Gala lost out cruelly to Ayr despite overcoming a disastrous first quarter performance and then staging a heroic rally that gave the Maroons the lead with full time approaching.
Gala seemed hopelessly out of touch when they trailed 24-0 with barely 20 minutes gone, but a five-try blitz totally changed the game. The zero-to-hero drama, however, ended for Gala after teenager Ruairi Howarth, who otherwise produced a classy display, missed his kick to touch allowing Ayr to run the ball out of defence, leading eventually to a try by prop Stuart Longwell and the winning conversion by stand-off Frazier Climo.
New Zealander Climo one of three Ayr players sent to the sin-bin but the sanctions also extended to skipper Grant Anderson, who was red-carded for a high tackle of Gala’s double try scorer Craig Robertson.
In the circumstances, Ayr did well to snuff out Gala’s late lead, but for the Maroons it was an opportunity missed.
“It was tough to take,” observed Gala head coach George Graham. “Having played incredibly poorly in the first half we got ourselves back in the right position by scoring some scintillating tries. But when you get your nose in front you expect to play some sensible rugby especially when they’ve got a man off the field.”
“Then with minutes left we missed touch. They win a penalty and kick to the corner from which they score. We had time after that try was scored, but we played some dumb rugby by playing pick-and-drive instead of exploiting their one man down.
“It’s frustrating when you don’t capitalise on what’s in front of you. Ayr are one of the better teams and we could have beaten them. They’ve got very exciting backs but we could have come away with a win.”
Gala, too , were hit by what seemed a card-happy referee, resulting in the loss of Craig Borthwick and Luke Pettie to the sin-bin and allowing Ayr to take advantage.
After trailing 24-0 Gala responded with tries by Robertson and hooker Mark Carryer, but an injury-time score by Ayr centre Ross Curle put the visitors back in the driving seat with the scoreline at 12-29. Then, after Ayr’s Andy Dunlop and Curle were shown the yellow card in quick succession, Gala capitalised with tries by George Graham, replacement Gary Adams and Robertson to tie the score at 29-29.
Replacement Craig Dods, who impressed off the bench, kicked two penalty goals and Gala were 36-29 in the lead only Ayr to deny the Netherdale men their final glory.
In the wake of this defeat, Gala are likely to look closely at their midfield formation with the possibility that Howarth could move to stand-off.
The Maroons have indicated that they expect an overseas back row to arrive soon and there is now the expectation that the creative No8 Euan Dods, who had a game for Gala’s seconds, will soon be back for the Maroons.
Gala: Tries Robertson (2), Graham, Carryer, Adams Cons Howarth (2) Pens Dods (2)
Ayr: Tries Taylor, Longwell (2), Dalgleish, McCallum, Curle Cons Climo (3)
Gala: R Howarth; C Robertson, D Burrows, A Emond, G Spiers; R Jeffrey, G Graham; L Pettie, M Carryer, C Keen, C Borthwick, C Rowlandson, O Palepoi, L Scott, K Mein Subs R Tod, S Cairns, G Adams, C Dods, I Ross
Ayr: G Anderson; R Dalgleish, R Fergusson, R Curle, H McPherson; F Climo, C Taylor; S Longwell, J Malcolm, J Sebastian, G Hunter, S Sutherland, B McPherson, A Dunlop, P McCallum Subs L Scott, F Scott, A Russell, E McKeown
Referee: L Linton