IF GOOD teams do just enough to win, Gala stand on the verge of greatness.
Yesterday, against a Hawick side short on confidence after last week’s home monstering by Melrose, they secured the bonus point win that took them to the top of the table without ever really moving up through the gears.
“We’re over the moon to be top of the league but in terms of performance that was nowhere near where we’d like to be,” said coach George Graham. “That said, if we can put 30-odd points past Hawick and still be disappointed then it can’t be all bad.”
Indeed, in a match that was entertainingly competitive despite never evoking memories of past epic contests between these two storied clubs, it was by no means all bad.
Gala showed greater urgency and precision from the first whistle and deservedly dominated the opening exchanges, Ewan Scott registering a penalty after just five minutes. The real breakthrough came five minutes later when Gala’s scrum once again shunted the visiting pack back off the ball as Hughie McLeod doubtlessly shook his head in disbelief, Gala skipper George Graham spun a miss-pass wide to wing Grant Somerville, who squeezed over in the right corner.
Gala’s ascendancy at the scrum was a huge problem for Hawick, particularly as stand-off Rory Hutton insisted on kicking away much of their hard-won ball. It was the set-piece that led to Gala’s second try, which was even softer than the first, with Gala’s veteran Samoan lock Opeta Palepoi catching the ball unchallenged at four in the lineout before simply pivoting and taking a couple of strides through the Hawick defenders and falling over the line.
With the home side 15-0 ahead and threatening to run away with the match, Hawick managed to steady the ship and even apply some pressure themselves. Their impressive full-back Neil Renwick was invariably the catalyst, and after kicking his side’s first points on the half-hour, he added another three two minutes later when he ghosted through the home midfield and then kicked the penalty when prop Rory Sutherland killed the ball at the subsequent ruck and was yellow-carded for his trouble.
Despite Gala being reduced to 14 men, it was a mere blip in their onward progress. Two minutes before half-time, normal service was resumed when the Maroons got a classy third try which underlined their cutting edge in midfield. The pack again won quick ball, Scott carved through and full-back Graham Spiers finished in the corner.
After the break, a rejuvenated Hawick briefly launched a comeback when skipper Keith Davies muscled his way through some weak tackling and broke into the Gala 22. The ball was swiftly moved across, with Renwick rounding off a superb move with what turned out to be the visitors’ only try.
Once again, it took the prospect of a Hawick rally for Gala to put their foot back on the gas.
Tom Weir restored their lead with the simplest of tries as Gala’s scrum beasted the Hawick eight in their 22 and the No.8 simply picked up and reached for the line to score the try that secured the bonus point.
With the bonus point secured and the result beyond doubt, Gala inevitably lost some of their focus and, in perfect conditions, the game became a more open, sevens-style affair. Where Melrose stuck the knife in at Mansfield Park last week, registering three tries in the last seven minutes as they scored 50 points despite being behind at half-time, Gala could only manage one more try.
It was a collectors’ item though, with Chris Auld’s Sonny Bill-style behind-the-back pass putting Somerville one-on-one with Rob McAlpine, the Gala wing skipping around the second row’s attempted tackle to round off the win in style.