Melrose 25 - 8 Watsonians: Hosts leave it late to pull clear

Melrose's Iain Moody takes a line out. Pic: SNS/SRU/Bruce White
Melrose's Iain Moody takes a line out. Pic: SNS/SRU/Bruce White
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Melrose squeezed every ounce of advantage from playing at home to progress to the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup.

In a nervous, no-holds-barred encounter the home side, down to 13 men for one ten-minute period, had the patience and composure to bide their time and stretch away at the end.

Melrose reinforced their backline with Scotland Sevens international Ross McCann and Edinburgh professionals George Taylor and Jason Baggott, while Watsonians had club captain Craig Borthwick and winger Mark Bertram returning from injury.

After a lively start from both sides, Melrose went ahead in seven minutes from their first visit to the Watsonians 22. Lock James Head burrowed through a pile-up of bodies on the line to get the touch down. Full-back Craig Jackson knocked over the conversion. A lack of discipline then cost Melrose dear when they had two players 
sin-binned in two simultaneous but separate incidents – flanker Peter Eccles for throwing a punch and stand-off Baggott for taking out 
full-back Josh Rowland in mid-air.

Rowland, who had survived an earlier collision with an advertising board, got instant revenge when he scored an unconverted try in the right corner as the home side simply ran out of numbers.

But the opportunity to rack up more points was not taken as sloppy passing denied Watsonians more scores against hard-tackling, 13-man Melrose before they were restored to full strength, although Baggott could not shake off an injury and had to be replaced.

The two teams slugged it out with neither gaining significant advantage until Watsonians were awarded a penalty 25 metres from goal just to the right of the posts. Centre Lee Millar stroked it over and the visitors had a slender one-point lead at half-time.

Straight from the restart, Melrose went back in front when scrum-half Ali Harris’s attempted clearance kick was charged down and McCann was first to the ball. Jackson’s conversion was wide.

Watsonians might have narrowed the gap immediately but Millar’s penalty attempt from 30 metres crashed back off the post.

The Edinburgh club continued to be their own worst enemies with poor passing and ball retention while the Borderers were able to build up a head of steam and set up field position for a Jackson penalty to nudge them further ahead.

The game got a little bad-tempered after that with scuffles breaking out all over the pitch and the referee had to speak to both captains. Melrose, however, had the momentum that would carry them to ultimate victory.

They were helped by a yellow card for Watsonian loosehead Finn Hobbis for tackling a man without the ball. Jackson stepped up to convert his second penalty and, crucially, put Melrose at least two scores clear.

A third try on 80 minutes by winger Mike Julyan, converted by Jackson, sealed it.