A TOP four play-off place remains the goal of all clubs in the Premiership, and little has changed after an engrossing double-header on Saturday at The Greenyards.
Border League points were also at stake as Melrose mastered the difficult conditions of wind and showers to again nudge out their local rivals as they had done on the final Saturday of last season. The Scottish champions were in control of a game against a Gala side whose errors led to anguish and frustration.
The return of Joe Helps after injury and Bruce Colvine from New Zealand, and also a spell at Darlington, added to Melrose’s strength in depth in front of the biggest crowd of the season.
“I am happy to be back here,” said Colvine, who will face competition for the No 9 jersey.
In swirling wind both sides played better into the gale, and it was Melrose’s dominance up front that laid the foundations and set up good ball for them to cash in on their opportunities.
Melrose’s defence was secure and unrelenting as they defied Gala in a pulsating end to the first half which ultimately swung the game in their favour.
It looked only a matter of time before the visitors would score but the home defence’s cover was impeccable and Gala’s pick-up-and-drives were thwarted in every move. Melrose were able to knock Gala back with regularity to prove that sound defence is as crucial as attack to lifting titles.
Coach John Dalziel admitted: “We have been a bit inconsistent in the first few games, and we put ourselves in a position that we needed to beat teams like Gala [after their narrow win over Heriot’s a week earlier].
“Our first focus is to get into the top four, and we have to get the momentum to do that. We asked the players for a bit more and we showed that we can beat anyone in this league if we get our attitude right and start to play like a real unit and a team.
“Gala did put us under pressure, but I felt that we had too much quality. We had to work hard into the wind and I felt that the difference was the pack dominance from the driving line-outs.
“Gala could possibly afford to lose it rather than us, and it was important to cement a win as we played better rugby in the second half into the wind.”
Gala coach George Graham said: “I do not think that we performed particularly well. We played some really ‘dumb’ rugby. I was disappointed that we did not take the opportunities, but they are very predatory, and when we made a mistake, they scored a try.
“Melrose’s defence was very resolute and they had more about them than we did.
“Ideally we want to finish in the top four [and get a home tie in the play-offs], but there is a long way to go.”
Gala faced the wind in the first half, but they had chances to score before Melrose broke the duck at the other end when a poor clearance allowed Graeme Dodds to score close to the left-hand corner.
A break by Alan Emond stretched the home defence, and then a series of scrums led to Euan Dods scoring from a pick-up at the base of the scrum.
Melrose profited from a Helps penalty and then an interception which ended with Neil Irvine-Hess scoring at the other end, Helps converting. This enabled Melrose to lead 15-5 at the break despite intense Gala pressure from which the hosts emerged with immense credit for their defensive work.
Referee Fergus Kirby handed out yellow cards to Gala’s Tom Weir and Melrose full-back Fraser Thomson, and while both sides utilised replacements, Melrose were in command, and a try by Peter Eccles (voted Border League Booker Man-of-the-Match) with 20 minutes left, converted by Helps, effectively ended the contest.
Gala toiled hard for a losing point, but fell short despite Shaun Law’s late try, giving up pole position in the league to Heriot’s, the next visitors to Netherdale, while winger Brett Thompson, released by Edinburgh, is expected to be out for several weeks with a shoulder injury.
Scorers: Melrose – Tries: Dodds, Irvine-Hess, Eccles. Cons: Helps (2). Pen: Helps. Gala – Tries: Dods, Law.
Melrose: F Thomson; C Anderson, T Mua, J Helps, G Taylor; A Lockington, M McAndrew; N Beavon, T Pearce, E McQuillin, J Head, L Carmichael, N Irvine-Hess, G Dodds, P Eccles. Replacements: R Ferguson, N Little, R Miller, B Colvine, R Mill.
Gala: R Howarth; B Thompson, K Young, A Emond, G Somerville; R Jeffrey, George Graham; R Sutherland, C Mackintosh, G Robertson, C Weir, O Palepoi, Gary Graham, E Dods, S Cairns. Replacements: R. Anderson, E. Johnstone, T Weir, G Hart, S Law.
Referee: F Kirby.