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Melrose just seem to be getting better and better, and became stronger and stronger as this match went on.

The way in which the home side gelled, with half-backs Robert Chrystie and Callum MacRae running the show in considerable style, along with centre Derek Bain punching holes in the midfield, certainly impressed, but it was the forward play which home coach Gary Parker pointed to as key to this win

''I thought our loose forwards played exceptionally well, but they were allowed to play well because the front five gave them the platform to do so.''

Despite bitter temperatures both sides were determined to play entertaining rugby from the start, and this match certainly was the pick of the day in the BT Cellnet Cup.

It was the Border's men who drew first blood in nine minutes. MacRae launched a huge kick across the field and Bain swept it up.

John Kerr cleared for the visitors, but from the resulting line out, Melrose captain Scott Aitken fed Kevin Alllan, who in turn presented the scoring pass to hooker Wayne Mitchell.

It took only three minutes for Watsonians to pull the scores level, however, Chris Armitage scorching in from the wing to touch down.

Chrystie showed the extent of his all-round ability after 19 minutes, booting the ball to the opposite side of the field where Robbie Brown handed the ball to Mark Moncrieff, who cruised to the line.

This was a truly rivetting cup-tie by now, and neither side had been penalised for killing the ball at the ruck, a rarity in today's cynical game.

Melrose stretched their lead after heavy pressure and MacRae dived over after Bain had made good ground. The stand off added the conversion.

Any premature feelings of a job well done by the home support were dashed in injury time at the end of the first half, however.

Watsonian centre Andrew Garry broke clear before passing to replacement, Hamish Kydd who popped the ball to back row colleague James Osborne for the try, converted by stand off Bruce Aitchison.

A pulsating opening period, then, but better was to come within moments of the re-start.

Melrose had pushed up to the Watsonians 22-metre line and the ruck ball was snapped back. Through in the centre came captain Scott Aitken to sprint unopposed to the line, and MacRae popped over the conversion.

Watsonians were not about to lie down though, and Scott Hastings showed his true world class, slicing through the opposing defence before releasing to supporting Nick Penny.

The captain was held up just short, but the ball came back to Gordon Dickson who flopped over from all of a yard. Aitchison converted to bring the score to 24-19 and, despite having the bulk of the pressure Melrose still could not break free.

It took a penalty goal from MacRae in 49 minutes to put Melrose more than a score in front, and it seemed to spark the home side into making a big push to wrap up the match. Only poor handling - forgivable in the freezing conditions - stopped them doing so, along with some pretty desperate defence from the visitors.

But MacRae again provided the inspiration in 61 minutes, dropping a massive goal from the 10-metre line which seemed to kill off the Edinburgh side.

Man of the match MacRae kept Melrose on top with some great positional kicking, and it was the second take against the head for the home side which gave the Greenyards' crowd something to shout about.

Good hands from the half back gave Bain the opportunity to grab the score he fully deserved, needing no second invitation to power his way through and touch down between the posts.

The conversion attempt from MacRae was half charged down, before hitting the crossbar, bouncing high in the air and falling on the right side of the line for the extra two points.

The closing ten minutes saw the visitors trying to come back, but everything was being done far too quickly and they never looked like closing the gap.

A real Christmas cracker, then, and it will be Melrose to progress after the festive break.

It was certainly refreshing to see such open rugby being played, and that was due in no small part to a referee Colin Henderson. Parker thought so too.

''Colin Henderson's refereeing was exceptional,'' he said. ''He let both sides play, and neither Watsonians nor ourselves went out there with the intention of killing the ball.''

It is a great shame that one of these sides had to go out of the competition, but it will be Melrose that everyone else will be hoping to avoid when the draw for the next round is made in January.

Playing as they did on Saturday the men from the Greenyards must surely be one of the favourites to lift the BT Cellnet Cup on April 22 at Murrayfield.

Melrose - B Ruthden; M Moncrieff; (P Rutherford 67min), S Nichol, D Bain, S Laurie (P Ono 70); C MacRae, R Chrystie; I Cornwall, W Mitchell, K Allan, R Brown (E Thomson 72), S Aitken, C Sein, A Clarke, R Griffith.

Watsonians - A Olson; C Armitage, S Hastings, A Garry (D Hamilton 69), J Kerr (G Inglis 72); B Aitchison, C Black; G Scott, K Stuart, S Lithgow, M McVie, J Osborne, G Dickson, R Fordes (H Kydd 33), N Penny.

Referee: C Henderson (Kelso).

Scoring sequence (Melrose first) - 5-0, 5-5, 10-5, 15-5, 17-5, 17-10, 17-12 (half-time); 22-12, 24-12, 24-17, 24-19, 27-19, 30-19, 35-19, 37-19.

Scorers - Melrose: Tries- Mitchell (9), Moncrieff (19), MacRae (26), (Aitken (41), Bain (65); Conversions - MacRae (26, 41,65): Penalty - MacRae (49); Drop goal - MacRae (61). Watsonians: Tries - Armitage (12), Osborne (40), Dickson (45); Conversions - Aitchison (40, 45).