There was to be no repeat of the dramatic events from last season’s Premiership play-off final when a last-gasp try on this very pitch made Heriot’s champions and Melrose runners-up.
It is true that a try would have won it for Heriot’s at the weekend but it was never going to happen against a resilient Melrose team, who controlled play in the final minutes, as they had done for most of the game, so that the home side could only look on the distant try line from afar.
“I thought the players’ attitude from the first minute was excellent,” said Melrose coach John Dalziel. “That’s four wins we now have against the top teams in the league so now we have to look at what is happening against other teams but I am really pleased with the kind of rugby we are playing and we are definitely getting some consistency into our games.”
Melrose moved above Heriot’s into second place behind Ayr in the BT Premiership. Currie hold fourth position after beating leaders Ayr and both Hawks and Hawick are in with a play-off shout.
At Goldenacre, Heriot’s were left to ponder the reasons behind their third defeat in a row. There were good individual performances; captain Jack Turley notching up the turnovers and Jason Hill doing a lot of damage in the loose on his return from injury, but the team was somehow lacking.
Heriot’s coach Phil Smith said: “It was a fairly even contest. There wasn’t much between the teams. We were in a good place at one stage in the second half but we didn’t keep the pressure on when we should have and let it slip away. I was hopeful that we would get the final try that would have turned the game but we didn’t and were edged out on the wrong side of the scoreboard.”
Melrose opened the scoring with an early Joe Helps penalty inside ten minutes. And it was Helps again on the right wing who grabbed the first try after No 8 Ally Miller picked up at the rear of a scrum and shrugged off tackles before delivering the scoring pass. Helps missed the conversion.
Heriot’s began to impose themselves on the game and gain territory, throwing the ball about a bit and playing some inventive rugby. The ball passed through several pairs of hands before outside centre Liam Steele got over the line but couldn’t ground the ball. It was a brief respite for Melrose because Heriot’s persisted in attacking mode and scrum-half Graham Wilson jinked round the side of a ruck to fool the waiting tacklers and get a try that he converted himself.
But Melrose immediately restored their advantage when Heriot’s made a mess of the restart and could only watch as Melrose full-back Fraser Thomson ran in from 30 metres with no-one near him. Helps banged over the conversion from the touchline to make the half-time score 7-15.
In the third quarter, Heriot’s quickly got back on the offensive and back on near-equal terms when winger Max Learmonth muscled his way over on the right and Wilson, having missed a couple of penalty attempts, banged over the conversion from the touchline to drag his team to within a single point. Helps kicked a penalty from in front of the posts with ten minutes remaining but a try could still confound Melrose if they weren’t careful.
In the event, they were careful, even though hooker George Turner got himself sin-binned and Heriot’s battled their way into the Melrose 22 and stayed there, contesting scrum after scrum, until the final whistle.