Boroughmuir captain Andy Rose admitted his team now need to win their remaining four Premiership matches after their survival hopes were dealt a huge blow by a 12-18 defeat against champions Melrose at Meggetland.
Anything that could go wrong for ’Muir did go wrong including one potentially crucial decision towards the end when English exchange referee Shane Lewis missed a Melrose defender wading in from a blatantly offside position at a ruck with the visitors try-line under siege.
Far from issuing the yellow card that would have left Melrose with 13 men – skipper Graham Dodds had already been sin-binned – the official failed to award even a penalty and in the moments that followed Boroughmuir were twice held up over the line.
However, rather than wallowing in self-pity Rose, his side now seven points adrift at the bottom albeit with a game in hand, insisted: “We were our own worst enemies. We had opportunities but just didn’t take them through forcing offloads which just didn’t come off.”
Such a reaction, while admirable, did not tell the whole story of a game which went to uncontested scrums after 57 minutes due to injuries involving both Melrose hookers.
Alun Walker had retired early with a leg knock and the injury which caused decisive disruption saw Wayne Mitchell retire to the sidelines with his arm held to his chest.
Within a minute Jackson Achilles was sin-binned for a technical offence and not only had Boroughmuir’s dominant pack lost their go-forward but also a key back-row member.
Melrose, capitalising at once, forced a ruck from which Andrew Skeen threw out a long scoring pass to Alan Dodds and the conversion helped transform a 6-12 deficit into the slenderest of leads.
Before Achilles could return, Melrose struck again when a weak clearance was fielded by Calum Anderson whose counter set up Bruce Dick for a try.
Even then ’Muir were still in the game helped by two uncharacteristic penalty misses by Skeen but they couldn’t summon sufficient composure with final passes going astray and some being released too early.
Similarly, one late attack saw play spread wide away from the posts when the conversion would have been needed for a win had the Border line been pierced.
“It was especially disappointing after our win against Dundee which left us thinking we had a campaign going,” said Rose. “The home and away derbies with Heriot’s are must-win games. In fact, everything is must win now.
“We just have to dig deep after writing this one off.
“We were very close at the end but hats off to Melrose who got underneath us and prevented us grounding the ball.
“The uncontested scrums were just one of those things.
“There’s nothing we can do about it now. We can bitch about but the final whistle has gone. It has to be onwards and upwards after looking at the video to see why there was a forced error here and a forced error there.
“There was a lot of positive play from both teams which must have been nice to see and we can build on a good solid platform when scrummaging while line-outs, to a certain extent, went well. Also, our defence is generally working effectively with the losing bonus point at least something.”
It was certainly the case that Melrose defended like Juventus in a penalty box, getting arms, legs, torsos and anything that could be martialled between Boroughmuir and a score.
The agony for ’Muir, whose goal-kicker Ally Warnock slotted four penalties in-a-row before missing a relatively straightforward effort near the end, is that they might have left their survival effort – one team is automatically relegated – too late for at times their rucking was immense as was the scrummaging; on another day tries would have stacked up.
But despite skipper Rose leading from the front, Steve Wilson carrying ball strongly and Redha Guedroudj always a threat out wide, there was also an instance of an attacking line-out being squandered.
On such tiny margins was this match decided – and possibly the relegation issue too – while Melrose’s ability to somehow come up with a victory was both masterly and streetwise watched by Michael Bradley who may be leaving Edinburgh Rugby’s coaching job at season’s end after failing to have his contract renewed following a wretched season, but who, clearly, retains an interest in the club scene.
Boroughmuir: Penalties: Warnock (4).
Melrose: Tries: A Dodds, Dick. Conversion: Skeen. Penalties: Skeen, Helps.
Boroughmuir: R Cairns; S Visser, M Clapperton, S Wilson, R Guedroudj; A Warnock, S Johnson; R Hislop, D Miller, J Latta, G Scott, A Davidson, J Achilles, J Swanson, A Rose (captain). Subs: N Fraser, K Coertze, N Rodger, B Reekie, K Buchan.
Melrose: F Thomson; C Anderson, B Dick, J Helps, A Dodds; A Skeen, B Colvine; N Little, A Walker, G Holborn, R Ovens, G Dodds (captain), J Dalziel, R Miller, A Nagle. Subs: W Mitchell, C Keen, P Eccles, S McCormick, R Mill.
Referee: S Lewis (RFU).