1st XV Match Report vs Gala

1st XV Match Report vs Gala

At half time on Saturday, it looked like another case of ‘same old Stew Mel’ at Netherdale. We’d played fairly well in the first half, enjoying the majority of possession without ever doing very much with it. Gala, on the other hand, had had four meaningful attacks, and had scored with each of them, prolific winger Craig Russell claiming three tries and stand off Dean Keddie scoring and converting a fourth.

Our only points came in the dying minutes of the half when Adam Howie picked up at the base of a ruck and cantered up the blindside to score in the corner. Happy’s missed conversion made the score 24-5 to Gala at the break, with Dave Stoddart having spent the last ten minutes of the half on the sidelines after being yellow carded for a ‘reckless’ tackle on one of the Gala locks.

Our hosts would have the blustery wind at their backs in the second half, and the game already seemed to slipping beyond us, with even your ever optimistic correspondent fearing that this would be another game where we played pretty well but still allowed the opposition to do their points difference a power of good.

Oh me of little faith! Possibly inspired by the fact that our only points so far had come care of the forward pack, we changed our game plan during the break and basically stuck the ball up our jumpers for the entire second half. This led to four close range tries, with Ruaridh Mitchell, Gus Wallace (2) and Dave Stoddart claiming the touch downs.

Despite the fact that he was kicking into a pretty strong wind, Happy managed to convert the first three tries, albeit the kick after Gus’s first try only made it over via the hand of one of the onrushing Gala blockers – with the Fairydean ground just over the fence behind him, the poor chap maybe forgot which code he was playing …

Our almost complete forward dominance – it looked like we were seriously attempting a push over try from well within our own half at one point – meant that the dangerous Gala backs had very little possession to work with, while the fact that Wallace had limped off not long after half time prevented him from adding to his tally.

With Dave’s unconverted try having given us an almost unbelievable 31-24 lead with 76 minutes played, the Maroons rallied for one last attack, carrying the ball into our half up the stand side wing. Just as you began to fear that they would score under the posts to force the draw, the attack broke down and we were able to clear our lines to claim a precious victory. 31 unanswered points in 45 minutes at Netherdale – what a stunning performance!

Gala summed the game up very well on their Facebook page:

Well poor game management lost us that match. Congrats to Stew Mel who dished out a lesson in how to retain the ball through umpteen phases and how to score from 5 yards. No lack of effort by our boys, Stew Mel forwards just wanted it more.

Turning that around, we looked like a different team at Netherdale, having had the confidence to change our game plan to suit the opposition and the weather conditions and the patience to work through the phases until a scoring opportunity presented itself. And our pack were simply immense; while captain-for-the-day big Roo was deservedly voted Man Of The Match by his team mates, it would probably have been fairer to give the award to the pack as a whole. We had the upper hand in the set piece, our lineout was imperious (again, hats off to Roo for throwing some tidy darts despite the howling gale) and our ‘pick and go’ game was simply irresistible.

Willie Malcolm also deserves special praise for his contributions – while more of a 2s player so far this season, he looked completely at home in the boilerhouse at Netherdale, and (along with Will Inglis, who also played vey well) will cause our coaches some very welcome selection headaches when Jamie Sword is available once again. Willie’s dad Sam was down at Netherdale, and must have been very proud of his ‘wee’ boy!

Adam Howie also had a fine game at number eight, providing some real heft at the base of the scrum and rampaging about the park like a teenager. For a man who played the last time we were down at Netherdale in 2010, he has aged remarkably well.

Behind the scrum, the backs looked composed during the opening period, handling well and taking the game to Gala (albeit without really stretching the home defence – our old coach Al Christie was watching and reckoned we’d butchered at least two tries in the first half).

Our youthful Heriot Watt half back pairing of Charlie Simmonds and Freddie Roddick performed admirably throughout the game, appearing entirely unfazed by playing in such a fabled (and, let’s face it, fairly hostile – in a good way) rugby arena as Netherdale. Some of their tactical kicking was a bit harem scarem, but that will come as they bed into the team. Their Heriot Watt peer Jamie McGurk replaced Happy in the centre late in the game and fitted in seamlessly – we really are starting to pick up some good young players.

Special mention has to be made of new coach Paul Huish, who stood on the far touchline and acted as Sesh’s ‘mouthpiece’, passing on his instructions and generally keeping our players informed and on their toes. Paul, by his own admission, was the biggest loudmouth at Malleny Park back in his playing days, and it was great to hear him roaring ‘Slow ball!’ at the forwards as we worked through all those pick and goes during the second half. In a season where lack of communication between the players has been a problem for us, sometimes having a loudmouth on the touchline can make all the difference.

I’ll finish by acknowledging the contribution of club captain Duncan Wood on a memorable day for the club. Mindful that the boys would no doubt be thirsty after a hard shift at the coal face, he proudly announced after the game that he’d arranged for the team bus to make a pub stop in Stow on the way back up the A7. Err, there are no pubs in Stow, Dunc!

We’re back to Inverleith on Saturday for the visit of Selkirk. They’re sitting third in the table after 7 wins, but, after that performance in Gala, there’s no reason why we can’t bank another five points before we head to Murrayfield for the Annual Ball.

Billy O’Neill

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