Gala 20-33 Llanelli: Comeback too late to count

THE greatest hits of Ol’ Blue Eyes himself were blaring out on the Netherdale Tannoy ahead of this British & Irish Cup game, and sure enough Gala will have a few regrets today after an error-strewn performance ended their slim hopes of qualifying for the quarter-finals.

Scorers: Gala: Tries: Gary Graham, McLean, Robertson. Con: Millar. Pen: Millar. Llanelli: Tries: Jones, Leach, Eager 2. Cons: Williams 2. Pens: Williams 2.

Gala bossed long periods of this game but Llanelli scored three tries in a ten-minute purple patch that ultimately did for the Maroons.

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“We played some good rugby but we also gave away three soft tries and you just can’t afford to do that,” said coach George Graham. “I was proud of the effort we put in because I think that was a better team than the one we played in Llanelli. It was good to score three tries ourselves because they have been in short supply recently.”

The home team did plenty of good stuff against a team that looked at least as big as Scotland’s pro-teams. Gala kept the pace high, they altered the point of attack and they worked the blindside well. The men in maroon played a heap of rugby, all of which was undermined by an almost total lack of ability to hold on to the ball.

It may have been nerves, and they surely need some excuse, because the home hands had morphed into feet such was the plethora of knock-ons and spilled passes with nary a Llanelli jersey in sight. The mistakes prevented Gala from building any pressure on the visitors and if the error came inside the home half of the pitch George Graham’s men struggled to keep their line intact after one or two Llanelli attacks.

The tackling started well enough but fell away badly as the match progressed until even the partisan home crowd were voicing their disgust.

After an early Llanelli penalty Gala started brightly and enjoyed all the territory and pressure which resulted in the first try for Gary Graham after a simple front peel at a lineout.

That only seemed to rile the visitors, who scored three tries in the space of ten minutes to take a commanding grip on this game, but only with the help of the home team.

The first went to visiting full-back Dion Jones who got to an Owen Williams grubber just before it ran dead. The second was scored by blindside Stuart Leach from a driving maul and the third went to his back row colleague, Llanelli skipper Duane Eager, in bizarre circumstances.

Gala’s Gavin Young did well to take a high ball under pressure whilst backtracking, but the winger’s subsequent pass inside flew several feet over the head of full-back Andy McLean who could only watch while Eager lived up to his name and romped in from 20 yards.

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Lee Miller got one penalty back to give his side some hope that Eager stomped all over by scoring his second touchdown straight from the second half restart, and at 10-27 Gala were facing a mountain.

With over half an hour still to play the home team could have collapsed altogether but to their credit they stuck to the task.

Hooker Russell Anderson thought he had scored after some good close driving from the big men but after umpteen charges at the barn door full-back McLean dived over in the opposite corner after Gala gave the ball some width.

The home team bossed the final quarter of this match but, even with the aid of two yellow cards, the first to prop Aled Hopkins and the second to his replacement Craig Cross, Gala had left themselves too much to do.

Eventually winger Craig Robertson latched on to Millar’s cross kick to claim Gala’s third try of the afternoon but it didn’t arrive until the 75th minute and the home team were left wondering what might have been.

Gala: McLean, Young (Robertson 50), Auld, Turner, Somerville; Millar, George Graham (Owenson 60); Pettie, Anderson (Mackintosh 52), McQuillin (Hogg 57), Weir, Palepoi, Keddie, Gary Graham (Cairns 54), Dods (T Weir 54).

Llanelli: Jones, Ford, Hughes, Keenan (Lewis 72), Evans (James 75); Williams, Davies; S Hopkins, Myhill, A Hopkins, Rawlins, Galley, Leach (Cross 70), Eager, Price.

Referee: Kieran Barry (IRFU).