Older heads setting the standard for Gala

George Graham in action for Gala against Ayr. Picture: SNS

George Graham in action for Gala against Ayr. Picture: SNS

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GALA captain George Graham has praised the experienced players in his squad as the BT Premiership leaders get ready to head to Hawick today for a keenly-anticipated Borders derby.

The Maroons lost on the opening weekend of the season at Ayr, but have since bounced back with home wins over Currie and Glasgow Hawks in the last fortnight.

Given the way the Netherdale men lost the top flight title race on the final day of last term it would perhaps not have been a surprise if some of their older heads had called it a day at that stage.

However, that heartache galvanised the whole squad to want to go one better this time around and the likes of Ewan Johnstone, who turned 40 yesterday, Tom Weir, 40, and Opeta Palepoi, 38, are leading the charge despite their advancing years.

Graham, who at 24 is a rookie in comparison, said: “These guys really do set the standard for the rest of the squad. Their experience and knowledge is second to none and they know exactly what it means to play for Gala.

“Despite their age these guys are some of the fittest in the squad and really get around the park so well. They help me immensely as a captain while as a scrum-half I know that they and the other forwards will always give me and the other backs good ball to work with.”

Prop Johnstone is not involved today, but Palepoi starts in the second-row and Weir is on the bench.

At the other end of the age scale Graham’s half-back partner in recent weeks has been Ruairi Howarth, the Edinburgh Rugby EDP who has just turned 18, and the skipper is pleased with how he is progressing.

He stated: “Ruairi has real talent, there is no doubt about that. Ahead of the first match against Ayr he was pretty nervous, but he has now had matches to get into his stride and I am enjoying playing alongside him. Dave O’Hagan replaces him today, but there is plenty to come from 
Ruairi.

“We all know that the match at Hawick will be tough, it always is at Mansfield Park. However, if we can build on the momentum from the last fortnight and the pack can get us on the front foot then hopefully we can go on and make it three wins on the spin.”

Hawick go into the match having beaten Ayr at Millbrae last week and in the absence of Rory Hutton, on Scotland Sevens duty in Bucharest, back-row Bruce McNeil is captain.

Newly promoted Boroughmuir, in second place, have made a great start to life back in the top flight and they host Edinburgh rivals Currie at Meggetland.

With Carl Bezuidenhout back with Edinburgh Rugby, Dave Reekie takes on the key position of stand-off while they are boosted by the return of Adam Best in the second-row and he will take on his former club.

Currie are growing into an exciting new-look unit under head coach Ben Cairns. His assistant Fergus Pringle is returning to his old stomping ground.

Stirling County and Ayr will play for the first time for the Càirdeas Quaich when they meet at Bridgehaugh.

Heriot’s are in third place and they make the short trip to bottom side Edinburgh Accies.

Glasgow Hawks and Melrose, who both won on the opening weekend but have since lost two on the spin, meet at Old Anniesland.

Finally it must be noted that with very few professionals available to clubs this weekend it really is a Saturday for the club players to shine.

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