LAING SPEIRS reports from Netherdale
With a narrow win apiece in their earlier games, Gala and Melrose were expected to serve up another close game in their quest for top honours in Premier A.
But in the end, Gala won handsomely and convincingly, recovering their early season form with something to spare.
Gala coach George Graham put it down to playing with a sense of enjoyment. He felt that his side had controlled virtually every aspect of the game.
“I’m absolutely overjoyed for my players,” he told TheSouthern. “We dominated the scrums, the line-outs, the breakdowns, the tackle areas. I’d told the players that we can’t win the league, so go out now and enjoy yourselves.
“The goal now is to stay in the top three in the league and qualify for the British-Irish Cup.”
Melrose skipper Graeme Dodds, while bitterly disappointed, paid full tribute to Gala.
“We played very badly, but they made us play badly,” he said.
“We didn’t do anything actually wrong today; we just ran into Gala playing at their best.”
Gala were given a great lead by Opeta Palepoi and Euan Dods, and had the stronger back row when going forward.
Melrose were best served by their captain and Fraser Thomson, but seldom could they break Gala’s control upfront.
Spectators who had just watched depressing rugby from Rome had their enthusiasm restored within minutes at Netherdale.
It was clear from the start that this was going to be a very different sort of game. Andrew Skeen’s early penalty, courtesy of the Gala forwards, was a conventional enough opening, but when Gala took up position on the Melrose line the first try showed what a contest was in store.
Palepoi was the third man in an impressive series of drives by the Gala pack, scoring midway to the corner flag.
Melrose’s reply was swift and impressive. Dodds went right from a scrum, found the gap that unlocked the defence, and sent Fraser Thomson in for a try after 13 minutes. The tempo picked up, each side showing an interest in getting the ball moving, but it was an offside offence by Melrose that gave Lee Millar the chance to draw Gala level with a penalty midway through the half.
Skeen then missed a not-too-difficult penalty, but Millar was on target with another when the Melrose forwards failed to roll away.
Just before the break Gala lost Alan Emond to a yellow card, Skeen bringing the scores level with a penalty.
Half-time score: 11-11.
The fast-moving game got even better after the restart when a pass from substitute Scott Wight was picked off by Gary Lowrie.
The flanker had 50m to go, but showed the sort of speed that must have had the Gala sevens coaches watching with interest. His score at the corner was unconverted, but the game’s pace never flagged, with the Maroons gradually taking control and getting another penalty through Millar.
It was from yet another good scrum that Dods was released to pass to George Graham, who soared through a non-existent Melrose cover defence for a try to which Millar added the extras.
Gala might have had a bonus point, but some splendid covering by Thomson saw him haul down Craig Robertson short of the line.
Games like this show that whatever problems exist elsewhere, the club scene can be as vigorous as ever.
Gala: A. McLean; G. Young, G. Hunter, A. Emond, C. Robertson; L. Millar, George Graham; L. Pettie, R. Anderson, E. McQuillan, C. Weir, O. Palepoi, Gary Graham, G. Lowrie, E. Dods. Subs: P. Stewart, S. Cairns, C. Borthwick, B. Turner, D. Marshall.
Melrose : F. Thomson; A. Dodds, B. Dick, J. Helps, N. McGrath; A. Skeen, B. Colvine; N.Little, R. Ferguson, G.Holborn, P. Eccles, R. Miller, R. Ovens, G. Runciman, G . Dodds. Subs: N. Beavon, S. Johnston, S.Wight, S.McCormick.