Cartha Queen’s Park 37, Kelso 10
It was top versus second at Dumbreck on Saturday and a beautiful day in the west of Scotland meant conditions should be ideal for fast flowing rugby.
Kelso were missing a handful of players through injury and non-availability but were really looking forward to the challenge ahead.
As it turned out, they were beaten in the league for the first time since losing at Biggar back in September, having put together a run of 15 Division 2 victories – 14 in succession – and one draw.
Cartha started the game at a frantic pace and were clearly keen to mix the power of their strong forward pack as well as move the ball along their back line.
Kelso really struggled to get the ball in decent field position but kept their hosts at bay with some fantastic defence.
It was the Tweedsiders who struck first with their first real taste of the ball when young wing Angus Roberts continued his fine scoring run with a try in the corner.
It all looked so easy when the backs handled well and Donald Crawford drew his man for Roberts to finish it off well. Phil Hume slotted a brilliant conversion from the touchline.
Kelso extended their lead with a penalty by Greg Ponton. Usual kicker Phil Hume was the victim of a late tackle and, when he was having treatment, Ponton stepped up and stroked the ball beautifully between the uprights, putting Kelso into a 10-point lead.
Cartha then got to work and used their strong running forwards to great effect, reducing the lead with a penalty of their own when Kelso were penalised for a high tackle. Stand-off Wayne Burrows kicked the points.
Cartha then notched another penalty through Burrows after Kelso were penalised for handling on the ground.
The home side were in the ascendency and scored their first try through winger Graeme Docherty. Some fine handling found him with no defenders to beat and he scampered in from the 22. Burrows added the conversion and the lead was no more than Cartha deserved.
Cartha were relentless and Docherty scored his second try of the game minutes later. There was a similar move again from the backs and, when Docherty got the ball, he managed to evade three Kelso tacklers to score. Burrows added the conversion to take his side in at half time with a lead of 20-10.
Kelso lost Paudie Lawlor in the first half through injury and this gave Gareth Riddell his first taste of action for a couple of years. Riddell made a good impact in the second half as Kelso took the game to Cartha, with powerful runs through Colin Arthur and Riddell.
The black and whites were hit with a real sucker punch when a neat little kick from Burrows looked to be going over the line – but Docherty somehow managed to pluck the ball inches from the line and fed inside to number eight Peter Hollier to score under the posts. There was a long chat between referee Dunc Clement and Kelso touch judge Dom Buckley before they agreed the try should stand. Burrows added the conversion.
A fine break by Phil Hume took Kelso to within five metres of the Cartha line. The home side was penalised and, from the resulting kick, Colin Arthur was just held up as he tried to ground the ball. It was Kelso’s put-in to the scrum but Cartha managed to hook the ball before Kelso had the chance and the danger was cleared.
Kelso were creating chances and nearly scored when a fine break by Arran Jackson took them into the Cartha 22. A penalty was given as Cartha didn’t release in the tackle and Kelso went for the corner. The lineout ball was squint and, again, Cartha cleared the danger.
The Cartha defence held strong and Kelso just couldn’t manage to get back on the scoreboard. Wayne Burrows kicked another penalty when Kelso were penalised for holding on in the tackle.
Kelso came straight back at their opponents and again got themselves into the Cartha 5m zone. Pressure was building and Ian Wallace looked like he was in for a try but the pass hit him square in the face and Cartha neutralised the threat.
The visitors were finishing the game strongly and their cause was helped when home hooker Stephan Hartman was yellow-carded for a high tackle. However, Kelso just couldn’t get over the try line.
Cartha finished the game when Graeme Docherty completed his hat-trick and Wayne Burrows made it seven from seven with the boot when he added the extras.
Kelso could have no complaints – on the day, they were beaten by the better side and they congratulated Cartha QP on their promotion.
Kelso need to dust themselves down for the visit of Kirkcaldy this Saturday and promotion is still in their own hands.
Head coach Adam Roxburgh admitted after the game that, while Cartha played very well, he was disappointed that Kelso couldn’t get enough ball to build any real pressure when they were in the lead.
He was also concerned that they lost tries at crucial times in the match and didn’t manage the game well when under pressure.
Kelso: 15 Greg Ponton, 14 Angus Roberts, 13 Donald Crawford, 12 Phil Hume, 11 Arran Jackson, 10 Andrew Skeen, 9 Andy Tait, 1 Blair Robertson, 2 Jack Chambers, 3 Rhys Morgan, 4 Andrew Wallace, 5 Donald Seed, 6 Paudie Lawlor, 8 Ian Wallace, 7 Tom Robson. Subs: 16 Andrew Ford, 17 Colin Arthur, 18 Gareth Riddell, 19 Gregg Minto.