GALA coach George Graham is hopeful that the sobering experience of conceding 117 points in the British and Irish Cup over the past fortnight will fuel a desire among his side to get back into the RBS Premiership title race.
Many might fear the mental effects of heavy back-to-back defeats to Aberavon and Leeds, but Graham had warned his players of the step-up in quality that they would experience and believes that they have taken in the message that these games could serve them well if they grasp lessons from the professionals.
Looking ahead to the trip to struggling Currie, he said: “This week’s game will be a test after a huge loss to a very good Leeds team last week, and the test will be how the team bounces back and cope with a Currie team that is desperate for any points.
“Their game against Melrose last week was a closer affair than in recent weeks by all accounts, so, if we are to keep up the chase on Melrose, we will have to play close to our best. Malleny Park is never an easy place to win, but if we learn the lessons and play at the tempo that we played at last week, even in defeat, and cut out the errors, then I feel we should be too strong for Currie.”
Graham has made his feelings known this season about SRU orders to play pros released by Edinburgh and Glasgow – he does not like being told to alter a team he is developing to work hard for each other – but he acknowledged that the pros stepping down have been enthusiastic and so is looking forward to seeing new Edinburgh scrum-half Grayson Hart and his old prop Ewan McQuillin in action in maroon, with James Hilterbrand starting on the bench.
It is a similar story for Ayr, Edinburgh Accies and Stirling County as they return to domestic action off the back of losses, with Melrose having taken advantage of their cup sojourns to open up a seven-point gap at the top. Heriot’s are in second, a further five points ahead of third-placed Gala. Clearly, the returning quartet now have two games in hand, but as the weather worsens and the pitches become heavy, and already small differences between teams can become smaller, they will all believe that slip-ups heading into the second half of the campaign could ruin title hopes.
Ayr are at home to Stirling County at Millbrae, while Edinburgh Accies head for Old Anniesland to face a Glasgow Hawks side bolstered by the inclusion of Glasgow’s new Fijian lock Leone Nakawara. Heriot’s suffered a surprising defeat at home to Hawick last week and they are given a second bite of the cherry at Goldenacre, but against league leaders Melrose, while Hawick make the long trip north to Aberdeen Grammar. All games kick off at 3pm.
In the RBS Women’s Premier League, leaders Hillhead Jordanhill travel to the Borders to play Melrose, Watsonians welcome Murrayfield Wanderers and Stirling County head to Edinburgh to face RHC Cougars.