TRYING to spot which team was pushing for the title and which was battling to avoid relegation proved difficult for most of this enthralling encounter. That is until the last six minutes, when Melrose displayed a touch of class, combined with raw ambition to snatch the spoils.
Aberdeen Grammar 22 - 34 Melrose
SCORERS: Aberdeen: Tries: Metcalfe, McGuigan, Oag, O’Connor. Con: Aloe. Melrose: Tries: Little, Eccles, Anderson, Helps, Lockington. Cons: Helps 3. Pen : Helps.
Up to then, Aberdeen Grammar had made a convincing case for retaining its top-tier status, only to fall away as they have done too often in the closing stages of a game this season.
In contrast, Melrose coach John Dalziel was taking his side’s RBS Premiership title chase down to the wire. “We are always confident when we go out, but had our hands tied a bit with Gala having a three-point lead in the league. We are pleased to have pulled one back, taking the title chase into the last week. Grammar made us work hard, they are a proud team and are good enough to fight their way out of trouble,” said Dalziel, who rated centre Joe Helps as the man of the afternoon. “Joe epitomises the spirit of the whole team.”
Helps was the vital cog in the Borderers’ challenge, ending the day with 14 points, including the last try of the day, three conversions and a penalty while being a constant threat with his aggressive running and solid defence.
Melrose took the lead in five minutes when prop Nicky Little rumbled over, only for Grammar to hit back with tries by lock Jamie Metcalfe and Glasgow professional Byron McGuigan before the 20-minute mark. None of the tries was converted, though Helps did slot a penalty in 30 minutes before converting flanker Peter Eccles’ try to make it 15-10 at half-time for Melrose.
When former Grammar winger Callum Anderson added a third try for the visitors, converted by Helps, it looked all over in 45 minutes, but the Rubislaw side rallied, tying the scores in 72 minutes with fine tries by winger Erlend Oag and replacement flanker Sean O’Connor, one of which was converted by stand-off Rob Aloe.
But the home fightback was ultimately for nought as Melrose upped the pressure and ran in tries by Helps and full-back Austin Lockington, both converted by Helps who, in the final analysis, was the difference between these two sides.
Aberdeen: S.Aitken; B.McGuigan, H.Duthie, G.Ryan(c), E.Oag; R.Aloe, M.Ward; M.Dixon, S.Bingham, S.Cessford, S.Smith, J.Metcalfe, A.Mackie, T.McGinness, T.Preece. Subs: S.O’Connor, M.Schosser, C.Harvey, J.Lauder, W.Wardlaw.
Melrose: A.Lockington; C.Anderson, A.Dodds, J.Helps, M.Robertson; R.Mill, B.Colvine; N.Little, T.Pearce(c), N.Beavon, L.Carmichael, J.Head, P.Eccles, G.Runciman, A.Nagel. Subs: R.Ferguson, G.Holborn. G.Dodds, S.Dewar, A.Skeen.
Referee: A McMenemy.