Melrose will return to Murrayfield for a second successive BT Cup final after defeating Stirling in a semi-final that started well for County but which slipped away quickly from the Bridgehaugh side as Melrose found their scoring rhythm.
In the end Melrose were in cruise mode after adding 22 points in the last quarter after a performance that showed just how close the Greenyards side are to being a professional side or at the very least the semi-pro version.
After the shock of trailing 11-0 after ten minutes Melrose turned on a blend of power and pace sprinkled with moments of delightful panache from the likes of full-back Fraser Thomson and flanker Grant Runciman that eventually was too much for the Stirling defence.
Thomson in particular sparkled with his contributions for the first two Melrose tries but throughout the match the full-back, surely good enough to solve a few of Edinburgh’s current problems, was a constant threat. “Fraser was outstanding as definitely the best player on the pitch,” said the Melrose coach, Rob Chrystie, who added: “The boys are happy with the result but they know they can be better.”
County, fielding Glasgow professionals Chris Fusaro and Sam Johnson were missing a number of key players, including their Scotland Under-20 skipper Callum Hunter-Hill, who was not released for this game. But with encouraging performances from the likes of wing Logan Trotter, who played for the Bridgehaugh Under-18 side last season, Stirling have reason to be optimistic about their future.
“We’re looking to develop our young club players. We have to aspire to being like the Melroses and Ayrs of this world,” suggested County’s head coach, David Adamson, adding: “We started well. The momentum was with us but we conceded a try just after the restart. We’d have loved to get to the cup final. It’s something we can aim for next season.”
On the best day of the year so far – and one the host club hope will be replicated in two weeks time when they stage their annual sevens tournament – it was Stirling who took early advantage of the summer conditions to impose themselves on the game with solid defence and clever attacking moves. Their first points came from a poor box kick by the Melrose scrum-half Murdo McAndrew which turned possession over to Stirling. County’s scrum-half Alex Black then showed how to execute this kind of kick, allowing Trotter to run on to the ball and score in the corner.
Jonny Hope, who eight minutes later was forced to retire with an injury, missed the conversion but stand-off Ross Thomson was on target with a penalty attempt to extend Stirling’s advantage to eight points in as many minutes. The Kiwi stand-off then added a second penalty goal for an 11-0 lead but any worries the Melrose fans might have harboured soon disappeared when their side showed why they are where they are in Scottish rugby.
And it was Fraser Thomson who did the damage, the full-back running through the 13 channel before linking with Runciman, who then supplied the scoring pass to Sam Pecqueur for a try converted by Jason Baggot.
Runciman and Thomson again combined to give the full-back a gem of a try and with it the lead. Then from a penalty created line-out in the corner, the Melrose forwards formed themselves into an unstoppable train for try No.3 scored by hooker Russell Anderson and converted by Baggot.
Three minutes into the second half Edinburgh prop Nick Beavon barged over for the fourth Melrose try, again converted by Baggot, but in a rare show of defiance County breached the home defence for a try by lock Adam Sinclair, converted by Thomson.
But almost immediately Melrose hit back with a Baggot penalty goal and then a second try for Beavon, yet again converted by Baggot. A slick move after a set scrum gave Nyall Godsmark the next Melrose score, converted by Baggot, before the burly back-row Ruairidh Knott completed the Melrose scoring with his side’s seventh try.