HIGHLAND tightened their grip on third place in National League Division One and completed the double over Gala this term by toughing out a 10-16 victory at Netherdale on Saturday.
With the Cartha Queens Park versus Heriot’s Blues and Boroughmuir versus Stirling Wolves matches falling foul of the weather in the morning, this fixture in the Borders was the only one left in the division, and it certainly did not disappoint with both sides giving it everything they had in very tricky conditions which included a number of snow showers and swirling wind and rain.
In the end, Highland took four points with them on the long journey back up to Inverness and are now on 59 points in third place in the table, five points plus a game in hand clear of Melrose in fourth.
Scott Fraser kicked an early penalty to put the visitors 3-0 up before Gala got into their stride. Some good work from Simon Fairbairn took the Borderers into the opposition 22 and then, a couple of phases later, Gregor Mein crashed over for a try after a nice tip on by Rex Jeffrey. Dean Keddie converted.
Craig Findlater then agonisingly lost the ball over the line in the act of scoring for Highland, but soon after the same man did go over and when Fraser converted it was 10-7. A second Fraser penalty in the 30th minute made it 13-7 to the visiting team at the break.
Such were the worsening conditions that Highland had to change their strips at half-time, but despite playing into the wind another Fraser penalty made it 16-7. A Keddie penalty pulled things back to 16-10 for Gala before there was drama at the end.
The visitors kicked the ball out thinking time was up, but there was still a few second left and, from the resultant line-out, Gala tried everything to get the converted try they needed to win. But Highland’s defence stood firm and when the referee blew the final whistle they rightly celebrated an impressive away triumph.
“We were happy to come away with a win against a tough Gala side,” said Highland backs coach Chris Brogan, who was in charge with head coach Dave Carson in Rome. “Following on from good defensive performances against Watsonians and Marr we had another excellent defensive effort and managed the game as well as we have all season.
“Tom Smith was man-of-the-match and there were good performances from Scott Fraser and Craig Findlater. We were also happy to bring in three members of our 2nd XV as we look to develop the squad for next season. Looking ahead to the rest of the season, we will continue to develop and strive for a top three finish.”
Gala are fifth, seven points behind Melrose, after taking a losing bonus point from this one. “We went in at half time 13-7 down which I thought was a great effort against the wind, but the second half was poor,” said head coach Opeta Palepoi. “We didn’t kick particularly well and that came down to never being organised well enough to be able to put any decent kicks in. Credit to Highland, they put us under a lot of pressure at the breakdown area which meant that we had to pretty much rush everything we did.
“The error count was high as well which never helps, but even with all that I thought we were going to steal the game right at the end. I will never fault my boys efforts, we just need to be calm about things and play our own game especially in unpleasant playing conditions like that.
“The best team won on the day and our focus on each game from now on obviously doesn’t change, we want to win, but the big picture is that what we do from now on [this term] is all geared towards next season.”