For those who had endured the dreadful show in Rome, this match was the perfect antidote, a game that showcased Borders club rugby at its best and to which the sizeable crowd at Netherdale warmed.
At the end of a superb contest Gala were worthy winners after producing a performance that was all about players having belief in each other’s ability. “This was one of the best performances of the season. We dominated the lineout, the scrum and defence for the entire game,” said Gala’s coach, George Graham, adding: “To keep a team like Melrose to one try was fantastic.”
Gala could have suffered from a yellow card shown to Alan Emond just before half time but in the event the loss of one player did not affect their game. “I told the guys at half time that the first nine minutes of the second half were crucial. We not only held them but scored a try,” observed Graham.
Yet it was Melrose who looked the stronger in the opening exchanges, claiming early points with a 40-metre penalty kick from Andrew Skeen. But from the restart Gala worked the ball cleverly along the touchline before attacking from a penalty-created lineout that ended with Opeta Palepoi burrowing over for an unconverted try.
Melrose replied almost immediately with a try made by Graham Dodds’ good hands and Fraser Thomson’s accurate finishing. Skeen missed the conversion kick but at the other end Lee Millar was on target with a penalty strike.
A missed penalty by Skeen kept the scoreline at 8-8 but when Millar succeeded with his third shot at goal Gala were ahead for the second time. Then, just before the break, Gala centre Alan Emond collected a yellow card, allowing Skeen to atone with a second penalty for a 11-11 half-time scoreline.
Melrose looked purposeful at the start of the second half but a delayed pass by replacement Scott Wight allowed Gala’s openside flanker Gary Lowrie to intercept and run 50 metres for his side’s second try and arguably the game’s turning point.
Millar, having seen his conversion kick rebound off the posts, was then inches wide with a drop goal attempt but it was Gala who had the momentum. The pressure was turned into points with a penalty goal by Millar after Melrose had collapsed a scrum.
Gala, sensing the game was turning for them, worked their way into the Melrose 22-metre area and from a five-metre scrum George Graham dashed through the visitors’ fringe defence for try number three, coolly converted by Millar for a 26-11 lead. Melrose tried to salvage pride with a late score but against a Gala side determined to win the teams’ third meeting in style there was no salvation for the visitors. In fact, Gala almost grabbed a try on full time when Craig Robertson intercepted in but the former New Year Sprint winner was tracked down by a former Gala player, Fraser Thomson, to prevent the bonus point.
Scorers: Gala: Tries: Palepoi, Lowrie, George Graham. Con: Millar. Pens: Millar 3. Melrose: Try: Thomson. Pens: Skeen 2.
Gala: A McLean; G Young, G Hunter, A Emond, C Robertson; L Millar, George Graham; L Pettie, R Anderson, E McQuillin, C Weir, O Palepoi, Gary Graham, G Lowrie, E Dods. Subs used: P Stewart, S Cairns, C Borthwick, B Turner, D Marshall.
Melrose: F Thomson; A Dodds, B Dick, J Helps, N McGrath; A Skeen, B Colvine; N Little, R Ferguson, G Holborn, P Eccles, R Miller, R Ovens, G Runciman, G Dodds. Subs used: N Beavon, S Johnston, S Wight, S McCormick.
Referee: P Allen.