Gala scored three tries in the opening 24 minutes and seemed in total control, only to end up needing an 86th-minute drop goal from Craig Dods to snatch a victory for the huge travelling support.
Hawick 21-23 Gala
Scorers: Hawick – Tries: Gibson, McLeod, Cottrell; Pens: Douglas (2). Gala – Tries: E Dods, C Dods, Pettie; Con: C Dods; Pen: C Dods; Drop goal: C Dods.
Second-half slackness set in among the visitors, which prompted criticism from their coaching staff afterwards, and Hawick capitalised to roar back and take a grip of proceedings in the final ten minutes.
With the last kick of the match, however, Dods kept his cool to slot the winning points and ensure Gala remained top of the table. “I was delighted to see the kick sail through, but I was disappointed that it came to that,” he said. “We knew in the second half that we did not deserve to win, but other sides will come here and find it difficult to get a result.”
Gala coach George Graham, after a long session with his squad on the field, did not hold back in his criticism when he blasted his players for what he described as the worst performance he had ever overseen. “I am absolutely furious and bubbling over with anger,” he said. “We got out of jail. For 30 minutes we were 40 points better than them.
“But then we shut down, stopped playing, and did everything we told them not to do.
“Hawick are a massively improved team. Nikki (Walker) has turned them round and we were lucky. We never controlled the game as we did in the first 30 minutes.
“We need to get a lot better and be more disciplined. I feel that we could have put a barrowload of points against them. It will go down in the history book as a win, but I am bitterly disappointed.”
There was disbelief and frustration in the Hawick ranks after their valiant fightback ultimately counted for nothing. They had roared back from a 3-17 deficit and contained Gala to a penalty and drop goal after the break.
Assistant coach Roddy Deans said: “We are gutted. We were pretty slow out of the traps, but managed to weather the storm. Gala kept the ball for long phases, but our defence was very good. We are making great strides and a lot of improvements and have a lot of young boys who are willing to learn.
“The result is hard to take after the effort we put into the performance, but we have to get better at winning these tight games. Despite the defeat, we will take a lot of heart out of the performance.”
Gala exploded into action when Euan Dods got his hands on a pass from Alan Emond to stretch over the line for the third-minute try, converted by his namesake, Craig. The visitors were in command, although Hawick pulled three points back from a penalty by Matty Douglas with Gala caught offside.
However, Gala struck from the kick-off when Craig Dods squeezed in at the right-hand corner before the visitors took a scrum when awarded a penalty and the drive to the line saw Luke Pettie touch down.
Hawick suddenly stepped up to the pace of the game and restored hopes of a revival as hooker Lindsey Gibson won the touchdown in a drive by the pack to be followed with Douglas’ second penalty to trail by only six points at the interval.
Craig Dods earned Gala a breather with a penalty before the passionate Hawick revival put Gala on the back foot. Scott McLeod beat the cover for a try in the left-hand corner and then Greg Cottrell burrowed over to give his side the lead for the first time.
Hawick seemed almost over the finishing line as a combination of solid defence and tight marking kept Gala out.
However, it was inevitable that there would be plenty of injury time as Craig Dods put himself ‘in the pocket’ to drop the goal with the last kick of the contest and maintain Gala’s impressive record against their great rivals.
Hawick: L Armstrong; N Walker, S Peffers, G Johnstone, S McLeod; M Douglas, C Cottrell; S Muir, L Gibson, M Landels, M McKee, F Simpson, B McNeil, K Davies, R Scott. Replacements: R Graham, N McLennan, S Graham, S Fairbairn, S Goodfellow.
Gala: C Dods; G Somerville, E Scott, A Emond, G Young; D O’Hagan, George Graham; L Pettie, R Anderson, C Mackintosh, C Weir, O Palepoi, Gary Graham, E Dods, S Cairns. Replacements: G Robertson, J Irvine, T Weir, R Jeffries, K Young.
Referee: G Wells.