NATIONAL LEAGUE 1
SATURDAY 2nd SEPTEMBER 2023
GHA 42 MELROSE 26
By CHRIS NAIRN
A glorious sun filled day greeted all arriving at a busy Braidholm on Saturday. The devoted army of club volunteers who do so much for our club, have the club and environs looking very smart indeed and ready for a long hard season. Despite being relegated from the Premier League, GHA will embark on a campaign in a strong league which will require a great deal of skill, endeavour and commitment to win promotion. Our 2nd XV and Lions sides due to their consistently outstanding performances now move into a higher order of league contests. We wish them every success in their new leagues. President Euan has made it very clear that we must work to establish the mindset of ONE CLUB . From the youngest player to the ancient scribe who attempts to provide a match report… we are all a proud part of the one club. It is a smashing suggestion and long overdue. An important symbol of this concept is the appearance of a brand new kit worn by the 1st XV which will be established as the club kit for all our sides.
A very well attended Sponsors Lunch preceded the match and there was an almost tangible air of excitement as kick-off approached. The superbly turned out GHA Minis members provided a guard of honour as both sides entered the arena. The pitch was very dry and had little give. There was very little wind to trouble the kickers. Both sides had prepared carefully with both going through a repertoire of muscle stretching and close order drills.
GHA kicked off with Andrew Goudie sending a long probing kick into the heart of the Melrose defence. Melrose attempted to run the ball out of their twenty-two area but the move broke down as they were met by a quick offensive press from the GHA backs. Superb work by Messrs Goudie, Kerr and Fox forced a gap through the Melrose defence which had only just recovered from a forceful drive by Ruari O’Keefe. As the home side moved forward a brilliant pass from Andy Goudie allowed Martin Hughes (who was to trouble the Melrose defence all afternoon )to score. Ruari O’Keefe converted and to the delight of most of the good crowd watching, the home side after three minutes were in the lead: GHA 7 MELROSE 0.
Despite this early setback the mettle of this young Melrose side was soon apparent as the Borderers came straight back at the home side. The forceful back-play from both sides made this an exciting match and it was clear even this early that both sides wanted to run the ball and make yardage. Melrose had been awarded a penalty after the restart and had taken play into the GHA twenty-two area. An effective catch and drive allowed the visitors to force their way over and score. In an afternoon of some impressive kicking (especially from Ruairi O’Keefe) a lovely conversion by Struan Hutchison tied the score after about five minutes. Both sides attempted to establish dominance with breaks and drives by both sides being blunted by effective defensive tackling. The match moved from one end of the pitch to the other at a hectic pace. It was becoming noticeable that both sides were rushing passes and moves and tending to panic when moves broke down and to force the ball. When both sides gathered their thoughts and went through the basics, the level of play and indeed success was far greater. After ten minutes, GHA began to find a rhythm with some excellent interplay between forwards and backs, which was testing the defensive alignment of the visitors. Lovely work between Messrs McCutcheon, Hughes and Lonergan caused consternation inside the Melrose half as GHA were intent on moving forward. On the eighteenth minute an initial burst by Michael Fox smashed a hole in the Melrose line and clever hands allowed Kyle Dixon to speed through and score. Again Ruairi O’Keefe converted and the score was after about twenty minutes: GHA 14 MELROSE 7.
Despite this advantage, Melrose had no intention of allowing GHA to control proceedings and immediately took the game to GHA. Pressure from hard work on both sides was still being blighted by rushed passes or missed passes. Melrose also began to develop a curious habit of giving away penalties due to crossing during moves. Several times, with GHA in trouble the visitors succumbed to this fault and relieved the pressure on the home side. Unfortunately GHA were to fail to finish off a number of clear cut chances by forcing passes or taking the wrong option or knocking the ball on. These errors meant that both sides were still struggling to gain dominance and the match remained open and lively as we moved into the second quarter. Andrew Goudie was beginning to orchestrate all the efforts of the home side from good quality possession obtained by a very determined and close knit pack. Both he and Rory McFarlane began to push and pull the visitors across the pitch which began to stretch their ability to defend. Some lovely assured interplay between Messrs R.MacFarlane, Goudie and M.MacFarlane bamboozled the Melrose midfield defence and Max MacFarlane, who constantly probed and tested the Melrose defence all afternoon, shot through to score. The try was converted and after twenty five minutes the score was: GHA 21 MELROSE 7.
Credit to the visitors, they simply refused to buckle under this period of dominance from the home side and continued to try and move through the phases to gain territory. Ably led by Scott Clark and Angus Runciman, the visitors attacked the home side across the pitch. Several Melrose players began to make initial inroads into the GHA half especially Ellio Ruthven and Craig Fairbairn, who were a handful to deal with in the loose. However, gradually the outstanding lineout work of Adam Kerr (to add to his huge workrate in the loose) and his colleagues, along with the technique and ability of the home scrum, the visitors struggled to gain a foothold in the GHA half. In fact, as we approached the interval several opportunities from open play and a missed penalty attempt left the home support wondering if such misses could come back to hurt GHA. Half Time the score was : GHA 21 MELROSE 7.
It had been a fast paced first half in very dry hot conditions. Both sides were guilty of forcing the play with the resultant breakdown in moves. Melrose would return to the fray conscious of the fact that the home side had coughed up several chances to put blue sky between the sides and knew that they must strike early in the second half to put doubts in the heads of the home side.
