British and Irish big boys get tough time at Gala

NIKKI WALKER (EDINBURGH RUGBY) ON THE ATTACK.
NIKKI WALKER (EDINBURGH RUGBY) ON THE ATTACK.

Gala6

Bristol17

The perfect turnaround after a big defeat by a wholly-professional side would have been for Gala to win when playing only local men, writes Laing Speirs.

And if they had been able to call on their injured forwards, who make up almost a complete pack, it might just have worked a week later.

Since that was never going to happen, a compromise had to be found. Gala brought in five professionals, including former Hawick and Scotland winger Nikki Walker. This blend with the local players went a long way towards restoring some pride, as well as setting up a competitive game.

The Maroons even reached the point early on when they were leading Bristol, and only a couple of bad breaks sent them into the interval trailing, but still in touch.

That the second half produced no more points was a testimony to the Maroons’ character and resilience, playing against driving rain and wind.

Coach George Graham believes that playing against a fully-professional side was a building and maturing exercise for his squad. He was proud of the way they stood the pace and wiped away some of the memories of the previous week’s heavy defeat by the same opponents.

He said: “It’s never nice to go away from home and concede 60-odd points and the boys were really hurting from that all last week. We knew we had better in us though and showed a lot of character to play the way they did on Saturday.”

The first half was very much a frustrating affair when Gala could muster only two penalty goals from David O’Hagan, even with the wind at their backs.

Bristol, meanwhile, were smart and quick enough to turn a couple of mistakes by Gala into points, and their slick handling and strong back-up work produced three first-half tries to remain top of Pool Five and maintain their 100 per cent record in the competition this season. Ryan Edwards, Andy Short and Iain Grieve were the Bristol try-scorers.

It was speed of thought as much as action that gave them the edge, but after the break Gala’s defence was always strong enough to deny Bristol any more scores.

Too many heavy defeats take their toll on morale as much as adding to the injury list, but maybe Gala have found the answer with the injection of a core of mature professionals.