Stewart’s Melville assistant coach Kevin Brown insists there is more to come in the second half of the season after the resurgent hosts saw off Capital rivals Watsonians 14-13 in a keenly fought RBS National League contest that hung in the balance to the final whistle.
Indeed, ’Sonians looked set for the win after earning a scrum on the edge of the home 22 in the dying seconds. But they failed to capitalise on a situation that should have provided an ideal platform for Ben Di Rollo to attempt a drop goal – an offence at the set piece handing Stew Mel a relieving penalty and allowing them to hold out and clinch victory.
The result means that ’Sonians have now been sucked back into the pack which, barring an unlikely collapse by Boroughmuir, is chasing second spot in the table and a promotion play-off.
For Brown, the plan is clear. “We’ve got to keep picking off the teams above us because we want to be challenging for the second place in the league – Boroughmuir are quite far out now.”
And he believes that a win which has extended Srew Mel’s winning run to five matches will deliver another confidence boost. “It proves to the boys that on their day we can beat anyone,” he added before praising the efforts of his fellow assistant James ‘Cakes’ Robertson, who had taken charge of preparations in the absence of head coach Bruce McNaughton.
“Cakes was running the show and he prepared the boys pretty well for toughing out a win. We had a lot of possession in the first half but just didn’t get our structures right. As we showed against Kelso (the previous week), when we play the way we want to play, we score a lot of points. When we don’t do that, it breaks down and we make life hard for ourselves. And that was proved on Saturday against a pretty stuffy Watson’s team.”
Stew Mel dominated the early proceedings and winger Matt Morrell opened the scoring with a try after two minutes. Two penalties from Nick McCashin extended the lead before ’Sonians offered a glimpse of the pace behind their scrum with Rory Steele and Scott McKean prominent in a series of attacks that ended with Di Rollo converting two penalties to trim the deficit to five points at the break.
McCashin booted a third penalty for the hosts but when Matt Brierley capped a series of ’Sonians attacks by touching down after a powerful surge following a close range scrum, with Di Rollo adding the extra two points, the scene was set for a dramatic final quarter.
However, despite the visitors gradually stepping up the pace, the home defence held firm and when an error in the Stew Mel ranks yielded the final scrum, ’Sonians had an opportunity to snatch the win but ultimately failed to execute. And such was the frustration that replacement Mike Ker was yellow carded for objecting to the penalty award and yellow became red after a comment to the referee.
“We have come together well as a group although we still have a lot more to do,” said a delighted Brown. “We have had a lot of changes since last season because a lot of guys disappeared.
“It’s difficult when year on year you are rebuilding a team but we still have a core of players, we are building our team around them and the loyalty that some of the boys have shown to stick around for this season is paying dividends. We are getting there, but we are not a finished article.”
Despite a third defeat of the campaign, ’Sonians still occupy second spot in the table, but now trail unbeaten pacesetters ’Muir by 12 points and appear to be in an intensifying battle for second place and a promotion play-off.
Brown’s despondent ’Sonians counterpart Conan Sharman was frank in his assessment, saying, “We let ourselves down at the end – we had it in us to win the game.
“For us, we just needed a win. In this league it’s pretty cut-throat and you just need to keep winning your games.”
Stewart’s Melville: Try: Morrell; Pens: McCashin (3).
Watsonians: Try: Brierley; Con: Di Rollo; Pens: Di Rollo (2)
Stewart’s Melville: M Hanning, M Morrell, D Hampton, N Bowie, A Whittingham, N McCashin, F Strachan, W Aitken, A Howie, R Morgan, J Hamblin, F Morrison, R Stewart, B Wilson, D Sangster. Subs used: S Brewster, N Kesley S Rowlands.
Watsonians: R Steele, R Young, S McKean, T Hart, J Ferguson, B Di Rollo, M Page, M Christie, M Brierley, J Forrester, C Smith, M Rennie, C Abram, N Dennis, A Joseph. Subs used: A Ledingham, M Ker.
Referee: G Gordon.