BRITISH & IRISH CUP
STUART CAMERON reports from Netherdale
THIS was one of the biggest results in the history of Gala Rugby Club.
Beating a semi-professional team from the English Championship, coupled with victory over London Scottish in October, puts them in contention for qualification to the knock-out stages of the British & Irish Cup.
While none of the team or management will be thinking about that at the halfway stage of the competition, coach George Graham did cast his mind back with frustration to the nightmare first eight minutes in their only defeat to Llanelli, when the team found themselves 24 points down before making a spirited, yet failed, comeback.
Graham said: “We’ve put two huge teams away and if we hadn’t had such a bad start against Llanelli it could have been three out of three.
“We knew this was going to be a tough ask – we had to play one of our best games of the season to compete with Moseley and I think we did that today.
“On the whole, we were the better team. I was really happy with our defensive effort. I’m really over the moon and so proud of them.
“But we have another big task on Saturday when we go down there and play them, because they’ll be smarting from this.
“We’ll savour this victory and think about that match later in the week.”
So how did Gala get over the winning line, particularly when parts of their game were off-colour?
It was all about getting a good start and defending like demons.
From the moment Moseley’s scrum half Ollie Thomas struck the post in the first minute with a penalty, you got the feeling that things were going to go the way of the Maroons.
Lee Millar put Gala ahead in the 12th minute with a well-struck penalty, but Moseley were treated to a lesson in what the Netherdale outfit are capable of with a number of positive moves from Lee Millar and Bryce Turner giving the West Midlands team a lot of early headaches.
When Steve Cairns, a worthy late replacement for Euan Dods, picked up at the back of a scrum on the 20-minute mark, he drew the one defender and slipped the ball out to George Graham, who raced in to score.
The usually reliable Millar hit the woodwork, but three minutes later kicked a penalty to give his side an 11-point cushion.
Back came Moseley with a couple of successful penalties by Thomas before the break, but the crucial score came eight minutes into the second half when Gala turned over ball in their own half.
We all know about Millar’s kicking prowess, which has attracted interest from professional clubs, but many forget that he is also a natural with ball in hand and the stand-off raced clear of the Moseley defence.
With one man to beat, he gave the perfect pass to supporting flanker Craig Keddie, who looked as if he would make it to the line. Credit to Moseley’s left winger Billy Robinson, who got back to stop Keddie, but George Graham was on his shoulder to take the scoring pass again. It was a brilliant offload from Keddie and one of the tries of the season.
It set Netherdale alight and the team looked comfortable defending a Moseley side which became increasingly frustrated in the final half-hour.
The Birmingham men didn’t help themselves with two avoidable yellow cards during the match for hooker Adam Caves and skipper Neil Mason at crucial times, while the Maroons also had Chris Weir and Craig Robertson yellow-carded for professional fouls.
The Gala defence was breached once in the game when Ben Pons managed to scrabble over the line, but you really didn’t feel as if the Maroons would concede again ... and that is exactly what happened as they controlled the match and saw the game out.
Try hero George Graham told TheSouthern: “The boys just got stuck in and we deserved it in the end.
“We put our hearts into it and pulled off a great win for Gala. I was pleased to get the two tries, but the second one was down to Lee Millar and Craig Keddie, and I was there to pick up the slim pickings.
“Clubs like Gala use boys who train twice a week (compared to semi-pros of Moseley). It’s just pure grit and determination, and that’s what Borders rugby is all about.”
This was probably the club’s best defensive performance of the season. They have worryingly leaked more than their fair share of tries this campaign, so this was a real return to form in that department.
However, they do have to look at the line-outs which aren’t working for them at the moment.
Hooker Callum Mackintosh started this game ahead of team-mate Russell Anderson for this game, but, like the Scotland team at the moment, it’s an area of concern.
Yet, the Gala pack won the battle at Netherdale, their backs were more inventive and if they believe they can win, tackle as they did on Saturday and get a good start, there is no reason why they shouldn’t get another remarkable result at Moseley this weekend.
One thing’s for sure – the current crop of players representing the club should be proud because they are adding chapters to an already incredible history book.
You can see match highlights on Borders Rugby TV are at www.bordersrugby.net
Gala: B. Turner, G. Somerville, C. Auld, A. Emond, G. Young, L. Millar, G. Graham; L. Pettie, C. Mackintosh, E. McQuillin, C. Weir, O. Palepoi, C. Keddie, G. Graham, S. Cairns. Subs: M. Christie, D. Marshall, R. Anderson, A. McLean, D. Owenson, C. Borthwick, C. Robertson.