Melrose lose home advantage for play-off semi

Melrose winger Tito Mua, pictured here with a Melrose mascot, impressed while looking for work against Ayr
Melrose winger Tito Mua, pictured here with a Melrose mascot, impressed while looking for work against Ayr
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The whole idea of Melrose playing against Ayr on successive weekends seems a bit bizarre, and it would have been more so were the second leg to be yet again at the Greenyards.

That scenario, however, was ruled out when Melrose failed to secure a home semi-final in the play-offs after losing to their west coast opponents in the first of this double header.

Understandably the Melrose treasurer was less than happy at the outcome, but there may be slight comfort in the fact that the hallowed Greenyards turf will be spared a pounding a week before the Melrose Sevens. Every cloud….

As for the rugby side of matters, Melrose will want to make sure that for this weekend’s play-off semi-final they improve on what was a below-par performance last Saturday. Best to make the mistakes in the dress rehearsal and not on the big day might be the thought ahead of the trip to Ayr.

Last Saturday Melrose made too many first half errors, and against a side like Ayr that was an invitation for the opposition to score points. And they did just that with two first half tries – by centre Robbie Fergusson and scrum half Danny McCluskey – which were both crucially converted by Scotland Sevens cap, Grant Anderson. “The first half was just a car crash for us in terms of defence,” admitted Melrose coach John Dalziel. “They had three attacks and scored off two of them. We need to dust ourselves down. This was the last Premiership game. Next week is a semi final.”

Having had frailties exposed in the first half, Melrose made changes at half time and then showed the other side of their game, putting enormous pressure on Ayr, which resulted in two forward-crafted tries by lock James Head and replacement back row Hugh Blake. Bruce Colvine missed both conversion attempts and in the end that proved costly.

More costly, however, was the failure by Melrose to build on what looked to be a second half resurgence. Arguably, though, the Melrose momentum was checked by the need to have uncontested scrums after Ayr lost both their props to injury.

That situation reduced the attacking options for Melrose and the possibility of penalties occurring at the set-piece. But even allowing for this unfortunate situation Melrose were still not accurate enough to penetrate an organised Ayr defence. On the positive side, Melrose winger Tito Mua showed much more purpose in the second half, the Fijian coming off his beat to look for work, and in the process making the Ayr defence hesitate. But as a unit the Melrose back line lacked precision when the scoring opportunities arose, and this will be another area to be addressed before the Greenyards men face Ayr on a second successive Saturday.

The other encouragement was the return of Todd Pearce. The hooker has been out of action for some time, but in his absence former Scotland under-20 cap Richard Ferguson has looked the part. Overall Melrose will see last Saturday’s match as a bad day on the training park. The real deal is this weekend, but sadly for Melrose supporters, it is not on their doorstep.