Stewart’s Melville coach Bruce McNaughton has hailed the efforts of his players in developing into contenders for a place in the top flight next season.
The victory underlined the progress made by Stew Mel since suffering their last league loss nine matches ago. That defeat was a hefty 45-20 reverse against Selkirk at Philiphaugh in September.
“They took 45 points off us the last time we played them and we are both going for this play off place – or maybe more, who knows?” said McNaughton, who shares a growing belief with his players that they are sufficiently well equipped to compete for a step up. “Things are now going great, considering the start we had – we could have capitulated – and it’s all credit to everybody involved. They have really stuck in.”
And, while the coach was quick to concede that the rugby his men produced was hardly a thing of beauty, the main objective was achieving the result that leaves StewMel in third spot and has inflicted a potentially fatal blow to Selkirk’s challenge.
The win was built on a show of power by a home pack that dominated the scrum against opponents who had the better of things at the lineout. The outcome was a tense affair that was finely poised until the hosts bagged the crucial score – a penalty try – with five minutes left to play.
Two first half penalties by Stew Mel stand off Nick McCashin were answered by one from Scott Hendrie to leave the home side 6-3 ahead at the end of a keenly contested first half. Selkirk had the better of the third quarter but a solid effort by the Stew Mel defence kept them out until the 59th minute when Fraser Harkness eventually found a way through. McCashin then pulled a long range penalty attempt wide of the target, but atoned for that miss when he hammered over his next effort from a similar distance to nudge the hosts in front by a single point.
Both teams had opportunities to add to their tally, but neither was able to do so until, after surviving another spell on defensive chores, the hosts reverted to their strengths and opted for the scrum at successive penalty awards. And, after edging forward at four set pieces, another offence ten metres from the Selkirk line led to the referee running out of patience and awarding the penalty try which, with McCashin’s conversion, extended the lead to eight points with five minutes to play.
And although an injury time touchdown by Josh Welsh ensured a narrow defeat bonus point for Selkirk, it came too late for the Borderers.
“That was a big win,” added McNaughton, whose players are also eyeing a place in the RBS Edinburgh Regional Cup semi-finals when that competition resumes this weekend.
And seeking to assess the progress his men have made since embarking on their winning run, he observed: “There’s a bit of belief, a settled side and a steady squad of about 20.
“It’s about a bit of desire and organisation. And it’s good guys who have come in this season – guys like Alan Whittingham and Matt Morrell. They have really bought into what we are trying to do.”
He also heaped praise on the latest addition, open side flanker Stuart Wilson, who made an impressive debut, having joined the club from Garnock following a move to the Capital – a switch that saw him link up with a man who was a rival at Murrayfield six years ago.
“He played against Matt Morrell in the Shield final when Falkirk played Garnock,” explained McNaughton, before passing judgement on Wilson’s first contribution to the Stew Mel effort.
“He did exactly what he was told to do. He is a genuine 7 and he showed what he can do.”
Stewart’s Melville: Try: Penalty try. Conversion: McCashin: Penalties: McCashin (3)
Selkirk: Tries: Hendrie, Welsh. Penalty: Hendrie.
Stewart’s Melville: M Hanning, M Morrell, D Hampton, S Trotter, A Whittingham, N McCashin, F Strachan, W Aitken, N Hart, R Morgan, J Hamblin, S Brewster, B Wilson, S Wilson, D Pech. Subs Used: A Howie, S Hampson, N Bowie
Selkirk: F Harkness, S Hendrie, R Nixon, L Kibble, L MacLennan, G Craig, M Davies, G Paterson, J Bett, C Graur, R Fluhler, A Renwick, R Crockatt, A Duckett, M Kissick. Subs Used: J Welsh, R Wilson, E MacDougall, C Marshall, G Turner.
Referee: K White.