Melrose coach John Dalziel likened his team to a boxer on the ropes as they battled against Hawick for a crucial victory on Saturday.
But like any experienced fighters, the Greenyards outfit stood up to the test and in the end came away with a well-earned bonus-point win to keep them on target in their Premiership campaign.
Dalziel told The Southern: “With so many quality sides at the top end of the table, if we had come out here and lost today that would have been our title hopes over.
“We tried not to put pressure on the players, but everyone knew that Hawick are a young side who have just been getting better and better, and in the first half especially, they really made it difficult for us.
“We also try not to mention the bonus points too much and stay focused on getting the wins, but I thought our boys showed real character today when trying to speed up the game in the closing stages to get that extra point.”
Dalziel’s men were off the mark in the 10th minute when Joe Helps slotted a penalty, but it certainly didn’t look like the hosts were going to have it all their own way.
A timely tackle by Hawick’s Neil McColm stopped another spirited attack and, shortly afterwards, Neil Renwick split the posts with a penalty goal.
Helps responded in kind, but the visitors continued to pound away and a break by Renwick led to a try from prop Wullie Blacklock, despite the protest of a large Melrose crowd that the ball had gone forward.
Melrose then lost Bruce Colvine to the sin bin for coming in at the side, but this only enraged the hosts further and, in the final five minutes of the half, they charged into a 16-8 lead, Helps adding a penalty before converting a try from Fraser Thomson.
Back to full strength, Melrose stepped up a gear and just minutes in Richard Mill sold an outrageous dummy, before diving over the line. Helps missed the conversion, but added a penalty minutes later to stretch the lead.
Credit to Hawick, who continued to push. A Renwick penalty closed the gap before John Coutts was caught just short of the Melrose tryline.
A spell of deadlock ensued in the Melrose 22 with the hosts desperately trying for a bonus point and they gave themselves a chance with seven minutes to go when Helps wriggled his way over, converting himself, and right on full-time, Damien Hoyland crossed over for the all-important try.