Melrose produced their best performance of the season so far to defeat the BT Premiership champions, Heriot’s, at the Greenyards with what, at times, was brutal physicality at the contact area complemented by incision in the midfield channels.
“They were much the hungrier side,” admitted the Heriot’s coach, Phil Smith, adding: “We made too many defensive errors and our attack looked a bit tired.”
Both sides lost key players, Jason Hill, the Heriot’s No.8 forced to retire after ten minutes with an ankle injury and the Melrose full-back Fraser Thomson stretchered off with a head injury following a vital tackle. Thomson’s replacement, Joe Helps, however, made his presence count, the utility back kicking five from five for a 14-point tally.
Melrose looked likely winners after dynamic play early in the match that produced a try for second row Lewis Carmichael. Graham Wilson and Tom Galbraith swapped penalties but a try by Thomson made by Sam Pecqueur put Melrose ten points clear. But again Wilson cut into the lead with his second penalty goal matched on the stroke of half-time by the first of Helps’ five kicks.
Heriot’s looked sharp in the opening minutes of the second half and were rewarded with a try by centre Max Learmonth from a clever grubber kick by John Semple. The visitors’ hopes of making further progress, however, were immediately dashed as the Melrose flanker Neil Irvine-Hess went on a 60-metre run to score under the posts, leaving Helps with an easy conversion.
Helps then added two penalty goals, before Heriot’s, who had yellow cards shown to Harry Boisseau and Jack Turley, produced a defence-splitting run by Cameron Ferguson that gave wing Charlie Simpson a try. Then, as Melrose went in pursuit of the bonus point, their over eagerness to move the ball presented Heriot’s flanker Struan Dewar with an interception try – too late, however, to prevent a defeat for the title holders.