They may have started without a few of their top players but Gala were still encouragingly competitive in their opening British & Irish Cup tie.
In the end, however, the Maroons were forced to accept defeat to a young but skilful Aberavon side that had opened up a 20-point gap early in the second half.
Gala have learned the hard way that an all-out effort in the B&I Cup against sides who are physically bigger and professionally conditioned has its price and, arguably, their campaign in the cross-border competition last season, which exacted a heavy physical toll, cost the Maroons the RBS Premiership title.
This season Gala appear to have taken a more relaxed approach while still eager to compete.
“It’s a great chance for players to experience a higher level of rugby, suggested Gala head coach George Graham.
“At home we only have pretty much the Premiership and, for the select few, the club international. Other than that you don’t get exposed to any higher level rugby.”
For Saturday’s first-round match, Gala started without skipper George Graham, his brother. Gary, back row Euan Dods, and the experienced lock Opeta Palepoi and stand-off Andy McLean.
The absence of McLean and Gary Graham, however, presented opportunities for Gregor Mein at stand-off and Richie Tod in the back row. In the event both took their chances, Mein in particular catching the eye with an assured performance that suggest the youngster could step up on a more permanent basis.
“I thought Gregor had an excellent game for such a young player,” added coach Graham.
“He didn’t look phased at all in this company. He kicked well, he made a couple of breaks, his service was strong, and his game management was good.
“Richie Tod also had a good match. He was really nervous, but then he’s gone from playing in the seconds to playing in the British and Irish Cup.”
Gala for much of the first half were forced to play in their own half against an Aberavon side that dominated possession and territory resulting in a try for Fijian Aisea Natoga, and two penalties and a conversion from Sam Davies, who was one of the outstanding players in last season’s Junior World Championship.
Davies then contributed with a third penalty and his conversion of a second try by Natoga, leaving Gala trailing 3-23.
The Maroons, having made three substitutions, suddenly found the fire that had been missing to score tries through flanker Steve Cairns and wing Craig Robertson, both converted by Mein only for a fluke bounce of the ball to give Aberavon’s stand-off Paul Smithson a late try before Davies signed off Aberavon’s victory with his fourth penalty goal.
Gala: G Spiers; G Somerville, C Auld, E Scott, C Robertson; G Mein, G Hart; R Sutherland, C MacIntosh, E McQuillan, C Weir, C Borthwick, R Tod, S Cairns, T Weir Subs used L Bertram, Gary Graham, George Graham, G Young, A Emond, K Mein, J Hilterbrand