The second half began with Melrose putting in a long searching kick deep into the GHA half but the home side gathered the ball and moved with intent towards half way. A breakdown in play offered the visitors the opportunity to attack led by the hard working Bruce Colvin with effective support from Messrs Hutchison, Clark and McLean. The home side conceded a penalty for being offside at the contact point and Melrose took the penalty quickly as the retreating GHA players were caught off guard only for the visitors to knock the ball on as the home side scrambled to cover the open spaces. GHA cleared the danger from an increasingly powerful scrum and took play out of the danger area. In a subsequent scrum the home side won a penalty as the visitors failed to cope with the pressure being exerted by a very tight GHA pack. The penalty took play after around five minutes of the half to the GHA ten metre line. As we moved towards the fiftieth minute Melrose found it increasingly difficult to counteract the superiority on the set piece by the home side. The visitors, however, were bravely launching attacks often on the back foot and on poor quality ball and the home side had to be alert to marshal their defences as play raged around the ten metre zones. Andrew Goudie; in consort with a GHA backline who were alert to every opportunity and were causing concern in Melrose ranks, was providing a varied programme of deft chips, punts, disguised passes and accurate passes ably supported by Martin Hughes and Ruairi O’Keefe- whose running with the black in hand and his chips through were turning the Melrose defence. Just after fifty minutes in a purple patch of play, excellent inter-passing between forwards and backs allowed the home side to break deep into Melrose territory before Sean Carden chipped through a gap to allow Max MacFarlane to collect the ball and go over to score. The try was converted and the score after fifty two minutes was now: GHA 28 MELROSE 7.
Despite this further setback, the Melrose team once again looked to carry the game to the home side from the restart. In a determined attack Archie Pilcher and L Gaddie made inroads into the GHA twenty-two metre area and won a penalty. Following a kick to the corner, Melrose gathered the ball from the lineout and Elliot Ruthven went over to score. Struan Hutchison converted to make the score after fifty four minutes: GHA 28 MELROSE 14.
This was now a critical moment in the match… Melrose had struck back from conceding and the supporters of both sides wondered which of the two sides would be able to regain dominance and win the day. As we reached the hour mark after several minutes of indecisive midfield play a searing break by Glen Little saw him tear huge holes through the Melrose defence and allow him to score to the loudest cheer of the day. The try was converted and the score was now: GHA 35 MELROSE 14.
Several promising mid centre moves by Melrose broke down with the visitors being penalised for crossing at critical moments which relieved the pressure on the home side and increased frustration in visiting ranks. Minutes later an unsavoury incident exploded which saw almost the whole complement of players becoming involved in a very heated argument and tussle. The outcome was a yellow card for Messrs Callaghan for the home side and Runciman for the visitors. Order was resumed and Melrose seemed to recover their momentum more quickly and only outstanding defence on the GHA try line prevented the Borderer from further reducing the deficit. The home side carefully cleared up to the GHA twenty-two metre area. From resulting possession O’Keefe produced a
howitzer of a kick to drive the visitors deep into their five metre area. One could sense the lift this kick gave to the mindset of the home players. GHA took possession from the lineout area and the forwards in tight formation allowed Ruari Campbell to score. Another superb conversion from the talented boot of Mr O’Keefe pushed the score to GHA 42 MELROSE 14.
As we moved past the seventieth minute there was a bout of aerial kicking exchanged between the sides which was of little benefit. However, despite the score Melrose began to eat into the GHA dominance and the home side began to look a little less secure as the visitors attacked. Indeed following a penalty awarded to the Borderers inside the GHA half, play was pushed back to the GHA twenty-two where from the lineout the Melrose side gathered the ball and drove over to allow Angus Runciman to score in the corner. The conversion failed and the score after seventy five minutes was : GHA 42 MELROSE 19. Faced with this late surge GHA found themselves on the back foot as the visitors went forward again. Several breakouts by the home side failed to be executed effectively and with almost the last play of the match Melrose scored through a lovely break by Harry Makowski. The try was converted and the final score was: GHA 42 MELROSE 26
There had been some excellent passages of play from GHA but a tendency to rush final passes or not remain calm when moves and feints do not instantly bring fruition will require attention in the difficult matches ahead.
Man of the Match – Dan Kilpatrick
Results from the day:
GHA 2XV 31 – 25 Glasgow Hawks 2XV
GHA U18 31 – 43 Ayr/Wellington U18
MELROSE : K.CLARK A.PILCHER R.BRETT S.HUTCHISON H.MAKOWSKI S.CLARK B.COLVINE F.BARRY B.McLEAN W.OWEN T.BROWN A.RUNCIMAN E.RUTHVEN W.FERRIE C.FAIRBAIRN L.KIRK E.COMPTON H.DERRICK F.SINCLAIR L.GADDIE
GHA: G.LITTLE R.O,KEEFE C.LONERGAN M.MacFARLANE K.DIXON A.GOUDIE R.MacFARLANE J.LOW R.CAMPBELL M.FOX (C) A .KERR D.KILPATRICK M.HUGHES F.QUAIL L.McCUTCHEON D.SUTTON S.FAULDS S.CALLAGHAN G.BAIRD S.CARDEN
REFEREE : MR C LAZENBY
TOUCH JUDGES : MR DG MARSHALL MR W COOPER
Match Photography: Colin Robinson (C)