RBS Premiership: Hawks give unbeaten Melrose a scare

Melrose's Andrew Skeen catches the ball. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Melrose's Andrew Skeen catches the ball. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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MELROSE scraped past the challenge of Glasgow Hawks to stay the only unbeaten team in the RBS Premiership after three rounds of matches.

Melrose 29 - 27 Glasgow Hawks

Scorers: Melrose – Tries: Hoyland (2), Robertson. Con: Helps. Pens: Helps (4). Glasgow Hawks – Tries: Gillies, McPherson (2). Cons: Adamson (3). Pens: Adamson, Steele

Referee: A McMenemy.

It was a Jekyll and Hyde performance, far removed from the confident dismantling of last season’s champions Ayr the previous week but effective enough in the end with a big chunk of luck thrown into the mix.

Melrose coach John Dalziel said: “Our game management wasn’t great. For some reason, we didn’t have the edge or the patience we had against Ayr. We looked very dangerous one moment, then pretty vulnerable the next.”

Many of Melrose’s problems on the pitch were down to Hawks contesting every ball at the breakdown, running it from every angle and generally giving the home side no peace at all. Those tactics worked in seeing off Hawick at Old Anniesland the previous week but, this time, consecutive yellow cards for centre pairing of Ally MacLay and Jack Steele reduced Hawks to 13 men for a critical period when Melrose racked up 11 points with no reply.

Hawks coach Jamie Dempsey said: “On another day, yellow cards will go in your favour so there can be no complaints there. I am really proud of my players and how they played out there. It was tremendous to come back when Melrose went ahead and to get so close. We are a workmanlike team and we hope that we are improving with every game.”

The seeds of victory and defeat were probably sown in a fast and frantic 15 minutes when Hawks scored, but then immediately conceded points from the restarts so that no significant lead was ever established.

The first try came with only three minutes on the clock. Hawks scrum-half Haddon McPherson made a run off the back of the game’s first scrum and laid the ball back perfectly from a tackle on the line for hooker Finlay Gillies to pick up and score.

Penalties for each side kept the scoreboard ticking over before Hawks winger Tim Steven and No 8 Peter Redmayne got in a fankle trying to gather a restart kick and contrived to knock on. From the scrum, it was a simple matter for Melrose winger Damian Hoyland to take a pass and drill through the retreating defence for a try.

Melrose then launched wave after wave of attacks to keep the visitors pinned back before Hawks stand off Mike Adamson made an interception inside his own 22 and got over the halfway line before being forced to kick as Melrose full-back Austin Lockington got across to close him down.

With three minutes of the first 40 to go, MacLay was sin-binned for a ruck infringement and, a minute later, Steele followed him for an identical offence in front of the posts. Helps kicked his fourth penalty on the stroke of half-time and then, minutes into the second 40, converted the try scored by sevens international Mark Robertson after Lockington had carved a diagonal path through a 13-man defence.

Restored to full strength, Hawks set about building new momentum and Melrose, despite their 11-point lead, were suddenly on the back foot and, as their coach described, looking pretty vulnerable. A long kick up the touchline set up a lineout inside the Melrose 22 and a maul which fed the onrushing Hawks full-back James Gormley, only for him to be dragged down a metre short of the line.

The ball was recycled and the pressure maintained until McPherson found a gap and got his second try from close range. Adamson converted to make the margin a precarious four points going into the final quarter of the match.

With Scotland prop John Welsh shoring up their scrum, Hawks forced their way into the Melrose 22. But, just when it looked as if they would overwhelm the home line, it was all turned on its head as Melrose somehow came away with possession and a cavalry charge down the pitch saw the ball passed smoothly from Lockington to Andy Skeen to Hoyland who crashed over in the corner at full tilt.

Hawks, for all their good play throughout, looked to have been robbed not just of the win but of a losing bonus point. The conversion of Hoyland’s try was missed but it didn’t matter because there wasn’t enough time to rescue the situation. However, there was enough time for Hawks to create one last chance, a five-metre scrum in the Melrose 22 that produced quality ball despite being shunted backwards and allowed McPherson the space to run in for his second try.

Adamson’s defiant conversion couldn’t win the game but it ensured that Melrose felt Hawks’ hot breath on the backs of their necks as a reminder of just how close they had come to losing.

Melrose: A Lockington; D Hoyland, A Skeen, J Helps, M Robertson; R Mill, B Colvine; N Little, R Ferguson, N Beavon, R Miller, R Ovens, P Eccles, G Runciman, G Dodds. Replacements used: A Walker, G Holborn, S Dewar, A Dodds. Not used: T Wilson.

Glasgow Hawks: J Gormley; T Steven, A MacLay, J Steele, R McClymont; M Adamson, H McPherson; S Findlay, F Gillies, J Welsh, A Linton, R McKay, A Kirkland, S Leckie, R Miller. Replacements: C Kerr, J Lohoar, P Redmayne, D Milne, R Beattie.