Melrose 43 - 34 Aberdeen Grammar: Melrose closing in
IF MELROSE are to claim back-to-back league titles they are determined to do it the difficult way. Craig Chalmers men did the needful yesterday, putting away the side at the bottom of Premier A, but not without some added drama their coach could have done without.
After enjoying a 34-7 lead late in the first half, Melrose saw that lead shrink to 37-34 as Aberdeen fought back with three tries in the third quarter of the match which seriously rattled the home side.
Melrose have imploded before in this campaign, notably against Dundee, and it looked for all the world like a repeat performance but Glasgow flyhalf Scott Wight came off the bench to slot two long-range penalties which, added to another short-range effort from Andrew Skeen, calmed the home nerves and saw them over the line. It was a little ironic that a match that boasted nine tries was eventually decided by kicks and it was relief more than anything else that greeted the final whistle.
With second-placed Dundee pocketing five points as well, the league title will depend on the final round of games. Melrose play Boroughmuir on the evening of Friday 6 April in Edinburgh while Dundee host Stirling County one day later… unless the SRU decree the two matches must be played simultaneously.
If the scorching heat was cricket weather then the scattering of fans at the Greenyards were entertained by a cricket score as Melrose tucked away the bonus point try after just 30 minutes.
The two teams shared nine tries in total, five going to the visitors, and it should have been more as both sides squandered a few cast iron opportunities.
Both sides proved better at attack than defence as they more resembled the house of straw than the one of bricks.
This was an odd contest because the team with the ball and a little momentum always seemed likely to score if they could hold on long enough, Melrose in the first half and Aberdeen after the break.
Aberdeen’s backs looked dangerous, with flyhalf Alex Haggart pulling the strings, and right winger Erlend Oag proved a handful every time he got his hands on the ball; the only surprise is that Aberdeen didn’t give him a few more opportunities to stretch his legs.
The first try came from Aberdeen flanker Tony McGinness but Melrose scored four without reply to put themselves in the driving seat after half an hour. Flyhalf Skeen is a top-of-the-ground player and he revelled in the perfect conditions, ending the match with one try, one drop goal, two penalties and four conversions to claim 22 points in all.
He scored the first home try and his halfback partner Bruce Colvine scampered over not long after.
Melrose winger Allan Dodds was then gifted a try when Grammar’s Steve Aitken threw him the ball just five yards out as the fullback tried to keep the ball from going into touch. Centre Bruce Dick barrelled his way over for the fourth try on 30 minutes and, with the bonus point secured, Melrose went off the boil.
After six tries in the first half it was little surprise that the pace dipped after the break and for a while it looked like Aberdeen might have manufactured an unlikely comeback with three tries in the third quarter.
The first went to the impressive fullback Aitken before hooker Sam Bingham showed the happy knack of popping up at the right place and inevitably at the right time by grabbing two tries in three minutes.
Both of his tries were absolute beauties, the second of which almost unbelievably dragged the visitors to within three points of the home team.
For a while it looked like Melrose might suffer another fit of the vapours, but Wight steadied the ship with his long-range penalties and Melrose are 80 minutes from a second successive title.
Scorers: Melrose: Tries: Skeen, Colvine, A Dodds, Dick. Cons: Skeen (4). Pens: Skeen (2), Wight (2). Drop goal: Skeen. Aberdeen: Tries: McGinness, Lyle, Aitken, Bingham (2). Cons: Haggart (3). Pen: Haggart.
Melrose: Thomson; A Dodds, Dick, Murray, McGrath; Skeen, Colvine; Little, Ferguson, Beavon, Eccles, Miller, Ovens, Runciman, G Dodds (c). Subs: Holburn, Keen, Johnson, McCormick, Helps.
Aberdeen: Aitken; Oag, Wardlaw, Lyle, Anderson; Hagart, Ward; Fraser, Bingham, Allen, Nimmons, Smith, Seydak, McGinness, Douglas (c). Subs: Ryan, Maconnachie, Carson, Barrie, Aloa.
Referee: A McMeneny.
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