After the final whistle, the contrast between the teams was more obvious than it had been during play. Currie players piled back into a warm dressing room to sing, shout and back-slap in celebration of a well deserved victory. Melrose huddled on the pitch under the floodlights in near-zero temperatures for a forensic post mortem that went on for almost 15 minutes as the winter darkness descended around them.
Melrose coach Craig Chalmers said: “We had a chat about what’s been going wrong in the last couple of weeks when we have started badly in the games when you can’t afford to give away points like that. We had no momentum, missed tackles, slow ball at the rucks and the back of the scrum. But we were still in the game at 10-18 when they got the try in the second half and we had to try to force it a little. We still had our chances but accuracy throughout from set piece to handling was poor.
“We are in a bit of a rut at the moment and need to get out of it. We’ve had quite a few injuries, it is true, but that is no excuse. We put 15 guys on the pitch and expected them to win the game and they just weren’t good enough.”
It was a third loss in a row for Melrose, who were beaten at home in the British and Irish Cup and then went down to Stirling County in the league last week. But Currie had their own demons to face down coming into the match having drawn with Heriot’s and lost to Accies in their last two games.
This time, they got ahead of Melrose and, from then on, never looked like losing, although there was a sharp intake of breath when the most influential player on the pitch, Currie stand off Jamie Forbes, limped off with half an hour remaining. But Currie kept calm, kept the ball and, with three tries on the board, resisted the temptation to go for the bonus point and risk offering Melrose the opportunity to turn it around.
The win puts Currie in third place, hard on the heels of Ayr and Gala at the top of the table while Melrose slip back, although the two games Gala and Melrose each have in hand could yet turn the placings around drastically.
Outside a raucous home dressing room, Currie coach Ally Donaldson said: “We were really down last week when we were beaten by Accies. We coped a wee bit better today and we were well worth our win. I don’t think anybody would deny that. We played some fantastic rugby early on and, tactically, we got it right most of the time. It was the right decision not to chase the bonus point because we had to ensure victory and be aware that the difference was only two scores and Melrose could strike from anywhere if we gave them the chance.”
Currie’s strength was that they gave Melrose very few chances. Indeed, for the first ten minutes, the Borderers barely touched the ball as Forbes kicked an early penalty and winger Alex Fisken, on his debut for the club, scored a try out on the right. Melrose were still chasing shadows as teenage lock Johnny Gray plucked the ball out the air at a lineout and a maul rolled over the visitors’ line but was held up.
But Melrose slowly began to make an impression. Centre Bruce Dick fly-hacked a loose ball and just lost out in the chase for the touchdown. Then full back Sam Chalmers was chopped down with a last-gasp tackle as he came into the line at an angle. Stand-off Andrew Skeen missed a long-range penalty but then got the three points when another penalty was awarded in front of the posts.
Currie got into field position to allow Forbes to chip over his second penalty and centre James Johnstone barrelled over at the end of a multi-phased move where the ball was shifted quickly and kept alive skilfully to create the try. The conversion made it 18-3 at half time.
At the restart, Melrose were again confined to their own half but Junior Kalamafoni led a breakout, off-loading cleverly to keep the move going but it stalled on the Currie ten-metre line. Melrose persisted, trying a maul from a lineout and then a back row move off a five-metre scrum that ended in an untidy pile-up and prop Gary Holborn’s hand on the ball for a try. The conversion scraped over the bar to give Melrose hope.
But now Currie hugged the ball close, refusing to give up possession as Melrose became more and more frustrated. Into the final quarter, No 8 Ross Weston crashed over for a third try. Melrose became ever more desperate but couldn’t make anything useful out of what little possession they had and the game ended with Currie replacement flanker Malcolm Peacock sprinting down the left wing for what might have been a bonus point try had he not been bundled into touch.
Scorers: Currie – Tries: Fisken, Johnstone, Weston. Con: Forbes. Pens: Forbes (2). Melrose – Try: Holborn. Con: Skeen. Pen: Skeen.
Currie: L Draycott; A Fisken, J Johnstone, S James, A Whittingham; J Forbes, R Snedden; J Cox, F Scott, F Watt, S Marcell, J Gray, M Cairns, M Entwhistle, R Weston. Subs: M Erskine, A Hamilton, G Temple, M Peacock, M Johnstone.
Melrose: S Chalmers; B Colvine, B Dick, J Helps, U Kalamafoni; A Skeen, S McCormick; N Little, W Mitchell, G Holborn, R Ovens, R Miller, A Walker, G Runciman, A Nagle. Subs : I Robertson, C Arthur, P Eccles, A Jessop, R Mill.
Referee: D Changleng.