MELROSE are champions of Scotland for the second year under the coaching direction of Craig Chalmers and John Dalziel.
It means another crack at the British & Irish Cup to look forward to and Chalmers confirmed that with no other offers on the table, he will be back at Melrose looking for more success.
He told TheSouthern: “I’d love to go on to the next level with my coaching, but I’ve not been given the opportunity. I’m still waiting for my chance and I’ll keep batting away at it, but as it stands I will be at Melrose next year.”
Back to this season, however, and Melrose did it the hard way.
It was a rollercoaster ride with some incredible events happening, including that extraordinary game when they blew a huge lead at home to Dundee at the Greenyards. Luckily, that didn’t come back to haunt them and they were crowned champions on Saturday when the 52-point win needed by Dundee at home to Stirling never happened. In fact, it was Stirling who won at Mayfield, giving them a place in the B & I Cup.
On Friday at Meggetland, Melrose knew a four-try win against Boroughmuir would secure the title, but you couldn’t find anybody at the club who was thinking about four touchdowns. For them it was all about the victory.
Nerves played a big part and an out-of-sorts visitors looked anything but champions in the first half. They conceded a try after Andrew Skeen had nudged them in front with a penalty on 13 minutes. ‘Muir’s Redha Guedroudj raced on to a kick to ground the ball in the corner with Ally Warnock converting.
Moments later we had the controversy. Sep Visser danced through the Melrose defence to score a try, only to see referee Rob Dixon wipe it out after consulting with his assistant referee who had spotted ’Muir prop Jonny Latta punch Cammie Murray. Latta was shown the red card.
That was a crucial decision because who knows how Melrose would have handled coming back from 14-3 down.
But you don’t become champions playing 18 games of rugby through luck alone. Melrose beat some quality sides. There were many new faces in the squad this campaign too who have stepped up considerably.
It was a tense affair as Andrew Skeen and Scott Wight (for Melrose) and Ally Warnock exchanged penalties, but moving into the final quarter, Boroughmuir, despite playing with 14 men, were leading 13-9 and holding the Borderers with some dogged defensive work. Let’s not forget Boroughmuir, bottom of Premier A, had nothing to play for except pride, and they showed plenty of that.
Nick McGrath, who has had a terrible season with injuries, became the hero in the final 10 minutes as he found a way to unlock the ‘Muir defence and get the touchdown.
Wight’s appearance in the second half certainly steadied the ship and he goaled the conversion to give the visitors a three-point advantage. Then his accurate pass to Fraser Thomson saw the full back power over for the vital try in injury time (again converted by Wight) to win 23-13 and put Melrose in the driving seat.
But the celebrations were compressed as players and officials at the club refused to accept that they had done enough, even though the chances of a 52-point success for the Taysiders the following day over a strong Stirling side was unlikely.
Coach Chalmers said: “It was a horrible feeling. If Dundee got the result they needed on Saturday then they would have deserved to win the league.
“It was an extremely long few hours waiting. I didn’t watch and I didn’t phone anybody. I just waited for that call that told me we were champions.
“But we showed character all season and Cammie Murray has been a shining example.”
An emotional Murray retired after Friday’s game. His commitment to the club has been superb.
You can see exclusive highlights from this match on Borders Rugby TV at www.BordersRugby.net and Mike Dalgetty’s take on the title win at www.thesouthernreporter.co.uk
Melrose: F. Thomson; A. Dodds, B. Dick, C. Murray, J. Helps; A. Skeen, B. Colvine; N. Little, R. Ferguson, N. Beavon, P. Eccles, R. Miller, R. Ovens, G. Runciman. G. Dodds. Subs: G. Holborn, C. Keen, S. Johnson, S. McCormick, N. McGrath, S. Wight.