HERIOT’S produced a clinical and stunning all-round performance to stifle Gala’s title challenge at Netherdale in a game that lived up to its reputation as a top-billing attraction.
The dynamism of the Heriot’s pack and their handling and pace behind the scrum kept Gala on the back foot for long periods of the game as they pushed ahead from a 10-7 half-time lead to clinch the bonus point in the last five minutes.
Heriot’s had not won at Gala since 2008, but after victory over Ayr and a narrow defeat at Melrose, their win over one of their key opponents for a top four play-off place ensured they stayed ahead of the field in Premiership 1 at the halfway stage of the season.
But, despite the win, coach Phil Smith felt that, while the performance was top class, it was not the best of the season. “I think that we really deserved to win that game. George Graham [Gala coach] was first over to say that,” he said.
“I thought that we were pretty impressive. I would never say it was a complete performance, but it almost was, the way we attacked and defended.
“Gala’s performance probably bore that out in that they had nowhere to go and allowed us to score late on, rather than us creating it.
“I look around and I see the players, and they are all good players.
“It was great performance, but I felt that our first 50 minutes against Ayr the previous week was probably better. We went for 80 [minutes] this time.
“Today was phenomenal throughout. We have built and built during the season. Going for the play-offs is very exciting. It was a tremendous game of rugby, and, if we can get people watching that, then club rugby is great.”
Gala, who lost out on the league title to Melrose on the last game of last season, kept in contention after Shaun Law’s try in 49 minutes to cut the deficit to one point at 12-13.
However, Heriot’s sprung into action with two tries in the final 13 minutes as Gala failed to cope with Heriot’s explosive power and running, as well as their ability to turn outfield creative play into points. After a long talk with his players on the field, Graham admitted: “I was not angry. We were well beaten, but we are disappointed.
“What bothers me is that we have not played well for the past two weeks [defeats by Melrose and Heriot’s].
“The players are disappointed with each other and looking for answers.
“It is easy to blame someone else, but that is not what we are about.
“We are going through a bad patch. Every club does that. But because we have high standards here, we have lost just three games this season, and how many clubs would have a go at us as we have lost at home [for the first time this season]?”
Graham said that lifting the team comes from the players. “We will bounce back and I have absolutely no doubt about that.”
It was good refereeing by Thomas Charabas that led to Heriot’s opening try after Graham Wilson had missed a penalty when he allowed advantage after Gala were penalised, and the city side quickly swung the ball wide for Charlie Simpson to crash over in the left-hand corner for a 5-0 lead.
Opeta Palepoi led the Gala fightback and the levelling try came in 30 minutes after pressure on the Heriot’s line.
Wilson was sent to the sin-bin and the Gala scrum pressure paid off as Luke Pettie was driven over, and, for the only time in the game, Craig Dods’ conversion put the home side ahead.
Four minutes later, and with Palepoi receiving attention to a hand injury, Heriot’s swept back into the lead when Jason Hill’s driving play produced a try to give his side an interval lead.
However, with Wilson back on the field, the No 9 kicked a penalty from just inside the Gala half, only for Shaun Law to sprint over, although Dods’ conversion attempt fell short.
It was now a titanic struggle as Wilson widened the gap between the sides with his second penalty and then missed another as Gala handled in the ruck.
But Heriot’s power was beginning to take its toll as Stuart Edwards bulleted his way over the line from a quickly-taken penalty, Wilson converting, and Gala’s hopes of salvaging even a bonus point eroded when, in the 75th minute, Heriot’s got their bonus point with a try from Glasgow Warriors Elite Development Player Glenn Bryce after a scrum on the Gala 22..
Wilson again converted and Heriot’s kept ahead of Ayr in the title challenge. The clocks may have gone back on Saturday night, but Heriot’s moved forward with good timing.
Scorers: Gala – Tries: Pettie, Law. Con: C Dods. Heriot’s – Tries: Simpson, Hill, Edwards, Bryce. Cons: Wilson (2). Pens: Wilson (2).
Gala: C Dods; S Law, K Young, A Emond, G Somerville; R Jeffrey, George Graham; L Pettie, R Anderson, G Robertson; C Weir, O Palepoi, Gary Graham, E Dods, S Cairns. Subs: C Mackintosh, J Irvine, T Weir, G Speirs, E Scott.
Heriot’s: G Bryce; H Boisseau, L Steele, M Learmonth, C Simpson; S Edwards, G Wilson; N Borel, D McGregor, S Cessford, R Nimmo, J Syme, J Turley, J Hill, J McLean. Subs: S Mustard, G Cameron, J Nayacavou, G McNeish, J Fleming.
Referee: T Charabas.