It was always going to be a tough challenge for Melrose playing back-to-back games against the third side in the English Championship, but yesterday the Borderers came close to causing an upset in the second leg against highly-rated Nottingham.
What gave the Scottish amateur side self-belief going into the match was their performance in the second half of last weekend's match, won by Nottingham with a flattering 54-24 scoreline.
"We drew 19-19 in the second half down there," said coach Craig Chalmers, "and so we knew we could challenge them.
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"We got in their faces in the first half but unfortunately we made too many mistakes and turned over a lot of ball. They shut us off very easily. But this was a game we could have won. They're a good side with quality players, able to step up the pace. They had a physical pack but I thought our forwards played very well. I thought Jonny Gray was outstanding for an 18-year-old."
Defeat did not take the gloss of what was an encouraging effort from Melrose, one that will do their confidence little harm ahead of a Premiership resumption next weekend. They took a handy 6-3 into the half-time break after penalty goals by Andrew Skeen and Joe Helps, to one by opposition stand-off Rory Lynn.
However, if Nottingham had underperformed in the first half they showed their professional prowess just after the break, first by disrupting a Melrose scrum to create a try for centre Andrew Forsyth and then by driving a line-out that ended with flanker Brent Wilson touching down.
Both scores were converted by Lynn for a 17-6 lead. But happily for the game Melrose produced an impressive score made by Fraser Thomson's swift break down the right touchline and Sep Visser's quick finishing, with Skeen's conversion bringing them back into contention at 17-13.
Then a bizarre decision by Irish referee Kieran Barry changed the fortunes of Melrose. Thomson had broken through the Nottingham defence but was tackled just outside the visitors' 22m area and deemed to have held on to the ball. To the amazement of all present at The Greenyards, the yellow card was shown to the Melrose full-back and in the event it proved costly as replacement James Alridge kicked a penalty and then converted his own try.
Again, though, Melrose hit back as Visser scored his second try, which Skeen converted. Then, deep into injury-time, Nottingham winger Alex Lewington scored another try to seal the victory.
Melrose: F Thomson; S Visser, B Dick, R Mill, J Helps; A Skeen, B Colvine; N Little, A Walker, G Holborn, J Gray, R Ovens, A Nagle, R Miller, H Watson Subs C Keen, W Mitchell, S McCormick, H Leonard, L Mallin
Nottingham: D Jackson; A Lewington, J Cobden, A Forsyth, R Crane; R Lynn, F Barnham; M Parr, S Malton, R Bower, D Montague, N Rouse, T Calladine, B Wilson, A Shaw Subs J Stevens, J Harris, J Cain, S Romans, J Arlidge.
Referee: K Barry (IRFU)