GALA’S usurping of their Borders neighbours continues with George Graham’s men claiming a narrow, but deserved victory, in this traditional Waverley Cup derby.
Scorers: Gala: Pens – Millar 4. Melrose: Pens – Skeen 2.
A grey gloom hovered over Netherdale throughout the afternoon and the rain was intermittent, but there was good cheer inside the Borders ground as a crowd of over 700 huddled in for some Boxing Day entertainment.
Two players on the radar of the professional coaches, Gala half-backs George Graham and Lee Millar, started brightly, Millar opening the scoring with a third minute penalty, but as the game wore on they struggled to maintain the creative threat.
Fraser Thomson, the Melrose full-back from Galashiels, was the most threatening player in the visitors’ ranks, denied by a fine tackle from Craig Keddie, the Maroons’ blindside flanker, while big centre Alan Emond brought the home support to its feet with a storming run out of his own half, only to squander the chance with a kick ahead that ran beyond the dead-ball line, before scrum-half Graham lost the ball over the line due to the typically gritty attentions of ‘Rose flanker Grant Runciman.
With leading English international referee Dave Pearson making the short trip north from his Northumberland home, there was little room for error at ruck-time, which, pleasingly for spectators, helped maintain the flow of the game. However, too many errors contrived to ruin the promise and Gala had to wait until the 30th minute to add to their score, again from Millar’s boot.
Melrose’s hopes ran aground regularly on the rocks of Gala’s breakdown work, but with rain sweeping into their faces, a high ball by Andrew Skeen finally produced the first Melrose points, Bryce Turner dropping it forward and George Graham picking up offside, handing Skeen the chance to slot three points, which he duly took with five minutes of the half remaining.
More good ruck-work and then a good scrummage handed Millar two more chances at goal and he nailed the second to restore Gala’s six-point advantage at half-time.
After a lacklustre third quarter, in which a fourth Millar penalty was scant reward for Gala’s possession, the game needed a try and Thomson seemed set to provide it. But the full-back, after just getting to the ball and juggling it for ten metres, lost it into touch ten metres from the Gala line, the Maroons faithful threatening to take the roof off the main stand with jeers for their old boy.
Still, Melrose were fighting back and after a second Skeen penalty, from another Thomson break, could have claimed a decisive score. Replacement scrum-half Bruce Colvine superbly cut the line only to trip seven metres out, and Skeen could not gather the ball on the ground as an overlap screamed at him on the right. Some bone-jarring tackles from Gala regained the initiative, but Millar left the door open for ‘Rose when he fell short with another long-range penalty with four minutes to go.
Still, Melrose could not get the better of the home pack and after a frenetic five minutes of injury-time, Gala’s hold on the Waverley Cup remained true.
Gala: A McLean; G Somerville, B Turner, A Emond, G Young; L Millar, G Graham; C Mackintosh, R Anderson, E McQuillin, C Weir, O Palepoi, C Keddie, G Graham, S Cairns.
Subs used: M Christie, T Weir, C Robertson, D Owenson, C Borthwick.
Melrose: F Thomson; L Mallin, R Mill, J Helps, A Letham; A Skeen, S McCormick; C Keen, R Ferguson, S Lowe, P Eccles, R Miller, J Dalziel, G Runciman, A Nagle. Subs used: N Little, S Johnson, B Colvine, R Ovens, D Colvine, R Taylor.
Referee: D Pearson Attendance: 720