Melrose defend Kelso Sevens title with tough final win over Gala

Kelso sevens tournament at Poynder Park. Melrose with the winners trophy.
Kelso sevens tournament at Poynder Park. Melrose with the winners trophy.

Gala dug in deeper at the top of the Kings of the Sevens table at the weekend, but will still be gutted to have missed out on lifting more silverware.

And the fact they lost out to Melrose in both finals – the Kelso tournament on Saturday and then again at Earlston on Sunday – will have made it an even more bitter pill to swallow.

Kelso sevens tournament at Poynder Park. Gala's Gavin Young throws the ball back  into play in the final.

Kelso sevens tournament at Poynder Park. Gala's Gavin Young throws the ball back into play in the final.

The Maroons have been the team to beat on the Borders sevens circuit this season, but at Saturday’s bitterly cold Poynder Park, more reminiscent of November than the start of May, they ran into an on-fire Melrose side.

On their way to the final, Melrose had hammered Stewart’s Melville 43-0 before over-turning a 0-14 half-time deficit against hosts Kelso to triumph 21-14.

Melrose then dismissed a strong Edinburgh Accies side 24-19 in a sudden-death extra-time semi-final thriller, helped by three tries from flying wing Fraser Thomson.

For their part, the Netherdale outfit advanced to the final of the Lloyd Land Rover-sponsored event with a first-round 33-17 win over Edinburgh University, before dispatching Watsonians in a tight 19-12 tie.

Kelso sevens tournament at Poynder Park. Murray Hastie of Kelso gets rid of the rugby ball.

Kelso sevens tournament at Poynder Park. Murray Hastie of Kelso gets rid of the rugby ball.

The Maroons then clashed with Hawick in the other semi-final, knocking out the Mansfield Park team 19-12.

The Greens’ Matty Douglas probably thought his afternoon’s efforts were over, but the Hawick three-quarter still ended up appearing in the final, albeit wearing a Maroons jersey due to injury in the Gala squad.

The final was a physical encounter, as was to be expected from a tie between two of Borders rugby’s oldest rivals.

Veteran Melrose forward Graeme Dodds gave the waiting media his reaction to his side’s retention of the Poynder Park trophy.

Kelso sevens tournament at Poynder Park. The crowd were enjoying themselves.

Kelso sevens tournament at Poynder Park. The crowd were enjoying themselves.

“Once the fifteens season was finished last week, we were really keen to get back on the bandwagon. So it was great to retain the silverware today and kick on to see how far we can go in the Kings of the Sevens,” he said.

And Dodds says the return of experienced players like Thomson, Andrew Nagle and Grant Runciman has made a difference.

“They put in a real shift and played for each other to get the victory, which was great. It was very sapping out there – 20 minutes is always a struggle – and Gala are obviously a quality side, having won three out of the first five tournaments.

“So to beat them over 20 minutes – we’re delighted. Right now we’re just taking every tournament as it comes; just going for trophies now.

Kelso sevens tournament at Poynder Park. Ducks interupt the Jed vs Presidents game.

Kelso sevens tournament at Poynder Park. Ducks interupt the Jed vs Presidents game.

“Gala would need a pretty horrendous collapse to be caught in the Kings of Sevens, to be honest. But you never know, there’s still 40 points to play for, so we’ll try and go for them all.”

First blood in the final was drawn by Melrose after three minutes, when Callum Anderson touched down after protests at a penalty on the Gala 22 saw the Maroons marched back 10 yards for someone giving referee Andrew McMenemy backchat.

The ill discipline made Melrose’s job all the easier and they were up five points after the missed conversion.

But Gala hit back quickly when Gavin Young latched onto a pass meant for Melrose’s Graeme Dodds and got the touchdown to level it at 5-5.

Melrose, however, continued to make ground every time they got possession. Yet it was Gala that went into the turn-round with a five-point lead after the last minute of time in the first half saw Graham Speirs work his way past the covering Greenyards defence to score in the corner. Gala did not get a chance to build on the lead after the restart when Melrose hit back quickly with a try from Richard Mill, who added the conversion to give his side a 12-10 lead.

However, the move left Fraser Thomson lying prone and the groggy-looking player had to be helped off and replaced.

Kelso sevens tournament at Poynder Park. Ouch, my nose!! 1st Scots against Hawick.

Kelso sevens tournament at Poynder Park. Ouch, my nose!! 1st Scots against Hawick.

Despite the loss of such a key player, defending champions Melrose clearly scented blood and a couple of minutes later their in-form South African scrum-half, Austin Lockington, made another of his trademark breaks after a line-out inside the Gala 22 to feed Mill, who shipped a fast ball wide to George Taylor, with the latter sending Anderson in at the corner.

Mill’s conversion attempt needed a bounce off an upright to get over the bar, but it was good enough and gave his side what looked a pretty commanding 19-10 lead.

But Gala always play to the final whistle and, with just a minute of normal time left, the ball was fed to the Maroons’ Craig Robertson, who broke clear inside Melrose’s 22 for the score, Craig Dods slotting the conversion.

That clawed it back to 19-17 to Melrose and it was all to play for. But Gala hearts were finally broken when Mill crossed over from five metres out after the ball was fed out along the line and quickly back again to stretch the covering Gala defence wide enough for the Melrose player to slip through.

Mill’s conversion attempt again hit the post, but this time there was no lucky drop over the bar.

It still left Melrose with a seven-point lead at 24-17 and with just seconds remaining, Gala’s Dods knocked on inside the Melrose 22, leaving Lockington to boot the ball into touch to the sound of the final whistle and the accompanying delight of Melrose fans.

Melrose: A. Nagle, R. Mill, G. Taylor, A. Lockington, G. Runciman, C. Anderson, F. Thomson, G. Dodds, L. Mallin, L. Riddell.

Gala: S. Cairns, F. Hunter, C. Dods, R. Jeffrey, G. Spiers, J. Parker, G. Young, C. Robertson, K. Young.

Referee: A. McMenemy.