Scorers: Gala: Tries: Pettie (2), Cairns, C Weir. Pen: O’Hagan. Stirling County: Try: Gilmour. Con: J Urquhart. Pens: Urquhart (3).
Trailing 16-23 with five minutes of the match remaining, Stirling threw the works at their opponents only for the Maroons defence to hold out, providing a competitive finish to a match that was in sharp contrast to last season’s meeting of the two sides.
“Last year we came here and got quite a pummelling,” recalled County’s coach, Graeme Young. “It says a lot for the guys that we’re competing against teams like Gala.” Despite their position in the Premiership, Gala would be flattered by Young’s remarks especially as there is a huge similarity between the clubs – notably in one vital respect.
Count the number of home grown players in both teams and you realise what an impressive job both Gala and Stirling County have done in producing their own. Ten or more in the starting XVs of each team graduated from their respective youth systems, hammering home the point that investment in club coaching at age levels is vital for the future of the game in Scotland.
Stirling’s youth system, of course, is legendary, but Gala’s less so. On Saturday, the Maroons, with six frontline players missing, had to call up youth alumni to fill the gaps, giving teenagers Keith Young at centre and Gary Robertson at prop their first Premiership starts.
In the event, Young made an impressive debut in a backline that had to defend tenaciously against a skilful Stirling side, while Robertson showed why he was part of the Scotland under-18 set-up last season. “Gary’s a young boy. We’re working on his technique. We need to hone his skills as a scrummager but we’ll get there. If he keeps going the way he is he’ll be another one we’ll lose up the road,” predicted Gala coach George Graham.
County, too, fielded several youngsters, among them inside centre Jack Urquhart, who, having played stand-off for Stirling’s youth side, brought subtle distribution skills to the backline, complementing those of stand-off Fraser Lyle. Stirling’s only try, the best of the match, came from skilful back play, full-back Jamie Urquhart triggering an attack that ended with Danny Gilmour touching down under the posts.
That try, converted by Jamie Urquhart, gave County the lead ten minutes into the second half but from the restart Gala hit back immediately with a Chris Weir score to sap Stirling’s morale. “Just as we got our noses in front, we made an error at the restart and leaked a try,” said Young ruefully.
Gala’s other touchdowns, one in the first half by Steve Cairns and two after the break by Luke Pettie, all came from driven line-outs, but their 4-1 try advantage was not translated into a wider margin of victory, as a result of an ankle injury to their kicker David O’Hagan early in the second half.
The stand-off will be doubtful for this Saturday’s clash with Edinburgh Accies, but with the expected release of EDPs by Edinburgh, Gala are anticipating the return of their talented teenager Ruairi Howarth to fill the No 10 slot.
Gala: G Young; G Somerville, K Young, A Emond, S Law; D O’Hagan, George Graham; L Pettie, C Mackintosh, G Robertson, C Weir, O Palepoi, Gary Graham, S Cairns, E Dods. Subs used: R Anderson, T Weir, J Irvine, F Hunter, R Jeffrey.
Stirling County: Jamie Urquhart; M Lamb, D Gilmour, Jack Urquhart, R Hughes; F Lyle, A Black; J Bhatti, R Kennedy, C Hutton, M Minardi, R Leishman, S Robertson, S McDonald, S Neil. Subs used: A Wood, S Govan, A Price, L Wynne.