become to his side’s title ambitions.
Against Stirling, Helps landed three goals from four kicks in front of the posts to outperform County’s Brian Archibald, who achieved only one success from three penalty shots.
But although the failure by Archibald to capitalise on penalty chances was costly for Stirling, what hit the visitors more was Archibald’s dismissal to the sin bin midway through the second half for illegally preventing Melrose win possession at a ruck.
Helps actually missed the punishment kick at goal, but four minutes later the centre kicked his second three-pointer after Melrose used their extra man advantage to force a scrum penalty for a 6-3 lead. Thereafter an increasingly-dominant home scrum forced County to concede a further penalty and again Helps supplied the dividend points.
“We’ve done a lot of work on the scrum recently and that showed. It was probably the factor that won us the game,” suggested Melrose coach John Dalziel.
He said: “When that weather came in we knew what type of game it was going to be. We wanted to play an open game against Stirling, but the conditions simply didn’t allow that.
“We had to change to a Plan B and we knew that because they have a very good goal kicker, we hadn’t to do anything stupid within our own half.
“In defence, I thought we were aggressive and that’s two weeks we’ve been like that. I told the guys that in the past after a win against Gala we’ve kind of slackened off.
“We could have come unstuck today because the conditions probably suited Stirling more than us.”
Such was Melrose’s control of the game in the final quarter that Dalziel felt confident enough to bring youngsters Ruaridh Knott and Richard Taylor off the bench. “They’re breathing life into the team. There’s now a lot of competition for places,” said Dalziel.
Melrose must wait until March 1 before they play Aberdeen at Rubislaw in their penultimate championship match, and they finish their campaign against Currie at The Greenyards three weeks later.
The win on Saturday keeps Melrose top, but they know that their chances of winning the Premiership this season is as much to do with Gala as it is with them.