Stirling County 7, Gala 11
The RBS Premiership title race is going right down to the wire with Gala in pole position.
Their narrow win over Stirling means the Netherdale club have the trophy’s destination in their own hands still.
D-Day is now Saturday week, March 22. If Gala beat Ayr on the final day, they will be crowned champions for the first time since 1983.
There was a distinct air of satisfaction, coupled with relief, about Gala’s head coach, George Graham, in achieving this situation.
“It was our mission to come up here and get the four points and we’ve done that, albeit not in the best fashion,” he said. “We’re not playing great rugby but we’re still winning and that’s the mark of a good side.
“We’ve now got a huge game on the 22nd against Ayr but we knew it was going to come down to this. Now it’s all about us controlling what we can control and not worrying about what other teams do.
“I’m sure we’ll be nervous but it’s all about managing the nerves. I’m very, very happy with the boys.”
The victory was hard-fought, with tensions high for both sides – Stirling needed points in their scrap against relegation – as evidenced by the sporadic but repeated bouts of fisticuffs.
Gala, indeed, made heavy going of the encounter – County played 30 minutes of the match with 14 men as a result of three yellow cards – with numerous mistakes, a point acknowledged by Graham. “The boys were really nervous and in the first half we made too many errors. But we dominated the second half and could have scored a lot more. But this was the first time we’ve won up here so I’m very pleased.”
Gala, indeed, had to come from behind to win, trailing 7-0 at the break after Stirling grabbed an opportunist try midway through the half when Benji Barsanti burst through a pack of bodies to score under the posts, very much against the run of play, with Brian Archibald adding the conversion.
The table-toppers had been bullying County up front, with a splendid performance from the forwards, with Gary Graham and Ewan Dods particularly effective, the former always crossing the gain line when carrying the battle to County.
And they hit back shortly after the interval when the pack shoved Stirling backwards over their own line at a scrum for Dods to touch down. Stand-off David O’Hagan missed the conversion but then edged Gala in front with a penalty in the 57th minute and added another three points with 15 minutes remaining.
The final minutes were nerve-jangling for both sets of fans as the win could have gone either way, but the Maroons held on to set up the season-ending clincher.
Stirling County: Brian Archibald, Ben Addison, Danny Gilmour, Fraser Lyle, Matt Lamb, Stuart Edwards, AJ McFarlane, Jamie Bhatti, Alex Moffat, Garry Mountford, Matt Larson, Craig Deacons, Will Bordill, Benji Barsanti, Struan Robertson. Reps: William Dineen, John Graham, Euan Dewar, Shaun MacDonald, Graham Lindsay.
Gala: Andy McLean, Grant Somerville, Chris Auld, Alan Emond, Gerald Sibanda, David O’Hagan, George Graham, Rory Sutherland, Callum McIntosh, Ewan McQuillin, Craig Borthwick, Chris Weir, Gary Graham, Ewan Dods, Stevie Cairns. Reps: Lewis Bertram, David Marshall, Scott Chapman, Graeme Speirs, Gregor Mein.
Ref: Graeme Wells