Gala moved to the top of the BT Premiership table after achieving an eventually comfortable victory over Glasgow Hawks at Netherdale with a dominant second half performance.
It’s a result which will only heighten interest ahead of this weekend’s hugely anticipated Borders derby at Mansfield Park.
Yet, despite the 19-point margin of victory, Gala won the try count by only 3-2, largely because of Hawks’ strong play in the first half and partly because of the Maroons’ propensity to concede penalties.
“We gave away far too many penalties and frankly never really adjusted to the referee’s interpretation at the break down and the offsides,” said Gala coach George Graham.
“The penalty count was 10-2 against us in the first half. It takes the pressure off the opposition when we give away penalties. We just have to be a bit more savvy when it comes to playing the referee. If he’s blowing for certain things you just have to make sure you’re not doing these things.”
Hawks’ first half performance was helped in no small part by the presence in their pack of the former Scotland captain, Al Kellock, who was giving his shoulder a final test before making himself available for Glasgow Warriors team selection.
Kellock admitted afterwards that the game was “physical” and added: “I’m feeling good after 65 minutes on the park. The lungs got stretched, too, because it was a fast game. The shoulder felt fine. I’ll now push for a place in the Glasgow team.
“I really enjoyed the game, but it was disappointing to lose. We played really well in the first period and we probably should have been further ahead. They were far better in the second half. They came away really fired up after the break.
Kellock & co led 10-6 a minute before the break with driven line-out tries from Andy Redmayne and Finlay Gillies. But Gala, who had kept in contact with two penalty goals by full back Craig Dods, made a crucial strike on the stroke of half-time with a try in the corner by winger Graham Spiers.
Then in the second half as Gala turned up the heat, lock Opeta Palepoi and Gavin Young ran in tries, the other points coming from two further penalty goals and a conversion by Dods,the son of the Scotland and Lions full back, Peter Dods, and one of several relatively new players to impress on Saturday, the others being flanker Josh Irvine and stand-off Ruairi Howarth.
Speaking about teenager Howarth, coach Graham said: “Ruairi is maturing, but you have to remember it’s only his third game.
“He’s getting better and better each week. He’s a bit of a talent. We’ve got a few boys coming through, like Josh (Irvine). He, too, will get better the more rugby he plays at this level.”