Previewing Saturday’s AIB League Division Three encounter between Naas and County Carlow, Irish rugby statistician Des Daly takes a look at the league career of New Zealander Andrew Melville, the former Carlow back rower who is the current Naas player-coach.
He is a cult figure in the south midlands of Leinster and rugby pitches far beyond. He has scored 36 tries in the AIB League, the second highest by any club forward. He plays in the middle of the back row and unleashes an unstoppable drive when he picks up at the base of a scrum or appears, ball in hand, from a rolling maul.
He stands at 6ft 2in and weighs in at a powerful 21 stone. He is Andrew Cameron Melville from Dunedin, South Island, New Zealand.
At 22 years of age, he was probably the youngest and also one of the first players from New Zealand to make a major impression on the Irish club rugby scene when he arrived over here. He is best known for his County Carlow playing days but is now the player-coach of Naas in Division Three of the AIB League.
Melville’s rugby reputation has grown to such an extent that opposition sides are well known to make elaborate plans to bring him to ground in much the same way as international teams tried to combat Jonah Lomu.
In fact, there is a connection here as Melville started his representative career back home as a winger with the Otago underage sides before moving to number 8 and winning a few New Zealand Under-17 caps. Lomu, for his part, was clever enough to move in the reverse direction.
Living in a caravan on his arrival in Carlow, ‘Melly’ first appeared on the AIB League radar back in the 1997/98 season when he contributed ten of the 42 tries scored by the newly-promoted County Carlow during their Division Four campaign. The tries total in his first season included two hat-tricks.
Over the next two seasons, playing in AIB League Division Three, Melville collected four touchdowns. He crossed for six five-pointers during the 2000/01 season when County Carlow competed in Division Two.
Melville was appointed captain of the Barrowsiders when the club’s meteoric success was rewarded with promotion to Division One for the 2001/02 season. He scored five tries in his first season in the top flight.
Nine more Division One touchdowns followed in subsequent seasons as he overtook the great Mick Galwey (30 AIB League tries) on the forwards’ try-scoring list. At the latest count he has amassed 37 AIB League tries, an impressive 14 of those were scored when he was playing in Division One. Only Cork’s Declan Coppinger (41 tries) has scored more tries in the all-time AIB League list when forwards alone are counted.
Melville remembers well those heady days in the Black and Amber colours of Carlow. An attendance of more than 2,000 spectators was not unusual at Oak Park for those Division One fixtures. He recalls with pride their first Division One home match when they secured a big scalp in beating Young Munster 16-11. He led the team out and scored Carlow’s first try in the top flight.
His activities were not confined to the playing pitch for he found time to court and marry Jean Elmes, who for three seasons was the Honorary Secretary of the club. Jean is part of a well respected County Carlow FC family – two of her brothers, Roy and Melvin, have been presidents at Oak Park during the AIB League years.
After seven AIB League seasons playing with County Carlow, Melville took up the player-coach position at Naas RFC and is now in his fourth season at Forenaughts. He has continued to live 33 miles away in Carlow town and has since assisted his local club now and again as a dual status player.
This coming Saturday, Melly will strut his stuff for Naas at Forenaughts against his former club. It will be an historic occasion as this AIB League Division Three fixture is the first time that the two clubs have met each other competitively at senior level.
County Carlow, founded in 1873 and one of the oldest clubs in the country, arrived in the AIB League in 1997/98 and after four successful seasons, they advanced to Division One where they remained for five campaigns. A recent rapid descent has brought them back to Division Three this season – their eleventh in the AIB League.
Melville’s departure, in some ways, contributed to the downturn in the club’s rugby fortunes but then again the turnover of players – 39 arrived in and subsequently departed – has also been a factor.
Founded in 1922, Naas were four seasons behind County Carlow entering the ranks of the AIB League. After four years in AIB League Division Three, the County Kildare club was relegated back into the junior ranks. As the top junior club in the land last season, they were promoted once again and this Saturday they will play their 65th fixture in Division Three history.
Saturday’s game is a massive occasion for both clubs. County Carlow have lost their two openers this season and lie pointless, just off the bottom of the table. Naas, with a try from Melville in each of their two opening games, lie in twelfth place after one win and one defeat. The iconic Melville will line out on Saturday but it is doubtful if his former club will offer him a lift up to the game on their team bus.