Melrose looked to be heading for a comfortable win when they led 44-22 with the end of the match approaching but the visitors, with three tries in extra time, reversed the direction of the tide and all but wrenched the game from the top flight’s reigning champions.
So often it is said of matches that defences were on top. Not so at the Greenyards yesterday, where defence was put away for much of the match, allowing the players to enjoy a running game that in total produced 13 tries.
“We were really disappointed with that end period,” said the Melrose coach, John Dalziel, adding: “To concede 21 points from that position is ridiculous. We came out today to make a statement against one of the joint leaders in the league but the last three tries by Heriot’s really took the shine off our performance. The boys are hurting after that. But if you let Heriot’s into the game they’ll score tries.”
At one stage in the match Heriot’s looked like they might emerge with nothing to show for their efforts but at the end of this marathon 92 minutes the Edinburgh team bagged two vital bonus points to keep them in contention for championship honours.
Much of that was down to the pace of the Heriot’s back division and especially the quick feet of Scotland sevens cap James Fleming. Heriot’s also used their bench well by bringing on the talented duo of Gregor McNeish and Jo Nayacavou to cut holes in the Melrose defence towards the end of the game.
But Melrose will be left wondering why they failed to demolish a Heriot’s side that struggled in the set piece from the strength applied in the front row by Ewan McQuillan, Nick Beavon and substitute Nicky Little. At times Melrose seemed to be so much on top in the forward battle that you began to feel a tad sorry for Heriot’s, who found it difficult to stop the effective driving mauls set up by Melrose. Heriot’s paid the price with two yellow cards that cost them points.
Melrose looked in winning form when their running rugby produced early tries for lock James Head and winger Tito Mua but a try from flanker Jonno Armstrong from Stuart Edwards’ delicate pass and the conversion by Graham Wilson brought Heriot’s back into the game.
Before the break the Melrose forwards produced tries for Todd Pearce and Nick Beavon, the latter converted by Austin Lockington, and then a penalty by Richard Mill countered by a Wilson penalty and a try by Rory Carmichael.
Then in a dominant third quarter Mua came off his wing to blast through midfield for his second try converted by Mill before flanker Peter Eccles was driven over from a penalty-created lineout. But Heriot’s, refusing to buckle, hit back with a Davy McGregor try, converted by Wislon from a Fleming run.
Crucially, after collecting their second yellow card, Heriot’s could not stop another driving maul which produced a second try for Eccles, converted by Mill for a healthy 44-22 lead.
And that should have been that. Except that Melrose then conceded a penalty try converted by Wilson after Liam Steele was checked on the line as he chased his own kick. And then deep into injury time came a spectacular touchdown from Fleming, Wilson again converting before the scrum-half added the extras to a Nayacavou try carved out by McNeish to leave Heriot’s frustratingly close to snatching victory.
Scorers: Melrose: Tries: Head, Mua 2, Pearce, Beavon, Eccles (2). Cons: Mill 2, Lockington. Pen: Mill. Heriot’s: Tries: Armstrong, Carmichael, McGregor, Fleming, Nayacavou, penalty. Cons: Wilson 5. Pen: Wilson.
Melrose: F Thomson; T Mua, B Hutchison, R Taylor, C Anderson; A Lockington, M McAndrew; N Beavon, T Pearce, E McQuillan, J Head, L Carmichael, N Irvine-Hess, P Eccles, G Dodds. Subs: R Ferguson, N Little, R Miller, T Wilson, R Mill.
Heriot’s: G Bryce; C Simpson, L Steele, R Carmichael, J Fleming; S Edwards, G Wilson; N Borel, D McGregor, S Cessford, R Nimmo, B Toolis, J Armstrong, J McLean, J Hill. Subs: G Cameron, B Couper, J Nayacavou, G McNeish, H Boisseau.