Stewart’s/Melville coach Bruce Macnaughton believes the team’s track record in pulling games out of the fire – five by a single score this season – enabled them to hold on for a 27-22 home victory over Kelso.
The win puts them into a final-day shoot-out for the National League promotion play-off.
Having claimed a fourth try and a bonus point with half an hour remaining, Stew/Mel switched off, hampered by the loss of play-maker Nick McCashin through injury.
The consequences were almost serious with Kelso threatening to take the lead for the first time at the death but Macnaughton insisted: “You don’t go thirteen league games unbeaten, as we have now done, without having a bit of belief.
“Because of that, I never thought we were going to lose but if there had been a couple more minutes left we might have started to get jittery.
“We were defending a lead instead of trying to increase it.”
Stewart’s/Melville, currently four points clear in second place, head for third-place Watsonians in three weeks knowing a draw or perhaps even a losing bonus point would be good enough to take them forward. But Macnaughton warned: “Part of our problem was thinking ahead to what comes next when the game hadn’t been won despite the early bonus point.
“We’ve got to ensure nobody gets carried away because at Myreside it is not promotion a win would guarantee – only a play off spot against the second bottom-Premiership team and there is a big difference.”
Macnaughton is right to be cautious. Although the Stew/Mel scrum acquitted itself extremely well against a pack who had obliterated the Watsonian set-piece only a fortnight earlier – and the home line-out was car-crash woeful.
Time and again the synch between thrower and jumper was missing and conventional wisdom amongst a crowd which featured former Grand Slam heroes in John Jeffrey and Sean Lineen is that it has been an Achilles’ heel all season. “The line-out is something we are going to be spending a lot of time working on,” said Macnaughton, delighted that a friendly has been arranged against Musselburgh on Friday to keep a squad in which the evergreen Matt Morrell continues to look sharp and McCashin, before being taken off looking dazed, mesmerised with his twinkling feet if not goal-kicking, a department where he has undoubtedly enjoyed better days.
The home forwards, however, took most of the honours in a match which saw referee Kevin White issue five yellow cards and numerous penalties.
The cards ranged from a stone-waller given to Kelso flanker Gordon Harkins for an ugly head-high tackle that caused Neil Bowie to receive treatment, to the absurd when an opposition pass ricocheted off home winger Alan Whttingham who was adjudged to have deliberately knocked on.
Cards to Ben Wilson and Rhys Morgan of Stew/Mel were for ruck offences while Kieran Cooney could have few complaints about his deliberate knock-on for Kelso.
The current SRU handbook features a photograph of ref White captioned “making a name for himself as an international sevens match official” and for much of the proceedings he looked intent on reducing a 15-a-side match to a sevens contest. More sympathetic handling would have been appreciated.
There were, though, some exquisite scores, none better than in the third minute when McCashin took a tap penalty in front of the Kelso posts. When the ball came back from a ruck the same player sent Mike Hanning thundering over.
As Stew/Mel shrugged off a penalty by Matthew Douglas they continued to get in behind the visitors and a penalty try was awarded for the high tackle on Bowie in the act of scoring.
With a conversion and penalty following it was one-way traffic until one of the myriad lost line-outs from Stew/Mel allowed Frankie Robson to exploit weak defence.
A Morrell try from scrum possession, converted, provided insurance against two more Douglas penalties and Stew/Mel turned round 22-14 in front.
Morrell’s second try extended the lead but Douglas’s boot kept a fit and feisty Kelso in contention right up to Dom Buckley’s injury-time try which had a sizeable home crowd on the edge of their seats.
As for Friday’s friendly, that will take place under floodlights at Musselburgh as Stew/Mel are without that facility. Not that the powers-that-be within Murrayfield appear to know as the talk at Inverleith was of an official inquiry as to whether the club would host the PRO 12 fixture between Edinburgh and Ospreys which ended up at Meggetland on Friday night.
Scottish rugby may appear healthier than immediately before Duncan Weir’s drop goal in Rome but it would seem, on the administration side, some at the SRU are still in need of a torch to find their way around the Capital scene, never mind floodlights!
Stewart’s/Melville: Tries: Morrell (2), Hanning, Penalty try. Conversion: McCashin (2). Penalty: McCashin.
Kelso: Tries: Robson, Buckley. Penalties: Douglas (4).
Stewart’s/Melville: M Hanning, M Morrell, D Hampton, N Bowie, A Whittingham, N McCashin, F Strachan, W Aitken, N Hart, R Morgan, S Brewster, F Morrison, B Wilson, A Gowie, S Wilson. Subs: R Stewart. C MacKay, J Hamblin, C Beattie, S Trotter.
Kelso: M Hastie, M Wilson, R Minto. F Robson, G Millar, M Douglas, A Tait, K Cooney, C Riddell, A Marsh, A Common, D Seed, I Wallace, M Robertson, G Harkins. Subs: S Paterson, P Grahamslaw, D Buckley, G Millar.
Referee: K White