PROFESSIONAL rugby returns to Netherdale on Saturday when Gala face English Championship side, London Scottish, in the first round of the British and Irish Cup, writes Fiona Scott.
The Exiles, who survived a relegation battle from the championship at the end of last season, are a professional outfit with a squad that includes former Edinburgh players, Phil Godman, Ross Samson and Jim Thompson, grandson of legendary commentator, Bill McLaren.
Gala coach George Graham is only too aware of the challenge that faces his side and said: “This will be a huge learning experience for the boys and a huge experience for the club as well. The cup is the culmination of a lot of hard work that this club has done. We’ve worked hard over the past two or three seasons to get to this point.
“We’re one of the best amateur clubs, and so the boys will be keen to see how they measure up to the pros.
“We’re looking forward to the match and are treating it as a bit of prize for what we’ve already achieved.” The Maroons coach is one of three former Gala and Scotland players to have played for London Scottish, the other two being the former international hooker Norman ‘Bonzo’ Bruce and fellow cap Derek White.
Gala have played London Scottish at Netherdale on three occasions, winning 12-6 in 1959, losing 28-16 in 1974 and then tasting victory in 1990 with a 20-16 win.
Stand-off Lee Millar is far too young to remember any of these games and is just looking forward to the challenge.
He said: “London Scottish is probably one of the biggest games we could have hoped for and everybody is looking forward to it. We’re coming off the back of a good win up in Dundee in the RBS Premier Division, so we’ll look to take confidence from our league games and put in a good performance.”
For Melrose, it’s their third time in the competition, which this season features 32 teams, and on Saturday they begin their quest with an away trip to Doncaster.
Scrum half Bruce Colvine said: “The boys are really looking forward to getting started in the B&I Cup, especially playing against professional teams as it gives you a marker to compare against.
“From previous involvement in the competition we know that you cannot let other teams get on top of you. The worst thing to do is to wait and see what they will do because if you do that you’ll be massively points down as they are big, physical teams.”
For the remainder of the Borders sides this weekend it’s business as usual which means continuing the battle for position in the National League for most.
Last weekend, Selkirk got back on the winning trail with a hard-fought victory against Borders rivals Jed-Forest, who played much better than their lowly league position suggests. This weekend, the Souters are at home once more with struggling Biggar their visitors, while Jed play host to Stewart’s Melville at Riverside Park.
Kelso are also at home and they entertain Watsonians, while Hawick take to the road for a crunch tie against league high-flyers Glasgow Hawks.