Borders secure Heineken spot with record victory

Borders 43

Newport-Gwent 5

THE Borders finished the season in stirring fashion last night to make sure of their return to the Heineken Cup and send a message to Murrayfield that they are not dead yet.

Next week, the SRU will get down to studying plans for handing out some control of one or more of the professional teams in the knowledge that if no investors match up to their demands - though the cash-strapped union are not best-placed to demand much - one team might soon disappear.

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The Borders players could not have done much more to persuade their bosses that they deserve to stay. A record league win and improvement of two places on previous seasons was the perfect response to questions of whether the Borders deserved a future.

Steve Bates, the Borders coach, admitted: "It's very difficult to see any logic in us becoming the team cut, if the SRU are to move back to two teams, with the progress we have made.

"It is hard on all the Scottish teams and Glasgow, who now are in the position we've been in the last two years, but the aim for this team was to make it as difficult a decision as possible for the SRU if they are to go down that road. In the past it seems as if the Borders has always been the vulnerable side, but what we've done is to say it's no longer straightforward, and that's all we can do. I was very proud of the performance tonight. There was a lot of emotion going around tonight, as there has been in the last few weeks to be honest with all the uncertainty and players leaving. But everyone contributed and we scored six good tries."

Word had spread around Netherdale before kick-off that Glasgow were 19-0 down, and the emotions of players for whom this was their final game - eight, possibly more, of last night's squad will not be at Netherdale next season - was evident when Semo Sititi's children appeared on the pitch as mascots resplendent in Reivers jerseys and kilts.

The home support had only six minutes to wait for their own emotions to be heightened and they felt both delight and despair. A Sititi burst on the right and kick initially lost possession, but Andy Miller, the livewire flanker, turned over Dragons ball, Ben MacDougall superbly drew the defender and released Simon Danielli, and the powerful wing raced clear from 40 metres out on the right to score the opening try.

However, within two minutes, the Dragons had struck back. Calum MacRae slipped off Nathan Brew in the midfield just outside the Reivers 22 and it left Brew and Gareth Wyatt with a two on one, Wyatt taking advantage to beat the cover and touch down. MacRae's conversion still gave the Borders the lead, but they underlined it in great style with a second try in the 16th minute.

Opeta Palepoi caught the Dragons defence napping when he burst from a driven lineout and ran 20 metres to score, MacRae slotting his second conversion. The same man added a penalty

before confirmation of Glasgow's defeat to Connacht the half-time brought great relief to local supporters, and the team responded by giving them a second half to remember.

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It became a bit of a procession with standing ovations for players making their last appearances, and Paul Thomson and Stuart Moffat applauding the crowd as they came off. Nikki Walker joined in by reminding Reivers supporters of what they will miss when he heads south to the Ospreys with a wonderful solo score, beating two tackles, cruising past full-back Aled Thomas and delighting the crowd with a swan dive over the line. Mark Blair, another player departing, showed great strength to haul himself over the line for a fifth try, and Walker won the race to MacRae's kick ahead for the sixth.

Scorers: Borders: Tries: Danielli 2, Walker 2, Palepoi, Blair. Pen: MacRae. Cons: MacRae 5. Dragons: Try: Wyatt.

Borders: S Moffat; S Danielli, B MacDougall, C MacRae, N Walker; G Townsend, B McKerchar; P Thomson (capt), S Scott, B Douglas, S MacLeod, O Palepoi, J Dalziel, S Sititi, A Miller. Subs: T McGee for Thomson 44mins, G Law for Moffat, C Hore for Townsend, both 50, C Stewart for Palepoi 55, W Kay for Scott, M Blair for Dalziel, both 62, C Beattie for McKerchar 70.

Dragons: A Thomas; G Wyatt, N Brew, C Sweeney, B Breeze; C Warlow, J Ireland; D Maddocks, A Brown, G Robinson, I Gough, P Sidoli, A Hall, M Owen (capt), R Oakley. Subs: L Charteris for Sidoli, A Black for Maddocks, B Griffiths for Gough, all 50mins, G Baber for Ireland 51, G Chapman for Brew 61, W Thomson for Owen 74.

Referee: A Lewis (Ire). Attendance: 1,233.

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