STUART CAMERON reports from Netherdale
A prediction by a national newspaper that Gala would finish seventh at best out of 10 teams in the Premiership this season made head coach George Graham angry, and you don’t want to do that.
He ranted before the opening match against Heriot’s in Scotland’s new slimline top division that it showed disrespect to his side, who are Scottish Cup champions and finished third last season.
If ever you are going to fire up Graham then that’s exactly how to do it, and although he had a few words to say to his team in the dressing room, the team talk could probably have been done by pointing to the article on the wall.
Gala did their talking on the pitch, winning comfortably, although the margin would have been larger had they kept their shape in injury time. Instead, they conceded a converted try by Andy Scott.
“Nothing less than a win will be acceptable,” said George as he returned to the dressing room just before the start of the game, and he got that, with the bonus of a four-try haul to give them that extra point and send them to the top of the table.
That is certainly one way to set out your stall.
However, there is plenty of work to do, particularly in the line-outs, which didn’t function for most of the game, except for one piece of brilliance near the end when Russell Anderson found Euan Dods at the back of the line.
He patted down to scrum half George Graham, who darted through a massive gap in the Heriot’s defence to touch down.
The first half was close, with Lee Millar and Graham Wilson exchanging penalties.
Man of the Match Euan Dods went over in the corner for the first try of the game, before Gala’s defence failed to deal with a line-out won by Heriot’s big second row forward C. J. Ozawuma. He literally fell backwards over the line.
Both conversions were missed, but Millar and Wilson redeemed themselves with well-taken penalties soon after and just before the break Millar nailed a third penalty to put Gala in front 14-11 at the interval.
George Graham Senior performed his unique style of holding his half-time team talk on the pitch rather than returning to the dressing room and it did the trick.
Tries from Craig Robertson and a second by Euan Dods, both converted by Millar, opened up a healthy lead and Gala were let off when the referee changed his mind after awarding a try to Graham Wilson under the posts – it’s not often you see that happen.
Twelve minutes from time, George Graham’s try put his team out to 35-11, but credit goes to Heriot’s for coming back and getting a deserved score at the end to reduce the gap to 17 points.
Coach Graham said afterwards: “Happy with the result – we got out of it everything we wanted but I was disappointed with the first half. We’re still rusty, but we can move on from here.”
Meanwhile, Heriot’s boss Phil Smith described his side’s second-half showing as “horrific”.
Gala: A. McLean, G. Somerville, B. Turner, A. Emond, C. Robertson, L. Millar, G. Graham; L. Pettie, R. Anderson, E. McQuillin, C. Weir, O Palepoi, G. Graham, G. Lowrie, E. Dods. Subs: C. Mackintosh, D. Marshall, C. Borthwick, G. Bryce, R. Livingston.
z Match highlights are on Borders Rugby TV at www.BordersRugby.net