Gala up their game with no reward
A more spirited performance than last week deserved more than a nil score-line for.
With the others in the “bottom four” also losing today, the league table at our end remains unchanged meaning a massive make-or-break match away at Mansfield Park on 11 February.
Two guest match reports this week, Atholl Innes in The Scotsman and Stuart Rutherford in The Offside Line
Gala 0 - 26 Heriot’s: Charlie Simpson scores a double
Heriot’s outplayed Gala after a fairly even first half to grab the points with two tries from Charlie Simpson to leave Gala still propping up the Premiership. Heriot’s never looked back after grabbing the perfect start when Simpson’s speed left the Gala defence stretched and the full-back scored in the corner after five minutes.
Gala were forced to bring on Rob Louw for the injured Harry Borthwick and Ruaridh Mitchell was replaced by Stewart Mustard for Heriot’s. Gala continued with the pressure before Heriot’s regained composure and a Graham Speirs clearance kept their line intact.
Gala ended the half strongly with a Craig Robertson break as Heriot’s turned round 5-0 ahead.
On the restart, Heriot’s passed up a second kick at goal as the visitors pressed for a try, which Michael Liness scored and Andrew Simmers converted.
Heriot’s were now in charge, Gavin Parker scoring a third try which Simmers converted. The Goldenacre side rounded things off with Simpson’s second try and a bonus point.
The Offside Line Blog
STUART RUTHERFORD @ Netherdale
THE VISITORS kept themselves on track for a top four finish with this bonus point win. For Gala, it was a bitter blow in their quest to beat the drop. They failed to record a single point in what was their seventh straight league defeat and all roads now lead to Mansfield Park, where they take on Hawick in a fortnights’ time, in what should be a do-or-die relegation battle.
Following an evenly balanced first-half, where Heriot’s held a slender 5-0 lead, the match offered itself as a chance for Gala to grab an unlikely and much needed victory, however, the home side’s lack of creativity in attack was clearly an issue all afternoon and the visitors took advantage by scoring a further 21 unanswered points to come away with the win.
It was a result that left Gala’s head coach, Opeta Palepoi, feeling understandably deflated.
“I think the mistakes really started to creep in throughout the match – but, Heriot’s are a quality side, which shows in their league position, and they were able to put pressure on us all afternoon, which really affected the way we wanted to play,” he said.
“Despite that, I thought the effort was absolutely there, and our intensity was better than it has been in previous weeks. In the end we just weren’t good enough.”
Gala haven’t recorded a league victory since winning at Boroughmuir in October, a record Palepoi is very much aware of, but he still believes that his team have what it takes to face a tough relegation battle.
“What I can say is that we’re not going to give up. We are going to keep on fighting and control what we can control, and that is just trying to win the next game. We came out today trying to play rugby, and it was a massive improvement, if you watched last weekend’s defeat to Watsonians. One thing I’ll say is: once this unit clicks together, they will show what they are capable of. When a team loses so many games in a row, confidence is always going to be an issue. So I think we just need to get over that hump,” he stressed.
For Heriot’s, it is now three wins in four matches and it does appear that the men from Goldenacre are beginning to come into form at just the right time. Following an impressive performance against Currie last weekend, the capital side kept up their play-off hopes alive with a defensive shut-out away from home. Their head coach, Phil Smith, was clearly content with how the match unravelled.
“Our intention was play to with ambition. Gala at home and desperate for a win was always going to be difficult. It obviously took up until the 79th minute for us to get our fourth try of the afternoon, but I think we looked really dangerous for the majority of the match. We didn’t have to get a bonus point, obviously, but it really just eases the pressure going into the last two games.”
“This is how it kind of rolled out last year, without tempting fate. We had a little blip just before Christmas and then we went on to win a lot of games. We seem to get onto a roll or a habit of winning games. I’m not going to say that it will definitely be the same, but the closer we get to the end of the season, the more we seem to gel.”
The visitors took the lead with only five minutes on the clock. After working the ball into the home side’s twenty-two with a series of neat offloads, possession was quickly recycled to Ruaridh Mitchell, who barrelled his way through Gala’s midfield defence before being dragged down ten metres from the line. With scrum-half Tom Wilson barking at his pack, the ball was played swiftly up the blindside and from there it was all down to the quick feet of Charlie Simpson. The full-back displayed his side-stepping talents with a deft cut inside which left his opposite number frozen then scampered over into the corner.
