FIONA SCOTT reports from The Greenyards
THIS game will not go down in the history books as a classic derby clash full of exciting and well-executed rugby.
But if winning ugly ever gets a small section of its own in the above mentioned oracles then the Premiership clash between Melrose and Gala last Saturday would certainly be worthy of a mention.
Stylish it was not. What it did offer the 1,000 or so spectators at the Greenyards was a dogged show of guts and determination that ultimately made the difference between winning and losing.
Whether the visiting players’ celebrations at the final whistle were borne from the knowledge that they now sit two points above Ayr at the top of the table, or came from sheer relief, is irrelevant.
What matters was that they put their heads down when it mattered, even when down to 13 men for nine minutes of the game, and came out with a win over their rivals who can now more or less forget any ambitions of retaining the title for the third consecutive year.
Speaking after the match Gala coach George Graham said: “We played some stupid rugby at times, but I’m not too bothered about the performance today. All I was bothered about was getting the four points and we did that.
“They played really well in parts, but then at other times they didn’t execute what they were supposed to do. I thought our defence was awesome, especially when we were down to 13 men, and that gave us a huge psychological boost over Melrose.”
With so much to gain – and to lose – for both sides, it was no surprise that the opening 20 minutes turned out to be a somewhat stuffy affair with neither side giving or gaining much.
Melrose went down to 14 men on 16 minutes, Ross Miller having been yellow-carded for a repeated team infringement, but it was the hosts who scored first when Richard Mill slotted a penalty.
In terms of action, the large crowd were treated to a good dose during the remainder of the game, although probably not the kind they were looking for.
As Miller came back on, Melrose having managed to defend successfully in the interim, Blair Hutchison was given his marching orders, leaving the hosts still having to cover a deficit. This time Gala threw themselves at the Melrose line and their perseverance paid off as referee Charles Samson’s patience ran out and he awarded a penalty try. Lee Millar kicked the extras.
As the half ran out, Miller and Joe Helps added another two penalties for Melrose to take them in at the break 9-7 ahead.
True to form, Gala came out all guns blazing in the second half. A sprint up the blindside by Chris Auld resulted in Grant Somerville crossing the line and dotting down, and Millar converted before adding a penalty of his own.
Luke Pettie was yellow-carded for what the referee deemed a high tackle and minutes later fellow prop Ewan McQuillan went the same way. Now down to 13 men and uncontested scrums, things weren’t looking too good for the Netherdale outfit. Andrew Skeen came off the bench and was put to use almost immediately when sent to kick what turned out to be a successful penalty and close the gap to five points.
Gala defended valiantly and managed to hold out until their numbers were fully restored and the referee blew for time.
Melrose: F. Thomson; B. Colvine, J. Murray, J. Helps, B. Hutchison; R. Mill, S. McCormick; N. Little, R. Ferguson, G. Holburn, R. Ovens, R. Miller, J. Dalziel, G. Runciman, A. Nagle. Subs: W. Mitchell, C. Keen, D. Crawford, A. Skeen, S. Chalmers.
Gala: A. McLean; G. Somerville, C. Auld, A. Emond, C. Robertson; L. Millar, George Graham; L. Pettie, R. Anderson, E. McQuillan, C. Weir, O. Palepoi, C. Keddie, Gary Graham, E. Dodds. Subs: C. Mackintosh, K. Mein, S. Cairns, B. Turner, G. Young.