Stirling County 15-24 Melrose: Melrose get out of jail free
Melrose got their season off to a winning start but they did it the hard way. The league champions were on the back foot for the vast majority of a match that was played almost exclusively deep inside the visitors’ half.
The title holders found themselves 15-7 down early in the second half and they needed a barnstorming finish, with three tries in the final 25 minutes, to steal the win.
County bossed just about every aspect of play but somehow the Borderers finished on top. The home side will be kicking themselves because they were complicit in their own demise as they scorned any number of chances to make this match safe. The home side could, and should, have been out of sight before half time. Instead they didn’t even earn a losing bonus point as they allowed Andy Nagle to grab the visitors’ fourth try with the second last play of the game.
The home scrum was stronger, the backs looked sharper even if they kicked too much ball away, and they bested Rose at the breakdown where Robbie Boswell and Tim Clarke were magnificent. Glasgow apprentice Rory Hughes looked dangerous on the wing but, while the opposition spent much of the match on the ropes, still County failed to land the knock out blow.
Brian Archibald opened the scoring with a penalty on the half hour mark but, as so often happens when one team enjoys all the pressure with little to show for it, County were hit by a sucker punch just before half time. Archibald’s clearance kick limped into touch and County found themselves under-manned on the right hand side. The visitors took a quick throw in and full-back Greg White scampered under the posts while most of the home side were catching their breath.
If the home support could not quite believe the scoreboard at half time it was looking a lot healthier ten minutes later after Craig Deacons had scored twice for County. The first try came minutes after the restart when the big lock was put into a gap by Clarke and the second came around the 50 minute mark after Graham Lindsay made good ground on the right flank, Boswell carried hard and Deacons dived over from short range.
The players tired, the game broke up and Melrose showed great character to score their second try when replacement Peter Eccles got on the end of a sweeping move to dive over in the left hand corner.
With the gap reduced to just three points these were nervous times for the home crowd and the atmosphere wasn’t helped any when Archibald fluffed a penalty attempt on 60 minutes. A little later the same man made a sublime break only to throw a pass to thin air rather than the supporting Ruairidh Leishman. Then County’s other centre Danny Gilmour made another clean break and again the move came to nothing, Stuart Edwards unable to hold on to a pass that might have been intended for the wing.
All these near misses were to prove horribly costly as the veteran stand-off Andrew Skeen hacked ahead twice to score the try ten minutes from time that gave Melrose the lead before Nagle applied the coup de grace at the death. Melrose will play better than this and lose to more clinical opposition.
Scorers. Stirling County: Tries: Deacons 2. Con: Archibald. Pen: Archibald. Melrose: Tries: White, Eccles, Skeen, Nagle. Con: Skeen.
Stirling County: Addison; Lyndsey, Gilmour, Archibald, Hughes; Edwards, Maw; Raby, Moffat, Mountford, Leishman, Deacons, Clarke, Swindall, Boswell. Subs: Hutton, Black, S Kennedy, R Kennedy, Hope.
Melrose: White; Mallin, McGrath, Mill, Helps; Skeen, Colvine; Little, Ferguson, Holborn, Ovens, Miller, Dalziel, Runciman, Nagle. Subs: Mitchell, Arthur, Eccles, McCormack, Chalmers.
Referee: A McPherson.
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