MELROSE head coach John Dalziel was visibly relieved at the conclusion of this torrid encounter, in which his team conjured an unlikely victory deep into injury time.
He was also candid enough to confess that he thought his side were beaten with a little over quarter of an hour to play. “I thought Stirling had done it and won the game,” he admitted, referring to seeing his side go 22-7 down with 17 minutes left. “I thought it was a bit too much to claw back and we were playing to salvage a losing bonus point.”
Melrose’s task looked positively Sisyphean before the fightback. They had taken an early lead when Callum Anderson scored after one minute, Joe Helps converting, but thereafter it was all Stirling.”
Rory Hughes grabbed an unconverted touchdown and they went in front when the winger notched his second try. Shortly after the restart AJ McFarlane stretched the advantage, and then prop Colin Hutton barged over for a bonus point score that Brian Archibald goalled to give the Bridgehaugh men what looked an unassailable lead.
But Damian Hoyland hit back for Melrose and then, with 80 minutes on the clock, Grant Runciman also scored, Helps adding the extras. It still looked as if it would be County’s day but referee Cammy Rudkin allowed no fewer than 12 minutes of injury time, which culminated in Helps sneaking in for a last-gasp try and the win. Stirling head coach Graeme Young was seething. “I’m struggling with 12 minutes of additional time. I don’t know where that came from. We also had a player sin-binned before the 80 minutes but even with those 12 minutes the officials wouldn’t let him back on.”
Stirling: B Addison, G Lindsay, A Russell, B Archibald, R Hughes, S Edwards, A J McFarlane, J Bhatti, Reyner Kennedy, C Hutton, R Leishman, T Ryder, S Robertson, Shaun McDonald, S Swindall. Subs: A Moffat, K Burney, W Bordill, B Barsanti, J Hope
Melrose: A Lockington, D Hoyland, B Hutchison, J Helps, C Anderson, Richard Mill, B Colvine, N Little, T Pierce, N Beavon, R Ovens, R Millar, P Eccles, G Dodds, G Runciman. Sub: R Ferguson, G Holborn, S Johnson, D Crawford, A Skeen
Referee: Cammy Rudkin