Gutsy Gala mark comeback with thrilling triumph

GALA announced their return to the top flight of Scottish club rugby after a six-year absence with this thrilling and well deserved win over one of the league’s most dominant sides in recent seasons. Twice in the second half Currie scored tries which looked like securing victory, but Gala would not throw in the towel and they bounced back with a couple of tries of their own before the victory was sealed by Lee Millar’s monstrous penalty in the 79th minute from just a yard inside the oppositions half.

The full-back clearly has an impressive kicking range but his aim was a bit erratic yesterday – he had pulled two slightly easier shots at goal to the left off the posts earlier in the match – and coach George Graham revealed afterwards that he had been unable to watch the tense denouement.

Both teams deserve credit for their expansive attacking philosophies, which made this contest an entertaining spectacle for the neutral – but they also shot themselves in the foot far too many times to be good for the blood pressure of those with a vested interest. There was plenty of turnover ball, careless handling errors and sloppy decision making. Currie’s line-out creaked badly at crucial moments, while Gala’s scrum was marched backwards with indecent haste on a couple of occasions. In fairness, this was typical early season stuff – which will presumably be addressed in the weeks ahead.

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The final whistle prompted wild celebrations from the Gala team and their travelling support, but Graham was keen to keep a lid on soaring excitement levels. “We made it very hard for ourselves today. As I’ve already told the boys, we’ll be hard pushed to win many more matches if we concede that amount of turnovers we gave away today,” he said. “There were a lot of silly knock-ons, we failed to execute things we had practised a hundred times and we were ill disciplined at the breakdown. These boys have to learn that when the referee makes a decision about rolling away at the breakdown then he’s not going to change his mind halfway through the game, so they have to adjust to how the referee plays, and that is something these players need to get used to.”

But not even the curmudgeonly ex-international prop could resist cracking a smile as he reflected on what his team had achieved. “I am just so proud of the fact that we never gave in. This is a dream start. It is the culmination of two years’ hard work and to see it come together against arguably one of the best teams in Premier One is fantastic. I’m over the moon for the players but we need to keep our feet on the ground because we’ve got Ayr at home next week, then Hawks away the week after that, so the tough challenges are going to be coming thick and fast,” he concluded.

This was a painful experience for Currie, who will be mindful of the fact that a slow start to last season was crucial to them missing out on lifting the Premier One title for the third time in five years. Their anguish will be multiplied by the fact that they turned down a penalty in front of the posts when 23-22 ahead with less than five minutes to go and kicked for the corner instead. They then lost the line-out and a few moments later conceded the penalty which cost them the match.

Graham said afterwards that he thought Currie were guilty of greedily chasing the four-try bonus point, while Ali Donaldson insisted that the plan had been to run down the clock in the far left corner.

“It was the right call – we just should’ve kept the ball,” said the Currie coach. “We were poor in too many areas. We’ve got a lot of improving to do because that was not a typical Currie performance. We made technical and tactical errors throughout the game.

“The only decent rugby we played was in the first five minutes when we kept the ball for a long time, created a bit of space then dropped a scoring pas. The rest of it was not what we are capable of.”

Despite that sprightly start from Currie, Gala drew first blood after eight minutes when Lee Kibble sliced through Currie’s stretched defence after several phases of patient build-up play. Currie stand-off Matt Scott and Millar then exchanged penalties, before the hosts drew level through a Barry Mansfield try, created by a Dougie Fife break. A second Scott penalty on the stroke of half-time gave the Malleny Park men an 11-8 lead at the break.

Currie stretched their lead at the start of the second half when Michael Entwhistle burrowed over, but Gala struck back through replacement winger Gavin Young.

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This pattern continued when Fife’s fine solo try recaptured home initiative only for that score to be cancelled out by Ewan McQuillin’s touchdown, which made it 23-22 to the hosts and set up that thrilling finale.

Scorers: Currie: Tries: Mansfield, Entwhistle, Fife; Con: Forbes; Pens: Scott 2. Gala: Tries: Kibble, Young, McQuillin; Cons: Millar 2; Pens: Millar 2

Currie: J Forbes; B Mansfield, D Fife, A Whittingham, R Neill (G Somerville 55); M Scott (G Somerille 40-50), R Snedden; J Cox, F Scott, A Hamilton, S Marcell, A Adam (A Best 48), M Cairns, M Entwhistle (M Peacock 69), R Weston.

Gala: L Millar; L Kibble, C Auld, C Borthwick (A Emond 52), C Robertson (G Young 55); A Maclean, G Graham; L Pettie, R Anderson (L Roden 67), E McQuillin, C Weir, O Palepoi, G Graham, G Lowrie (D Marshall 61), E Dods.

Referee: P Davies.

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