RUGBY returned to the Borders on Monday, albeit on a rather diluted scale, but in the case of Melrose there was nothing weak about their 24-18 victory over Esher in an important British and Irish Cup clash at Netherdale.
Make no mistake about it – this was a big result for the Greenyards men in their first season in an international club competition against a team from the second tier in England.
In December, Munster sent a strong development team to The Greenyards and put in a brilliant display in the second half to blow Melrose away, but this was a game targeted as a win by Craig Chalmers’ outfit against a side currently struggling in the English Championship.
They came with a big pack and the talk before kick off was that ball would be at a premium for the Scottish club side. As it turned out, Melrose won plenty of ball and the forwards fronted up in a very physical contest. They won the possession and territory stats for the whole game and had more chances than their English opponents.
There were only a few rare occasions that Esher threatened to score tries, and that was down more to Melrose falling off tackles than any brilliance on the part of the visitors, although there was one occasion midway through the first period when a magical move from Esher’s backs deserved five points.
Melrose looked dangerous in attack, but they suffered from poor handling on a number of occasions – understandable with the bitterly cold wind sending temperatures plummeting to well below freezing.
Scott Wight kicked two penalties and Rob Kirby scored three for Esher before John Dalziel cheekily confused Esher’s defence to dive over for a try following a lineout, giving Melrose a 13-9 lead at the break.
More penalties were exchanged in the second half before Rob Chrystie went in for the crucial score to stretch the Melrose lead to six points. ’Rose closed the game down professionally for a well deserved historic win.
Melrose: F. Thomson; C. Anderson, J. Helps, J. King, D. McCall; S. Wight, S. McCormick; N. Little, W. Mitchell, G. Holborn, J. Dalziel, G. Elder, D. Denton, G. Runciman, G. Dodds. Subs: R. Ferguson, R. Higgins, S. Johnson, R. Miller, R. Chrystie, C. Jackson, C. Hardie.
Elsewhere, Kelso, who have not played since their fine win over GHA on November 20, were Berwick’s first visitors of the New Year in a Border League match at Scremerston.
Both sides were understandably rusty as training has not been easy over the past few weeks. Equally, however, both sides were in need of a game under their belts before the Cup and League programme restarts.
Kelso travelled with a fairly strong team. The game, however, was a scrappy affair with the expected high level of mistakes in the conditions as it was bitterly cold and windy.
The Poynder Park men scored two unconverted tries in the first half through Naani Osman and Gareth Riddell to two penalties by Berwick to lead 10-6.
The home side, who were really up for the game and looking to perform a giant-killing act, had a good second half and, indeed led until the last minute through an unconverted try.
Kelso stand-off Phil Hume, however, spoiled the Berwick party with a last-minute penalty to give the Tweedsiders a somewhat fortuitous 13-11 win.
Due to four inches of snow still lying and a solid inch of ice below that, the Skelly Cup game between Hawick and Jed-Forest, due to be played at Riverside Park, was called off and will now be played in March/April.
However, the two sides did get a friendly played on Monday – on Hawick PSA’s Burnfoot pitch – with the Greens running out convincing victors 59-19.
This weekend, all Borders clubs, apart from Langholm, should be involved in National Cup, Shield or Bowl action (see fixtures panel).
However, with most still struggling from the effects of snow and frost supporters are advised to check with clubs before setting out.