ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards
GALA gave themselves a Boxing Day boost with a deserved victory over a young Melrose side containing seven under-18s to reclaim the Waverley Cup with a performance that reflected their greater experience and the individual talents of Euan Dods and Ruairi Howarth.
It was always going to be a tough ask for this youthful Melrose side and in the end it proved to be so the more the game approached the final quarter, when Gala used their strength and pace to make sure of victory with a copybook try from Howarth.
Yet, despite the win, Gala’s coach, Opeta Palepoi, saw the win only as a further stage in his side’s recovery from a shaky start to the season. “We’re happy with that but not satisfied,” he said. “In the last 15 minutes we showed exactly what we’re about. If we had played like that throughout the game it would have been a different performance. There were things like forcing the offload and other small errors that were not so good. But it’s all fixable stuff.”
“It’s what we needed for the second half of the season,” the former Border Reivers second-row added. “We came here to win to lift ourselves. We need to keep on winning and improving the little things that make the difference.”
For Melrose, who sit higher in the National One table than Gala, their performance was viewed very much through a development lens as their coach, Stuart Johnson, acknowledged. “It’s a young side. We’re on a learning curve. It’s about development for us. We had a good number of under eighteens in our squad and the Gala team is an experienced National One side,” he said.
“They’ve been a group for three or four seasons. They’re at a different stage of development from us. We’re still getting to know one another. We’ve got young guys coming in. This club is about developing young players and we’ve got a pathway for them.”
Amongst the exciting young players in the Melrose squad, full-back Kieran Clark, who emerged as a sevens star on the spring circuit, impressed with his ability to carve out openings. And there were equally good performances from Christian Townsend at stand-off, whose quality distribution is a feature of his game, and No 8 Ruairidh Lindsay, who has just turned 17 and who was not phased by the physicality of the forward battle.
Gala made a flying start to the game scoring with just three minutes on the clock from a cross-field kick by Dean Keddie, taken by Fergus Johnston who put Howarth in for a try converted by Keddie.
Then when Clark put in a clever kick, the Melrose forwards arrived in numbers and the moved ended with front-row Will Owen crashing over for a try converted by Clark.
Melrose again threatened in their opponents’ 22m area but when they turned over ball, Howarth and Johnston interpassed to gain some 80 meters of territory. When the ball was moved left, Keddie threw out a long pass for wing Ben Gill to score in the corner.
Just before the interval, Gala extended their lead when, from a five metre scrum, Dods drove at the line before taking a second pass to dive over for a try converted by Keddie to give the Maroons a 19-7 advantage.
Melrose looked the livelier side at the beginning of the second half and were rewarded when winger Aidan Cross raced in for a try, Clark adding the conversion.
Gala, sensing a Melrose fightback, stepped up their effort and brought Howarth forward to occupy the stand-off position. The positional switch worked as Dods delivered a sublime pass to send Howarth sailing through a gap and on to the line for his side’s fourth try, this time converted by replacement Simon Fairbairn to seal victory for Gala.
Melrose: K Clarke; A Spencer, D Colvine, C Smit, A Cross; C Townsend, D Crawford; J Fairley, W Owen, J Dobie, T Brown, G Lindsay, C Fairbairn, A Bradfield, R Lindsay. Subs L Kirk, C Howard, C Russell, C Folan, E McVicker, D Crawford, G McWilliam.
Gala: R Howarth; F Johnston, A Mitchell, D Nicholson, B Gill; D Keddie, M Amos; K Scott, J Chambers, M Chrystie, R Irivine, C Roman, J Irvine, A Gun, E Dods. Subs M Tamosaitis, L Scott, D Kerr, J Murray, G McCrum, M Cullen, S Fairbairn.
Referee: S O’Neill
Melrose: Tries: Owen, Cross; Cons: Clark 2.
Gala: Tries Howarth 2, Dods, Gill; Cons: Keddie 2, Fairbairn.
Scoring Sequence (Melrose first): 0-5; 0-7; 5-7; 7-7; 7-12; 7-17; 7-19 (h-t) 12-19; 14-19; 14-24; 14-26.
Man-of-the-Match: Gala o 8 Euan Dods has been round the block but remains a very skilful performer. Against Melrose, his accuacy in passing, his positional awareness and his ability to create tries was one of the key differences in the two sides.
Talking point: A hugely entertaining match watched by a big crowd resulted in a confidence-lifting win for Gala. But the Maroons need to move on from here if they are to challenge in the second half of the season. Melrose, meanwhile, can be content that the conveyor belt of talent is being looked after and exposed at an early age to senior rugby.