Melrose happy with win but know stiff challenge awaits

Fraser Thomson: 'Good squad'. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
Fraser Thomson: 'Good squad'. Picture: Phil Wilkinson
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THE big guns of recent times launched into the new Premiership season with bonus-point wins on Saturday and sent a message to the rest that they remain the teams to catch.

Melrose joined Gala and Ayr in scoring four-try victories. But the contest will quickly hot up as Melrose now travel to Robert Burns country, while Gala are away to a Heriot’s team licking its wounds from this Greenyards defeat.

John Dalziel, who has stepped out of Craig Chalmers’ shadow and taken over as head coach, in a young management team with Rob Chrystie and Ciaran Beattie, was pleased with most elements of his side’s four-try win, but quick to rein in any over-excitement after the first day’s action.

It was a similar story with the new captain, Fraser Thomson, who said: “Obviously, you just look to start with a win at home and five points is a bonus of course, but we know that it only gets harder from now on.

“We’ve got a good squad of around 25-30 boys now, and the 2nds had a good win against Heriot’s, who were 2nd XV champions last season, so, if we stay fit, we will be competitive. Damien Hoyland is only 19 and he will get better and better, Austin [Lockington] is great in space and I thought James Head played well in the tight and loose, which was great.

“But we lost to Ayr home and away last season, and in the cup final, and they have strengthened their squad, so we know the size of the challenge that awaits this week. The title will not be decided in week one or two, so our aim is to pick up as many points as we can in the first few weeks and then re-assess.”

There were issues Melrose will want to address, notably the third quarter drop-off, but one has to credit Heriot’s, who came out of the half-time break with a gutsy desire to attack the 18-point deficit they faced and take the game to the hosts. It roused a travelling support that included Heriot’s former Scotland legend Iain Milne, and, with George Turner, Lawrie Seydak and Jason Hill among impressive forwards, and Keith Buchan and Liam Steele promising backs, they earned reward with tries for Colin Goudie and, in the final minute, Turner.

But, by then the five points had been wrapped up and put away in the Greenyards cupboard, and with the added excitement for the ’Rose faithful of bright performances from new signings. Wing Hoyland started the ball rolling by revealing his pace in latching on to a crossfield kick that he seemed, at best, 40-60 against to win when the ball was hoisted by Richard Mill, to score the first try after 21 minutes.

It had stemmed from a fine downfield kick by Thomson and excellent mauling work by the pack in driving Heriot’s back in their 22, but Hoyland’s clinical finish was the piece de resistance that Melrose often lacked last season.

In that pack, lock Head was another promising newcomer until replaced after 24 minutes by Perry Parker – he returned for the last ten minutes. The Edinburgh second row also showed himself to be an athletic and influential player, while left-wing Lockington, the South African sevens youth who has apparently been running rings round team-mates in training, showed glimpses of his fleet of foot but was well marshalled by a Heriot’s side alert to his threat.

Joe Helps had opened the scoring earlier with a penalty and, while he missed the conversion, he added another before Andrew Skeen scored, and Helps converted, to put clear daylight between the sides before half-time. That try also owed much to forward work, with Parker, Graeme Dodds and Peter Eccles, the former Heriot’s man, to the fore, but it was Skeen’s innate eye for gaps that brought the finish.

Heriot’s went close before Goudie mirrored Hoyland with stunning pace to beat Bruce Colvine to the touchdown 12 minutes into the second half, and the winger was just squeezed out moments after too.

Had Heriot’s scored twice, then this could have been a different game, but scrum-half Colvine led the Rose revival in the final quarter with a great counter-attack try and teed up Hoyland to finish another from inside the home half to seal the game with six minutes to go.

Much talk beforehand was of the new scrum law and, after initial teething issues, with scrum-halves feeding squint and hookers forgetting to hook, we witnessed good contests for the ball at scrum-time and few collapses, but real improvement will need time.