THE odds were against Edinburgh Accies from the start and an impressive show of defiance just wasn’t enough to upset the predictions.
The length of the Premiership table separated the teams at kick-off. Gala were, and remain, proudly at the top, five straight victories behind them. Accies, who have won none out of six, were, and remain, slightly detached and squirming uncomfortably at the bottom.
It didn’t matter that Accies proved themselves to have the flair, the skill and the imagination to be the better team over the 80 minutes, with Scotland under-20 full-back Ruairidh Young scoring a hat-trick of quality tries.
It did matter that they handicapped themselves with two yellow cards that made them under-strength for a quarter of the game, allowing Gala to match their try-scoring rate and add a couple of penalties.
Ultimately, though, the visiting Borderers came out on top because they have acquired the winning habit and Accies haven’t.
Home coach Phil Leck was angry and despondent by the end. He said: “We were the better team but we need consistency and we can’t keep playing with 14 men and expect to beat other teams.
“It is only a matter of time before we get a win. We have played the top five sides and come within a score of all of them so we are not that far away. The players have to keep the faith and keep working hard.”
Accies were under the cosh from the outset, the first try going to Gala with less than five minutes on the clock after sustained pressure inside the 22. Gala tried a rolling maul off a five-metre lineout. It didn’t work the first time but a repeat attempt clicked into place perfectly with flanker Gary Graham taking the catch before feeding it to loosehead prop Luke Pettie, who was driven over.
Accies didn’t get out of their own half for the first 15 minutes but, when they did reach the Gala 22, they used the platform of a five-metre scrum to set up running lines among the backs that had Young coming in on the angle to cross the line for the first of his three tries.
On the half hour, Accies were back on the attack in the Gala 22, harrying a basically sound defence until cracks developed and Young crossed the line for a second time. Alex Glashan added the conversion.
Gala calmed things down a little as stand-off Ruairi Howarth reduced the margin with a penalty, then ramped up the tempo and, three times in the space of six minutes, they got themselves over the Accies goal-line but could not ground the ball to the referee’s satisfaction.
During that concentrated blitz, Accies lock Ed Stuart was sin-binned for handling in the ruck so Accies started the second half four points to the good but with only 14 men on the pitch.
Howarth’s second penalty reduced the lead to one point but the hosts repeated the trick of running lines off a five-metre scrum and again it was Young, tackled just short of the line, who was able to stretch out an arm and score. Glashan banged over the conversion from wide on the right and Accies, restored to full strength, looked to be in command.
Gala had a tendency to dither and their defence was pretty fragile, but Howarth steadied his team and pegged Accies back with a third penalty as the game approached its final quarter. When Accies skipper Greg Campbell was shown a yellow card for a ruck offence inside the Gala half, the whole shape of the game changed.
The Borderers were on the front foot again and hooker Callum Mackintosh got their second try with a simple drive from a lineout to level the scores.
Two minutes later, replacement back row forward Rex Jeffrey crashed over for the decisive try and Craig Dods’ conversion put them seven points clear. Accies couldn’t recover from that and had to settle, small enough consolation as it was, for a third losing bonus point of the season.
Gala Coach George Graham said: “I think Accies position in the league belies how good a team they actually are. They have always had a good set of backs but now the pack has been strengthened too and it’s not easy against them. We played poorly in the first half, our tackling was woeful. Accies weren’t making many line breaks but they were getting over the gain line and putting us on the back foot which was really disappointing. A few stern words at half time and we came out and scored a couple of good tries.
“Discipline was a problem for us. Accies were quite good at the breakdown and we gave away far too many turnovers. I was relieved at the end, it’s true, and I would have been happier if we had got another try.”
Scorers: Accies – Tries: Young 3; Cons: Glashan 2. Gala – Tries: Pettie, Mackintosh, Jeffrey; Con: Dods; Pens: Howarth 2.
Accies: R Young, S Pecqueur, C Dean, R Wilson, J Marples, I Chisholm, A Glashan, D Bates, M Liness, L Niven, G Campbell, E Stuart, J Winks, J Sole, R Seydak. Subs: C Laquor, L Launders, T Stuart, R Godsmark, E Campbell.
Gala: C Dods, S Law, C Auld, A Emond, G Young, R Howarth, G Graham, L Pettie, C Mackintosh, G Robertson, C Weir, O Palepoi, G Graham, G Irvine, E Dods. Subs: L Bertram, T Weir, S Cairns, B Thompson, R Jeffrey.
Referee: N Muir.