Myreside can never have witnessed scenes like it; a team surrendering a 13-match unbeaten league record celebrating wildly at the final whistle!
That team were Stewart’s Melville and, rightly, so far as they were concerned a 15-19 defeat at the hands of hosts Watsonians was mission accomplished.
StewMel had gone into action knowing that so long as they acquired a bonus point either for losing by a single score margin or notching four tries they would deny National League rivals Watsonians a place in an April 5 play off for a Premiership slot and line-up themselves against – as it turned out – Edinburgh Accies at a neutral venue.
Talk about cutting it fine, though; with six minutes remaining Watsonians opened up a vital nine point gap thanks to the conversion by Ben Di Rollo after Chris Scott had the presence of mind to scramble to his feet after crossing the try-line at the end of a flowing move to bolt round behind the posts.
Suddenly StewMel’s season of promise was flashing before them. But in keeping calm their moment of truth came when awarded a penalty close to the touchline and deep inside the ’Sonian “22” a couple of minutes later.
Aware he had already missed five penalties or conversions from five attempts skipper Nick McCashin called for the ball to be punted into touch for an attacking line-out even though three points would have been enough. On this occasion fortune favoured the brave as winger Alan Whittingham joined a driving maul and emerged with his third try of the afternoon as Watsonians protested the award vigorously.
Although Mike Hanning’s conversion failed it was sufficient to then prompt, at full time, another remarkable sight – a massive huddle as 2nd and 3rd team members joined the heroes of the hour and even club officials to link arms in a circle.
“Me in with the forwards – what a rare sight that must have been!” said a beaming Whittingham afterwards.
The former Currie star’s other two tries could not have been more contrasting as he took a long, floated pass from McCashin to power in at the corner for the first. Then, just after StewMel had turned round 5-12 behind, he erupted on to a short pass from McCashin off a miscued clearance and charged 35 metres, cutting inside full back Ally Ledingham to cross.
Paying tribute to stand off McCashin’s vision Whittingham said: “Cash has been outstanding at pulling the strings all season to allow people to run off him. When we fell behind to Watsonians’ third try it was simply a question of keeping plugging away as we had been doing all season.
“It’s been a fantastic effort throughout by the entire squad but in many respects the hard work starts now as we approach the play-off.
“[It’s] a case of ‘job done’ but the foot must remain on the pedal until the play-off as I’m certain it will be.”
That was the message a relieved StewMel coach Bruce Macnaughton was keen to emphasise. “Who cares about the unbeaten run ending. That’s just the way it goes and the bigger picture was to make the play-off.
“We weren’t going to talk about scenarios but when the choice was to try to kick the points or go for the corner it was a big call. Even after that came a key moment when our prop, Willie Aitken, managed to get back to cover a kick through to in-goal with Watsonian attackers bearing down on him.
“Willie can tell that to his grand-children one day!”
Looking ahead, Macnaughton said: “The Watsonian match was built up as a winner-takes-all but the play-off really is a one-off and it keeps our season going.
“Having told the team at half-time to keep believing in themselves I was worried when we seemed to stop playing midway through the second half. Fortunately we got back on track.”
Key was the revived StewMel line-out which had spluttered badly in the previous game, against Kelso.
This time simplicity prevailed and Macnaughton said: “I told the players to throw the ball anywhere except near Mark Rennie because the rest of the Watsonian players can’t jump!
“A bonus for us against Accies will be the return of (prop) Rhys Morgan from suspension and avoiding injuries was also welcome.”
If Watsonians were angry at the award of StewMel’s decisive try they could rue another key moment plus a surprising lack of injury time from 21-year-old ref Sam Grove-White.
Who knows what might have unfolded if centre Tom Hart hadn’t been recalled on his way under the posts midway through the first half for a dubious forward pass.
Whereas StewMel retained composure there were one or two signs of edginess in the Watsonian ranks as the second half unfolded and overall the visitors played most of the better rugby on a tense, highly entertaining and possibly unique rugby afternoon.
Scorers: Watsonians: Tries – Steele, Aitken, Scott. Conversions – Ledingham, Di Rollo.
Stewart’s/Melville: Tries – Whittingham (3).
Watsonians: A Ledingham, R Steele, B Di Rollo (captain), T Hart, S McKean, R Aitken, M Ker, M Christie, M Brierley, D Moussa, C Smith, M Rennie, J Leiataua, N Dennis, E Miller. Subs: A Ross, M Poole. C Scott,N Irvine-Hess, J Blackwood.
Stewart’s Melville: M Hanning, A Whittingham, D Hampton, N Bowie, M Morrell, N McCashin (captain), F Strachan, W Aitken, N Hart, C MacKay, D Morrison, S Brewster, B Wilson, A Howie, S Wilson. Subs: R Stewart, R Anderson, J Hamblin, C Beattie, S Trotter.
Referee: S Grove-White (Montrose).