Scorers: Edinburgh Accies – Tries: Campbell, Douglas, Farndale. Cons: Bonner (3). Pens: Bonner (2). Melrose – Tries: Robertson, Dods. Cons: Millar (2). Pens: Millar (5).
Five penalties from the boot of Gala stand off Lee Millar were just enough to tip the balance, three coming in the second half and the last award 10 minutes from time greeted by a sudden bristling of maroon-clad arms pointing to the posts, so precious were the points.
Millar didn’t miss a kick all afternoon – he had two conversions as well – and it was just as well because, when that fifth penalty went over to put his side two scores clear, it was answered by Accies’ 18-year-old Edinburgh pro Jamie Farndale cutting through a faltering defence with a scintillating 60-metre run down the right wing. And Accies stayed in the danger zone, hammering away at Gala’s nervous defence, until Farndale saw his chance and came off his wing to enter the line at an unstoppable angle and crash over for a try. Stand off Ruairidh Bonner’s conversion made the difference only two points but, by then, that small margin was beyond Accies as time ran out.
Their coach Simon Cross said: “I don’t know whether to shout and scream or pat the guys on the back. In terms of effort and endeavour it was just about as brave a performance as we have put in. I am disappointed because we gave Gala 29 points. There were 20 points in the first half that Gala didn’t have to work for at all, then nine points from silly offside penalties in the second half and that is unacceptable because we are a small team and can’t afford to give away penalties like that.”
Accies have a good case for thinking they deserved better. Their lightweight pack didn’t let Gala’s big forwards have it all their own way but was under constant pressure at the set piece and the breakdown. So the gameplan was to go wide whenever possible, resulting in the ball being flashed from one touchline to the other and back again quite a few times, culminating in Farndale’s late try.
But it was Gala winger Craig Robertson who went wide on the left for his team’s first try after 18 minutes, exploiting the space created when Accies centre Ewan Campbell was sent to the sin bin for a tackle in an offside position that was judged a professional foul. Campbell returned to the pitch to make amends with a try of his own, collecting a switch pass from Bonner to cross beside the posts.
The Gala scrum then came into play, providing a solid advancing platform for No 8 Euan Dods to launch himself for a try that seemed to suggest there would be more to come, despite the inconvenience of a yellow card shown to lock Chris Weir for using his hands in the ruck once too often.
It was 13-20 at half time and it was Accies who looked the livelier after the restart, taking only five minutes to bring themselves level with 14-man Gala when full back Gavin Douglas seized on an offload from his No 8 Callum Reid to cut inside and run round behind the posts to make the conversion simple.
Then Millar’s boot began to swing sweetly and three successive penalties in the space of 10 minutes stretched the visitors’ lead to a level where even Farndale’s inspirational intervention was not enough.
Gala coach George Graham said: “That was probably one of the best games we have tried to lose since I’ve been involved with Gala. Accies had their moments but, if we had done things the way we are capable of doing them, I think we would have pretty much blown them away today. We never looked after the ball as we should have done, we made stupid decisions in stupid areas of the field and defence at times out wide was really weak. We didn’t deal with them properly. We knew they were going to play a wide game. We talked about it, we trained around it but the players didn’t seem to take it to heart. But I am happy with the win, not so much with the performance.”
Edinburgh Accies: G Douglas; J Farndale, E Campbell, I Berthinussen, S Webster; R Bonner, A Black; D Morrison, M Liness, L Niven, G Campbell, T Drennan, D Teague, T Hancock, C Reid. Substitutes: F Rawlinson, K Blyth, A Graham, M Campbell, J Pecqueur.
Gala: A McLean; C Robertson, B Turner, A Emond, G Sommerville; L Miller, G Graham; L Pettie, R Anderson, E McQuillan, O Palepoi, C Weir, G Graham, G Lowrie, E Dodds. Substitutes: C McIntosh, D Marshall, G Bryce, D Owenson, G Young.