Melrose stand at the summit of the RBS Premiership after beating Gala in a top-of-the-table match that was 80 minutes of edgy rugby but which ultimately came down to goal kicking and, in particular, a siege-gun effort from half way by the Greenyards centre Joe Helps.
Gala’s shortcoming was failing to make their numerical advantage count when Melrose were at one stage down to 13 men, but the Maroons, who have a game in hand, can take much from their defensive effort and from their immense scrummaging, where Rory Sutherland and Ewan McQuillin won huge plaudits.
Elsewhere Gala had good performances from No.8 Euan Dods, whose handling skills make the backrow a valuable team player. For Melrose, Edinburgh professionals Lewis Niven and Perry Parker added condsiderably to the visitors’ strength in the front five, while in the back row Grant Runciman worked tirelessly. Behind the scrum Austin Lockington at full-back threatened with ball in hand but it was skipper Bruce Colvine who was the orchestra maestro, directing operations skilfully.
Any game between these two Border teams will always be tight, as Melrose coach John Dalziel acknowledged. He said: “This is the third game against Gala this season and each time it’s been just a few points between us. We were disappointed that we didn’t make more of our advantage in the first half but Gala deserve credit for the way they stuck in”.
The 3-6 half-time score in favour of Melrose masked what was a hugely exciting first 40 minutes in which Melrose dominated the opening 20 before Gala found their form. It was a first half in which referee Graeme Wells showed four yellow cards as he tried to douse hot tempers on both sides.
Gala were in trouble from the kick-off after stand-off Gregor Mein put the ball straight out, resulting in a scrum on the half-way line. The Maroons appeared to have scrummaged Melrose off the ball but were penalised for boring, resulting in Joe Helps kicking a monumental goal for his side’s opening points.
Helps then missed two shots at goal and this seemed to shift the momentum to Gala, who won an attacking scrum in the Melrose 22.
Dods came away with the ball from the scrum and in the ensuing defensive melee on the Melrose line, Parker illegally prevented Gala winning possession and was sin-binned for his trouble. Then, when Melrose were penalised for not rolling away after a tackle, Ewan Scott levelled the scored with a successful goal kick.
But after Callum Mackintosh, Gary Holborn and Todd Pearce had all joined the yellow-card club, Helps rediscovered his form with a second goal to give Melrose a 6-3 lead.
Gala levelled with a second penalty from Scott and then appeared to have swung the game their way when Dods poached lineout ball and led the charge to the line. Several drives later it was the unlikely figure of centre Chris Auld who emerged from a pile-up of bodies to claim the game’s opening try,
Scott missed the difficult conversion and was then just wide with a penalty attempt. Having seen Gala’s potentially winning points disappear, Melrose staged a fightback that ended with Edinburgh lock Parker crashing over to level the scores. Crucially the try was just to the right of the posts, giving replacement stand-off Andrew Skeen the best angle for his conversion attempt.
The ball sailed straight though the uprights to give Melrose the lead with just three minutes of play left.
Gala tried desperately to work the ball to the other end but Melrose defended well to give the visitors a vital victory and the lead in the Premiership race.
THE SCOTSMAN RUGBY SHOW IN ASSOCIATION WITH
best club rugby tries of 2013