Melrose 14 - 15 Gala: Gala take revenge to send rivals Melrose crashing out of cup

Borders rugby fans flocked to The Greenyards for what was described as the biggest club match in the country, and the game certainly lived up to the hype as Melrose were knocked out of the competition by arch rivals Gala.

The Netherdale invaders also lifted the RBS Regional Cup into the bargain, and wrested ownership of the Waverley Cup and Bill McLaren Shield at the same time – while Melrose kissed goodbye to their 20-month unbeaten record at The Greenyards against Scottish opposition.

It was an exciting, tense encounter between Scotland’s top two clubs and with so much at stake it was always going to be close. But Gala defended their unbeaten record away from home with a 15-14 win, although the result hung in the balance until referee Cammy Rudkin’s final whistle. Only last month, when these teams met at Netherdale on league duty, visitors Melrose were the narrow victors in a dramatic 17-16 victory. This time, the tables were turned as Gala extracted sweet revenge at the home of their local rivals, denying Melrose the opportunity of a fifth successive Scottish Cup Final appearance. Instead, the maroons qualify for the semi-finals of the RBS Scottish Cup. Melrose had opened the scoring with an Andrew Skeen fourth minute penalty and on 25 minutes a break by their full-back, Fraser Thomson, put Allan Dodds into space and he powered his way over to score the first try of the match.

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Melrose played the conditions well, but the Gala defence was as strong as it has been all season, and they kept their rivals out for the rest of the half despite playing into a fierce wind.

With three minutes to the break winger Craig Robertson nipped in for a superb Gala try, which changed the complexion of the game. Lee Millar’s conversion narrowed the gap to a point and then, right on half time, the visitors’ other winger, Shaun Law, sprinted half the length of the pitch and offloaded to scrum half George Graham who raced in at the corner for a superb score.

Gala were 12-8 up at the turn and, with the wind at their backs in the second half, the smart money would be on them to go on and win.

Melrose had other ideas and, despite the elements, put in a mighty effort to turn things round. Two penalties by Skeen put them 14-12 in front, but with ten minutes remaining Millar kicked a penalty in front of the posts to give Gala the lead by a single point and they held on to win.

The two will meet again at Netherdale in Premier A and that could decide who goes on to win the Scottish League Championship.

Melrose captain Graeme Dodds was bitterly disappointed. “We’ve now tasted what it must have felt like for Gala when we got up to beat them last time out and it’s not at all pleasant,” he said.

“We had the chances to win it, but couldn’t get over the finishing line. But we will be concentrating on the Premiership now and winning the title.”

Gala’s delighted coach George Graham said: “I’m elated – it was a tough and hard-fought game. On balance we deserved to win that.”