If it were not already apparent, then the words of most leading 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 lead-up to the inaugural play-offs in April.
Melrose players appear to have their ears well and truly pinned back as a gritty 20-18 win against Stirling County at the Greenyards on Saturday keeps them well and truly in the hunt.
The hosts 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 Rory 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 Bruce 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.
Gala are managing to hold onto the vital fourth spot despite suffering a 21-10 defeat at a muddy Malleny Park.
Despite the soft and slippery conditions both sides attempted to play some entertaining open rugby with the hosts finding their footing first with three converted tries.
Gala ran back at their hosts in the second half with Gavin Young and Russell Anderson both touching down but time eventually got the better of the Maroons who now have Currie breathing fire down their necks on the table.
Elsewhere in the capital Heriot’s swept aside Hawick in the second half of an entertaining match at Goldenacre to ensure the they stay hot on the heels of Ayr at the top of the table.
Hawick were eight points ahead at half-time thanks to tries from Greg Cottrell and Rory Hutton plus one conversion and a penalty from Lee Armstrong.
Heriot’s, who had notched an early try from Glen Bryce with Graham Wilson converting, reduced the margin by three when the same man kicked a simple penalty minutes after the restart.
And when replacement prop Nick McLennan earned a yellow card for collapsing the scrum the hosts took full advantage with Jack Turley and Nathan Borel both crossing the whitewash.
With the visitors tiring Heriot’s rounded off their win in the later stages when an eight-man drive at a five-metre scrum was collapsed and the penalty try was awarded along with the bonus point. Final score: 29-15.