Gala dominated possession for the next 20 minutes and very nearly levelled proceedings following a fantastic break from George Lott. From a line-out on the halfway line, the ball was gathered at the tail before being popped to the stocky scrum-half. With the Heriots back-line rushing up in defence, Lott threw a wicked dummy, which opened up acres of real estate for himself, but after carrying the ball 20 metres he was eventually caught by the capital side’s trailing defence. With a numeral advantage in the back-line, it was on to move the ball from the breakdown quickly, however, a series of pick-and-goes fizzled into nothing and the visitors were able to snaffle possession and clear their lines.
Lott’s outstanding break seemed to momentarily breathe life into the struggling Borders’ outfit and with a packed main stand cheering them on, every tackle and half-break was met with thunderous applause. However, as we all know, rugby can be a cruel game and Heriot’s very nearly doubled their advantage, against the run of play, on the cusp of half-time. Not once, but twice, the capital side were held up over the line following a number of close range scrums. A cynic would perhaps comment that Heriots were sloppy in their finishing, however, much credit has to go to Gala’s desperate resistance effort.
Heriots did have to a chance to extend their lead when they were a handed a simple penalty in front of the posts, but John Semple pulled his attempt wide and the score was left 5-0 at the break, giving Gala hope that they could yet pull off a much needed victory.
Their plans were dented quickly after half-time when Heriots scored their second try of the afternoon, and if their first score belonged to the back-line, then this one most definitely belonged to the pack. With a lineout deep inside the hosts’ twenty-two, the ball was gathered and then slickly manoeuvred into a rolling mall. In a great example of controlled aggression, the ball was slowly driven forward before hooker Michael Liness propelled himself over the whitewash, with the support of Semple and Liam Steele.
It wasn’t to get any better for Gala as they soon found themselves even further behind and it came courtesy of two glaring mistakes. The first error belonged to Craig Robertson, who instead of collecting a simple cross-field kick, let it bounce into touch, deep inside his own twenty-two. The second came from Lott, who’s careless box-kick from the resulting line-out gifted Heriot’s possession at a critical moment in the match. The capital side were able to work the ball wide and after a neat offload from the impressive Jack McLean possession was transferred back again to Gavin Parker, who had a simple run in for his second try of the afternoon.
For a period of time, it appeared as though Gala might, at least, be able get themselves on the scoresheet as they pinned the visitors inside their own twenty-two. However, following a number of scrums and pick-and-goes which resulted in a loss of yards, it was painfully apparent that it just wasn’t going to be the Border side’s afternoon.
Then with the last possession of the game, Heriots were able to grab what could be a decisive bonus point come the end of season. Their fourth try was their best of the afternoon and again it game from Simpson. The sweeping move began in the visitors’ half following a lightening break from Parker. The winger was able to carry the ball 20 metres before offloading to the supporting Steele. From there, it was a simple two-on-one, which Steele duly executed to the oncoming Simpson, who ghosted under the sticks to ice the game.
Gala: G Speirs (c); R Combe, D Burrows, L Berg, C Robertson; G Hunter, G Lott; C Keen, M Carryer, T Skeet, C Weir, S Johnstone, G Adams, F Hunter, H Borthwick. Subs: D Brooker, S Chapman, R Louw, G Mein, P Hendry.
Heriot’s: C Simpson; R Kay, L Steele, J Semple, G Parker; R Carmichael (c), T Wilson; M Bouab, M Liness, R Mitchell, M Hughes, C Marshall, M Maltman, J McLean, S Dewar. Subs: S Mustard, A Johnston, C Smith, A Hagart, A Simmers.
Referee: Keith Allen
Heriots: Tries: Simpson 3, Parker, Liness; Cons: Semple, Simmers 2.
Scoring Sequence (Gala first): 0-5 (h-t) 0-10; 0-12; 0-17; 0-19; 0-24; 0-26
Man-of-the-Match: Full-back Charlie Simpson was a thorn in Gala’s side all afternoon with his mazy running style and silky offloads. He also grabbed two fine tries.
Talking Point: Gala’s woeful home form continues and at this point in the season, it is hard to see where their next win is going to come from.