Pledge to regulars pays off in style for Gala coach

Gala 27

London Scottish 23

BRITISH & IRISH CUP

STUART CAMERON reports from Netherdale

THE look on the face of Gala head coach George Graham at the end of this historic first match for the Maroons in the British & Irish Cup said it all.

The little man with the big heart had promised his squad that their reward for winning a place in the competition would be a guarantee that it would be them who would be selected for this clash against London Scottish, rather than bringing in professionals to bolster the team.

He was true to his word. The only pro on view was James King – already part of the Gala set-up.this season.

It was a decision he would not regret. The step-up in standard against one of the big teams in the English Championship was a real test for the boys, but a challenge they embraced and they matched London Scottish in all areas, thoroughly deserving their win.

In the three previous meetings between the clubs over seven decades, it was 2-1 to Gala.

Any thoughts that the Netherdale outfit would give their opponents, who included internationals Phil Godman and Sam Twomey, too much respect was blown out of the water as they raced to a 10-0 lead inside 10 minutes, thanks to a Lee Millar penalty and a well-taken try by Grant Somerville, converted by Millar.

There is a tremendous amount of talent at the Richmond-based club and their backline, including centres PJ Gidlow and Dave McCall, caused problems. Full back James Love tapped over a penalty for the visitors before the try of the day. Gidlow blasted through a gap from inside his own half, slipped the ball to flying winger Miles Mantella and he sprinted in.

Love missed the conversion, but Scottish were having a good spell and Gala found it difficult to stop their pack. Chris Weir committed one too many professional fouls and was sent to the bin, and while Gala were down to 14, Scottish drove over for two ugly, but effective, forwards tries from Willie Lipp and Colin Quigley, the latter converted by Love.

The traditional George Graham team talk at the interval helped turn things round. Gala tore into Scottish and Opeta Palepoi burrowed over for a touchdown in the left corner, soon to be followed by another score in a similar place, this time Craig Robertson ripping the ball clear of a maul to get his team’s third try. Millar converted both from the touchline.

With the lead restored confidence grew, but a Love penalty reduced the deficit to one point.

It was a rollercoaster of a match, but Gala dug deep. Millar dropped a goal to extend the advantage to 27-23, knowing that if the visitors were to win they would need a try.

The five minutes of injury time was agonising for everyone. Scottish were camped on the Gala try line, poised to break hearts, but the Maroons simply would not allow this match to get away. They defended like demons and it paid off. It was a fantastic effort from the entire squad who went absolutely mental when the final whistle blew.

“This was up there with winning the cup final win at Murrayfield,” said George Graham after the match. “I thought the character and the determination of the boys was absolutely fantastic. I put it to them last week that when they came off the field at the end of this game they should ask themselves where they stand in the grand scheme of things. They’ve answered me emphatically.”

You can enjoy the match highlights on Borders Rugby TV at www.BordersRugby.net

Gala: A. McLean; G. Somerville, C. Auld, J. King, C. Robertson; L. Millar, G. Graham; L. Pettie, C. MacKintosh, E. McQuillin, C. Weir, O. Palepoi (c), G. Graham, S. Cairns, E. Dods. Subs: R. Anderson, C. Keddie, C. Dods, B. Turner, G. Young, K. Mein, D. Owenson.