Melrose coach John Dalziel is backing Edinburgh Accies to retain BT Premiership status despite entering the second half of the campaign rooted to the foot of the table.
Confronted by the champions at Raeburn Place, Accies slipped to a 16-5 defeat, but Dalziel insisted: “Accies have one of the best defences I have seen and they’ve had for a long time. You can still see (previous coach) Simon Cross’s imprint. They’ve still got the fight ... so, yes (they can stay up).”
Accies are indeed an improving side but one that lacks a cutting edge and that was noticeable in a game where Melrose simply found a way to win through dogged determination.
As for any spectacle this was a throwback to a pre-professional era of static, one dimensional, rugby. Referee James McPhail tried to impose authority with four yellow cards, but these came too late and, amidst a welter of penalties, the under-pressure official frequently sought assistance from touch judges as players on both sides seemed to sense his insecurity .
Accies coach Phil Leck summed up, saying: “When you add 31 penalties into a game and you’re just rolling dice at the scrum (decisions) you can’t get any structure. Both sides wanted to play rugby.
“It was a bit bash and crash and a bit dominated by big boys and not a lot of ability and skill.
“But if you watch the video you’ll find both defences were a good metre offside the whole afternoon. Once you have players of this class losing that amount of time and space it becomes a bit null and void.
“There was some great defence and I’d have settled for that defence from us at the beginning of the season. What I take out of it is a lot of character being shown by our lads who are starting to build as a team. We were a group of individuals capable of playing brilliantly at times, but didn’t understand what the game was all about. At one time if we gave away one try we’d go on to give away four and that isn’t happening now.”
Accies passed up 11 points in missed goal-kicks from straightforward angles, including the conversion of Duncan Morrison’s try from a rolling maul which would have provided a 7-6 lead with 12 minutes remaining. Home heads never went down but that was the cue for Melrose to find an extra gear with Scott Wight adding the conversion of James Johnston’s try and a third penalty.
Leck was correct in stressing Accies’ advances based on a more pragmatic approach, at least in this observer’s estimation, and the coach’s analysis of how teams are being disrupted by the introduction of occasional professional A matches this season is worth examining.
Edinburgh appear keener than Glasgow on this innovation, but a side-effect has been an added imbalance in terms of who is made available from the professional teams for game time in the Premiership.
Said Leck: “It is the strangest league I have ever coached in. It is a lottery every week. As a coach you are throwing your dice up in the air every week. All you can do is try to make you whole squad better technically, but you wonder sometimes ‘should we carry on doing it (having pro’s on release) or not?’ For me the sooner they’ve got an A set-up full time and let the Premiership get on what it is doing the better.
“These sevens players and edp’s (elite development players) are in the premiership when they should have their own (A) fixtures like in England.
“It would be crass of me not to pick them – and Melrose had pros in their back line as well – because Chris Dean, Alex Glashan and Nyle Godsmark desperately want to play rugby.
“Is it good for Scottish rugby, for the Premiership? We’ve just got ask the question.
“It’s quite difficult to one minute have players available and then not have them and then have to tell lads they are not getting game time.
“That is what we buy into. I am not moaning about it, but just need to think about it a bit more.
“We’ve got A teams this year and just have to get on with it.”
The hope must be that allocations balance over a season and this encounter was perfectly balanced at 0-0 when the teams turned around.
Just when record books were being consulted, Scott Wight opened the scoring in 45 minutes and Melrose were on their way to a win that was narrowly deserved albeit Accies merited a losing bonus point denied them inside the final minutes.
Edinburgh Accies: Try – Morrison.
Melrose: Try – Johnston. Conversion – Wight. Penalties – Wight (3)
Edinburgh Accies: R Young; N Godsmark, C Dean, J Marples, S Pecqueur; A Glashan, R Godsmark; D Morrison, M Liness, L Niven, G Campbell, R Seydak, T Stuart, R Snape, J Sole. Subs: D Bates, L Launders, J Munro, M Coupar, J McCarthy.
Melrose: F Thomson; T Mua, J Johnson, S Wight, D Hoyland; A Lockington, M McAndrew; N Beavon, R Ferguson, E McQuillan, J Head, L Carmichael. A Nagle, G Dodds, P Eccles. Subs: N Little, R Knott, B Colvine, J Helps, R Mill.
Referee: J McPhail.