ALAN LORIMER @ Netherdale
GALA put last week’s poor performance against Stirling behind them in delivering a winning display against Watsonians at Netherdale to suggest that the Maroons may have arrested a debilitating losing streak.
Further progress, however, will be conditional on improving their scrummaging. Against Watsonians this was Gala’s Achilles heel and cost the Maroons two pushover tries, both scored by the former Netherdale favourite, Euan Dods, a point not lost on the home crowd.
“Our biggest problem at the moment is our scrum. We’re going to have to work on it very hard because it’s costing us dearly.” admitted the Gala coach, Chris Dalgleish.
Gala’s woes were compounded by the loss of tighthead Gary Robertson, who suffered a head knock. Time will tell if this is a concussion injury but Robertson, an Academy player, may miss a couple of weeks of rugby.
The flip side to their problems in the scrum is that when Gala did secure possession – more so in broken play – their backline looked exciting. Orchestrating matters behind the scrum was Gregor Hunter, whose authoritative play against Watsonians was enough to suggest that the professional teams might have been a tad hasty in jettisoning the young Borders fly half.
Hunter brought out the best in the centre partnership of Paul Hendry and Lewis Berg, the latter a pupil at George Watson’s College last season. Berg, another Academy player, was given no guarantee of playing for Watsonians and jumped at the chance of playing for Gala.
Against his old mates, Berg put in a strong performance, his defensive work repeatedly ending Watsonians’ incipient back moves, while in attack the former Musselburgh man played a vital role.
Gala also benefited from the superb service supplied by their new scrum half, Connor Adams, a Scotland-qualified Academy player, who hitherto played his rugby in the West Midlands.
For Watsonians, this was a disappointing defeat and made worse by missing out on a losing bonus point after former Melrose man Joe Helps, was off target with the last kick of the match. But the real loss of points was the result of Watsonians’ failure to make any real impression behind the scrum. Hence their reliance on their forward power.
The one player that looked likely to cause damage was scrum half Reiss Cullen, who replaced Euan McKirdy for the second half and certainly strengthened his case to be in the starting team.
With the first half nearing its completion Gala held a slender 6-3 lead, Hunter having kicked two penalty goals from five attempts and Helps with one from two shots at the posts.
Gala, who had shown impressive skills with ball in hand, then produced a thrilling try, quick hands by Paul Hendry and Hunter, a powerful run up the touchline by second row Rob Louw and then the South African’s scoring pass to Hendry to give the Maroons an 11-3 advantage.
Watsonians’ strong start to the second half with pick-and-drive play from their forwards soon brought rewards as Gala were put under pressure near their own line. Gala prop Chris Keen was binned for a scrum offence and when Watsonians opted for another scrum rather than taking an easy penalty kick, Dods scored the first of two pushover tries.
Helpfully for Gala, Helps missed the conversion goal. This seemed to encourage the home side, whose pressure forced a yellow card for replacement back row Angus Duckett resulting in a third penalty goal for Hunter.
Three minutes later Dods was caught offside and again Hunter meted out the punishment. But at the other end, after Berg was sin-binned, Helps recorded his third miss at goal.
Watsonians, however, were exerting huge pressure at the set scrum and inevitably another pushover try ensued, again Dods claiming the touchdown. Helps’ conversion narrowed Gala’s lead to just two points.
Gala’s response was a try by replacement Ross Combe, the winger given an overlap after a ‘training ground’ move from lineout possession. Hunter missed the touchline conversion attempt but the Gala stand-off was on target after Max MacFarland was penalised for not releasing after trying to run out of defence.
Then in the final seconds of the game, Helps missed another penalty attempt to deny his side a losing bonus point, leaving the visitors with no share of the spoils from a hard contest at Netherdale.
Gala : G Spiers; A Northam, L Berg, P Hendry, C Robertson; G Hunter, C Adams; C Keen, M Carryer, D Brooker, R Louw, C Weir, G Adams, J Irvine, S Cairns Subs C Reynolds, G Robertson, A Emonds, C Dods, R Combe
Watsonians : R Steele; M Bertram, DJ Innes, J Helps, M MacFarland; A Chalmers, E McKirdy; M Christie, S Crombie, S Ruwers, F Morrison, C Borthwick, V Fihaki, D Dee, E Dods Subs D MIller, N Borel, A Duckett, R Cullen, K Young
Referee K Allen
Scorers Gala Tries Hendry, Combe Pens Hunter (5) Watsonians Tries Dods (2) Con Helps Pens Helps
Score sequence (Gala first) 3-0, 3-3, 6-3, 11-3 ht 11-8, 14-8, 17-8, 17-13, 17-15, 22-15, 25-15
Yellow Cards Gala: Keen (49), Berg (60) Watsonians: McKirdy (34), Duckett (54)
Man-of-the-Match: Gala’s stand-off Gregor Hunter directed the Maroons’ backline with real authority but it was his five penalty goals that provided the winning contribution.
Talking point: If Gala can develop a scrum capable of competing then they will be a match for most teams in the Premiership. Their weakness in this area allowed Watsonians to score two pushover tries.