MELROSE lifted the Scottish Premiership title in dramatic fashion at The Greenyards yesterday while Gala failed to get the home win to take the title to Netherdale for the first time since 1983.
The news of Ayr’s final score spread like wildfire around the ground and the final minutes were broadcast live on the tannoy as the Melrose players listened intently on the pitch.
Gala’s final score kept the crowd on tenterhooks until the final whistle at Netherdale gave Melrose the title by just one point.
“It was a great day for the club,” said John Dalziel in his first season as coach. “But it was all about the players, who have been consistent all season.
“I knew that it would be roller-coaster and I knew we had it in us to win the title. We knew that if we won, we would put the pressure on, and the players will enjoy themselves tonight.
“Our guys have been forgotten about and we came good in the end. I had a feeling that we would do it and the lads showed a lot of courage. That’s for them today, they are a class outfit, and we deserve the championship. It is heart-breaking for Gala and I feel sorry for George (Graham) as it has been that close all season. They have worked so hard over the past years, but you know, we are just as good as them.
“We tried to keep the score at Gala away from the players and our focus was on Currie, for they are a hard side.”
Club director Mike Dalgetty was delighted, but added: “This is our third title in four years, but I feel sorry for the lads at Gala. I have a lot of friends up there and they have worked really hard.
“It is very hard when you lose at the end, as we have done in the past, but I have to say that we are delighted.
“This was a great day for Borders rugby with two sides three miles apart battling for the championship, but leagues do not tell lies and we have won two more games than them, and beat them both times.”
The weather was perfect for open rugby with the early pressure from Melrose and Joe Helps kicked them ahead with an early penalty from 35 metres, and the centre was to prove a match-winner with 16 points from four penalties and two conversions.
Melrose kept up the pressure and the game was delayed by an injury to Todd Pearce, Richard Fergusson coming on as a replacement at hooker.
However, Currie found their feet and George Horne equalised with a simple penalty following several forwards’ drives only for Helps to miss a kick at the other end.
Richard Mill kept Currie on the back foot with deft kicks to touch and intense running by Austin Lockington set up strong positions for Melrose, who were looking to cash in on their wind advantage.
Currie were having to start attacks deep from their own half, and when they infringed, Helps kicked Melrose back into the lead in 29 minutes.
The game needed a try and the Currie pack did their best to produce it until Bruce Colvine stole the ball and cleared his lines.
The game was nip-and-tuck as Melrose battled to stay in front and Helps stretched their lead to 9-3 as the news filtered down from Netherdale that Gala were trailing Ayr.
Melrose increased their lead on the stroke of half-time as Graeme Dodds collected a loose ball and fed Bruce Colvine, who raced clear under the posts for a try, converted by Helps, for a 16-3 lead at the interval.
Currie missed an opportunity early in the second half when Dodds stole the ball at a visitors’ throw-in close to the home line.
Then Callum Anderson got back to touch down and force a “22” drop-out. Currie were the dominant side as they strove for the try that would close the gap. But a kick ahead by Anderson put the pressure back on Currie.
Melrose increased their lead when Helps kicked his fourth penalty with just over 20 minutes to play while Currie were reduced to 14 men when Mike Vernal was yellow carded.
Both sides made changes to freshen up the teams as Currie forced Melrose into hard defensive tackles to keep them out. Melrose were under the cosh, but Currie were unable to make their control count inside the “22” line. Melrose ensured the points when new Edinburgh signing Damien Hoyland usedhis pace to run clear from inside his own half for a score, converted by Helps.
There was consolation for a brave Currie display with a try by John Cox in the final minute and Horne converted. It was too late to save the game.