Melrose 16

Ayr 13

THE Scottish championship was secured by Melrose on Saturday in a nail-biting, but hardly classic Premiership final at the Greenyards.

It was revenge for Melrose after their defeat by the same club in the finale last season – and richly deserved on a heavy, muddy pitch which defied the qualities of both sides.

The fact that Melrose had finished 12 points ahead of Ayr before the play-offs was even more justification for the title returning to the Borders.

And the fact, too, that Hawick knocked Ayr out of the BT Cup made it a significant response from Borders clubs and put the hosts on course for a potential double.

“I am so pleased for the boys and they have worked so hard to get this,” said coach Rob Chrystie.

“I am overjoyed with the performance and the result.”

Continuous rain throughout the afternoon ensured that much of the game was played through the forwards with Melrose creating the best scoring opportunities, and their tough defence didn't give away penalties in crucial areas.

At times, it was a bruising contest and Melrose cashed in when Ayr had Robin Hislop sent to the sin by referee Keith Allen with a try from captain Grant Runciman.

But it was Craig Jackson who won the man-of-the-match award with a controlled performance, which was rewarded with three penalties and the conversion of Runciman’s try, while Jason Baggott’s tactical kicking kept Ayr on the backfoot as Melrose counted down the clock.

Ayr were boosted by the inclusion of professional Rory Hughes, who scored a spectacular try from Stafford McDowall’s break before limping off near the end.

And Melrose brought on their pro, Ross Ford, for the injured Ruairdh Knott – but again begged the question why they should be included at all?

Scott Lyle kicked Ayr ahead before two Jackson penalties put Ayr in the driving seat.

But Hughes’ spectacular try in 27 minutes and Lyle’s conversion gave Ayr the advantage until Jackson kicked a crucial penalty in the second minute of injury time to leave Ayr 13-9 ahead at the interval.

Melrose were back in front when Runciman added spice to home pressure as he collected Jackson’s pass to score near the left-hand corner and Jackson converted.

Ayr battled hard to close the gap, but overall Melrose were in command before the final whistle set off massive celebrations following a fantastic team performance in difficult conditions.

Melrose: F Thomson; A Lockington, G Taylor, C Jackson, R McCann; J Baggott, M McAndrew; G Shiells, R Anderson, N Beavon, J Head, A Runciman, R Knott, G Runciman, I Moody. Replacements: R Ford, D Elkington, R McLeod, A Grieve, B Colvine, G Wood, P Anderson.