The words of most coaches should convince willing listeners that the second half of the BT Premiership is all about keeping or gaining a place in the top four ahead of the inaugural play-offs in April.
You could see this particular aspect of the Premiership played out at the Greenyards last Saturday when visitors Stirling County were intent on achieving a win that would lift them into the elite quartet, while homesters Melrose were equally determined not to be budged from their lofty position.
The net effect was an added tension to a match that was already expected to be a close tussle between similarly balanced sides, and a consequent reduction in the quantity of open rugby. Melrose coach, John Dalziel, admitted the match was effectively a “cup final” for his side.
He added: “We tried to play a lot of open rugby but the penalty count against us was quite high and that slowed down our game.
“That was two teams trying to be in the top four, two teams who really wanted the win. We played some pretty accurate rugby but we didn’t much ball on the ground. Stirling were much sharper in that area.”
Melrose can be satisfied with the performance of their front five, which handled the set piece play more than competently and slickness behind the scrum in executing planned moves.
Both sides were strengthened by the release of several professional players, the Glasgow Warriors trio of winger Rory Hughes, scrum half Ali Price and recent recruit Fraser Lyle for Stirling and Edinburgh scrum half Sean Kennedy and his clubmate Ewan McQuillan for Melrose. Kennedy, a former Stirling player, replaced the injured Murdo McAndrew just before half time and made all after the break by creating a try for Bruce Colvine with a clever inside pass.
Melrose looked hungry in the opening phases of play and were rewarded with a solo try by stand-off Austin Lockington, who used his pace to slice through the County defence. Then when prop Nick Beavon was sent to the sin-bin the loss of a player signalled a difficult period for Melrose.
But instead, apart from the resultant penalty goal by County’s full back Jonny Hope following the yellow card, Melrose turned up the pressure on Stirling to produce a fine try for hooker Richard Ferguson made by a deft flip pass from number 8 Graham Dodds for a 10-3 interval lead.
But at the beginning of the second half it was Stirling who looked the stronger side and when Hope created a try for Scotland sevens cap Hughes, County were back in the game. Hope missed the conversion but atoned with a penalty goal to put Stirling ahead for the first and only time in the game.
A penalty by Joe Helps restored the lead for Melrose and when the centre added the extra points to Colvine’s try the Greenyards men had a 20-11 advantage.
The lead was reduced with a converted try for County by replacement prop Gary Mountford to give Stirling a deserved bonus point.