League leaders Melrose gained revenge for last October’s defeat at the hands of defending champions Heriot’s and continue their stately progress towards this season’s end.
But the main interest at a rain-sodden and windswept Goldenacre was Heriot’s chance to put some distance between them and Currie as the Edinburgh pair scrap over who will occupy the fourth and final play-off place.
With Currie’s game postponed, Heriot’s earned a losing bonus point to create a slim three-point advantage and now have only one game left to play against Currie’s two.
Yesterday’s result turned on a late red card for flanker Michael Maltman that fatally weakened Heriot’s – down to 13 men at one point – just as they seemed likely to close the game out, allowing Melrose to snatch an unconvincing victory.
The home pack began confidently, winning penalties at mauls and scrums before hooker Michael Liness suddenly burst out of a ruck to charge 20 metres into the teeth of the wind and score.
Melrose elected to kick a long-range penalty as much to give themselves time to think as with any chance of success. Jason Baggott’s kick fell sell short but in the next minute Austin Lockington found a gap in the Heriot’s line and the ball was hacked on only to go dead before full back Fraser Thomson could reach it.
But Melrose won a penalty 25 metres out and right in front of the posts. Baggott made no mistake to make it 5-3 at half-time.
Immediately after the break, a fumbled pass in the Melrose 22 put pressure on the Borders team but they eventually forced their way up the pitch only to be stopped short of the danger zone. Heriot’s used the wind intelligently to kick in behind them but although they had possession and territory they struggled to make constructive use of it faced with an obstinate defence.
Heriot’s winger Robert Kaye was sin binned for a silly slap down of a pass on the halfway line and a few minutes later Maltman was red-carded after a long debate between referee and touch judge. The offence, unseen by most in the ground, was throwing a punch.
Under-strength Heriot’s came under the cosh and Melrose got into their 22 for the first time in the second half. A lineout set up a maul and openside flanker Grant Runciman came off the back to get the try and nudge Melrose ahead with a little over ten minutes remaining. The conversion was wide.
The game was in the bag for Melrose at this stage. They were in control and, despite the strong wind at their backs, Heriot’s were trapped in their own half until the final whistle.