Rob Chrystie did a pretty good job of being magnanimous in victory after his team had dismantled Stirling County on Saturday to add the Scottish Cup to the BT Premiership crown they claimed three weeks ago, but there was no disguising the gulf in class between the two sides.
Melrose have raised the bar to a whole new stratosphere this season in terms of professionalism both on and off the park, and that was exhibited here in the way their defence comfortably soaked up wave upon wave of pressure, while their attack cut the opposition to ribbons whenever given half a sniff.
“We got there in the end, but it took a bit of work. To be fair to Stirling, they chucked a lot at us and kept the ball for long periods of time. We struggled a little bit to get territory early on but once we started to play the way we know we can play, we are tough to defend against. Some of the accuracy there, once the game did open up, was pretty impressive,” was Chrystie’s charitable assessment.
“We work hard on our defence to hopefully create opportunities to attack. You could see they were beginning to tire in the last 20 minutes and our bench came on and made a really good impact,” added Chrystie, pictured.
In truth, from the moment Ross McCann crossed the whitewash for the second of his four tries in total with only 13 minutes played, there was never any doubt about the outcome of this encounter.
Stirling deserve credit for sticking in. They scored next when veteran prop Gary Holborn – a former Melrose stalwart – grounded the ball after a rumbling line-out maul; but Melrose struck back when McCann released Iain Moody with a well-weighted diagonal to make it 19-5 to the Borderers at the break.
Four more scores for Melrose in the second half – two from McCann, and one each from Ruairdh Knott and George Taylor – eclipsed a solitary try from Craig Robertson for County.
It is not just the calibre of the players at Chrystie’s disposal, but the cohesion of the whole squad, which has been key to their success this year. The former Hawick, Melrose, Bath, Border Reivers and Scotland A scrum-half is one of rugby’s good guys, and his down-to-earth approach has been key to developing the squad’s culture.
There was a minor wobble this season when the team lost back-to-back games against Ayr and Currie Chieftains in January, but once that was out of their system they have been ruthless in their dismantling of all who have stood in their way.
“This group is by far the best I have been involved with at Melrose, and that’s as a player as well. They spend a lot of time together and actually really enjoy working hard for each other,” said Chrystie. “So, they’ve got their just rewards. We were a bit gutted to lose the Melrose Sevens final, but to get the double as well as the charity shield has taken a lot of building.
“These sorts of opportunities don’t come around very often, it was 1997 the last time Melrose won the double, so the players just need to relax and enjoy the moment because they deserve it. My job as a coach is to make sure we are good to go next year.”
And if the jungle drums are to be believed Melrose are going to get even stronger next season, which looks like being the last as we know it before the arrival of Super 6 turns the top end of Scottish club rugby on its head.
“We’ve just got to keep working hard. We’ve got some good young guys coming through. It was good to get an opportunity to get the likes of Patrick Anderson and Gavin Wood on today, and we’ve got some more young guys away at Langholm Sevens [Melrose reached the final], so we’ve just got to keep working hard,” said Chrystie, choosing to focus on Melrose’s excellent youth development programme.
Don’t rule out the possibility of a few more established names also joining the black and gold ranks as the Borderers set about consolidating their position as top dogs.