Melrose push at the right times

If this kind of fayre continues to be served up on a regular basis, Scottish club rugby will have crowds swarming into local grounds on a weekly basis.

Meggetland attracted a healthy crowd of 1,050 for its return to the top flight on Saturday, and the supporters were treated to a pinball-style encounter between two sides committed to succeeding in Division1.

Melrose always looked to have the edge over their newly-promoted hosts in the forward battle, their set-piece play showing that bit more maturity and stealth but, due to Boroughmuir’s exciting back play and dogged determination, never at any stage could the visiting coaches Gary Parker and Gel Tait afford to think the game was theirs.

Parker admitted: "It was a fantastic game of rugby, and we’re just delighted to come out of it with four points. If Boroughmuir continue to play like this, not many teams will come here this season and do that. We’re delighted."

Their most concerted periods of pressure, in the opening and closing minutes of the game, looked to have set them on track for victory, but on both occasions the slick and imaginative home backs replied. When hooker Wayne Mitchell produced the finish in the sixth minute for a fine display of ball retention by the visitors, the wee terrier diving over the line by the posts, and Scott Ruthven converting, Melrose looked to be in command.

But just seven minutes later an incisive break by ex-Scotland wing Derek Stark ripped through Melrose’s midfield and sent youngster Rory Coupar in for a try, converted by Calvin Howarth from wide on the left.

At the other end of 80 minutes, it was the same men involved in creating a pulsating finale. Mitchell touched down with four minutes remaining, Ruthven converting for a 39-32 lead, only for Coupar to respond in kind. The difference this time, however, was Howarth couldn’t convert the extra points to salvage the draw.

Only then were we able to draw breath and reflect on what had been a thrilling encounter.

Indications that this would be close-fought came as early as the opening minutes, when the far-side home support let rip at the Melrose back-row after Howarth had been left prostrate at the end of a series of no-nonsense rucks from the Borderers.

Play resumed after Howarth returned to his feet, only for the next breakdown to spark all-out warfare, involving what seemed like all 30 players on the field.

Mitchell’s opening score then put the game on the right footing, and though Melrose lost prop Ian Cornwall to the sin-bin minutes later - forcing back-row man Alex Clark to go off and replacement prop Ian McCall to enter the fray - the game became a gripping encounter.

The Boroughmuir attack, often starting from near their own line, had the under-rated centre Lindsay Graham at its nub. One of Boroughmuir’s star performers in the Scottish Cup win last season, Graham’s ability to open up defences with thoughtful angled running - his plum straight lines are often angled enough to mesmerise retreating backs - allied to the eagerness of former Thurso High School’s Steven Ruddick on his shoulder, made for a torrid welcome for Melrose centres Ali Dickson and George Finch.

In the 25th minute, full-back Tom Lightoller provided the spark with a confident run into the Melrose defence, but it was Graham’s decision to cut inside him and yell for the pass, which enabled Stark to gallop into acres of space, take Graham’s pass and canter over the line.

The forward battle continued with Boroughmuir’s new flanker Aaron Satchwell being sin-binned and Ruthven and Howarth swapping penalties before a flurry of scoring precipitated the half-time whistle.

In the last five minutes, Melrose skipper Scott Aitken scored, Ruthven converting, Graham won a chip-and-chase to touch down, Howarth adding the two points, and Dickson showed his strength in the tackle to wait for support and send Bruce Ruthven in for a try - 22-22, phew!

The second period started in the same fashion, Melrose prop Millan Browne powering his way over, Ruthven converting to add to an opening minute penalty, only for Howarth to respond by skipping through lacklustre tackles to touch down at the other end and convert, cutting Melrose’s brief ten-point lead back to three.

The visitors introduced veteran Robbie Brown for John Dalziel and teenager Kelly Brown for Clark. With eight minutes remaining Howarth levelled matters with a penalty, and the temperatures rose again. The final flurry merely underlined how the lustre of club rugby is coming back into view.

Boroughmuir: T Lightoller; D Stark (M Clapperton 50min), S Ruddick, L Graham, R Coupar; C Howarth, C Cusiter; A Green, D Cunningham, S Penman, G McCallum, A Ness, A Satchwell (N Bruce 71min), O Brown, R Muir.

Melrose: A Petzer; G Caldwell, A Dickson, G Finch, B Ruthven; S Ruthven, R Chrystie; I Cornwall, W Mitchell, M Browne, J Dalziel (R Brown 60min), S Aitken, S Bennet, A Clark (K Brown 73min), T Weir.

Referee: R Dickson (Madras FP)