SATURDAY 11th NOVEMBER 2023
GHA 22 GALA 42
By CHRIS NAIRN
Braidholm was bathed in winter sunshine as GHA welcomed the famous maroon-clad warriors from Gala. The club lunch helped to swell the numbers attending and there was a good representation of Border folk for this League match. The home side have continued to struggle on the road yet at Braidholm have been unbeaten but knew this would be a difficult encounter against a side that has returned to winning ways recently and had already defeated GHA in the Borders. Programme notes rightly highlighted the tremendous work of Kenny Fairbairn and his dedicated team to ensure that the annual Fireworks night was a superb success. A gentle pre-match amble across the pitch revealed a very good playing surface with just a little crispness in the far away left hand corner as you look at the pitch from the changing area. The sun presented a challenge for the players as it gradually angled across the pitch all afternoon – making vision difficult at certain spots. A Minutes Silence was observed on this Armistice Day.
Gala kicked off sending a low kick into GHA ranks and the home side gathered the ball only for the momentum to be lost as the move broke down (this loss of momentum would trouble the home side all afternoon particularly in crucial areas and at crucial times of sustained pressure). From the resulting scrum Scott Peffers provided early evidence that he would be a principal architect in a great deal of the attacking prowess shown by Gala. In support, Tim McKavanagh took the ball into contact just inside the GHA half but was met by strong direct tackling. A penalty was awarded to the home side and Ruairi O’Keefe put in a long kick which took play deep into the Gala half. The visitors responded by moving the ball from the lineout and then employing a cross-field kick in an attempt to turn the home defence, who managed to clear the danger. After four minutes it was a feature of the early exchanges that GHA seemed determined to blunt the probings and launched moves of Scott Peffer by engaging the opposition quickly and effectively. However, shortly after the sixth minute Daniel Nicholson made a great break which punched holes in the home defence inside the GHA twenty two area and a combination of excellent support work by Messrs Cameron Pate, McKavanagh and Peffers resulted in a score for Gala. Scott Peffers, whose kicking ability was to match his excellent decision making all afternoon, converted the try and after eight minutes the score was GHA 0 GALA 7.
This was a blow to the GHA who had seemed comfortable in their game plan in the initial stages. The home side took the match to the visitors but the excellent driving work of Adam Kerr into the Gala half came to nought when the home side was penalised for not releasing in contact. Gala kicked into the GHA half and looked to put pressure on the home defence by moving the ball swiftly from the set piece. However, a dangerous move was halted by the ever alert Dario Ewing who intercepted a proposed pass and shot into the Gala half to roars of encouragement from the home support. The home side maintained the pressure and good linking by Michael Fox and Dario Ewing allowed the home side to drive further. Oscar Lonergan- Black made great inroads into the Gala twenty two metre area and effective close support allowed Luke McCutcheon to scamper over and score. The try was converted by Ruairi O’Keefe and after twelve minutes and the score was GHA 7 GALA 7.
The score was a reflection of the reality of the situation in the match at this stage. Both sides were attempting to probe and find ways through the defensive lines of their opponents but were being met by firm and accurate resistance most of the time.
Neither side was able to establish a consistent dominant platform …this would change later in the match.
From the restart it was GHA who took the initiative and great work by Messrs Scott, Kerr and MacFarlane worked the ball into the Gala half. A subtle chip through by Tom Lonergan (who was continually looking for ways to prise open the Gala defence) caused consternation in visitor ranks and took play up to the Gala five metre area. Despite the pressure, the visitors calmly stopped the GHA progress win the ball and took play up to the GHA ten metre area. This was a blow to the home side who had put together an effective passage of play deep into the Gala territory only to lose the ball and momentum at a crucial time. On the seventeenth minute the home side conceded a penalty at their twenty two metre area. Scott Peffer elected to kick and was successful. The score was now GHA 7 GALA 10. There was a balance to the match at this stage, but errors were creeping into the execution of moves by the home side which broke momentum and took the pressure off their opponents, who were very quick to capitalise on such errors all afternoon. As we passed the twenty minute mark a concerted effort by Gala took play deep into GHA territory with great driving work by Messrs Angus, Easson and Brough. However, just like their opponents at the crucial moment the visitors conceded a penalty and with great relief the home side took play up to halfway. This escape seemed to inspire the home side as they put together a penetrating move led by Messrs MacFarlane and Fox before feeding Tom Lonergan who put a kick through the visiting defence, forcing them to turn. In the desperate attempts to clear the danger, Gala conceded a penalty at their twenty two metre area and Ruairi O’Keefe converted the penalty to make the score after twenty three minutes: GHA 10 Gala 10. The home side clearly felt that their play was helping them to gain an ascendency over the visitors. Several opportunities were created which tested the defensive capabilities of the visitors. Smashing running support play by Messrs Lonergan, Dixon and McCuthcheon with a subtle chip by Mr O’Keefe pushed play deep into the Gala half. The home side were awarded a penalty and a kick to the corner gave GHA an excellent attacking position. From a take and drive at the lineout GHA were inside the Gala five metre area and looking to score but were held up. GHA had begun causing difficulties for the visitors at both lineout and scrum but despite this the visitors secured crucial ball and eventually were able to scramble the ball clear. A collective groan from the home support clearly indicated that this was a real chance for the home side to put points on the board after very good ball retention and movement. As we moved towards half time this period of pressure by GHA was not replicated and we returned to the earlier pattern of forceful probing by both sides negated by effective tackling and the concession of penalties which killed momentum and created frustration amongst the players.
Just before the interval Scott Derrick was yellow carded for a high tackle. Gala were quick to exploit the situation in the remaining minutes, driving play into the GHA five metre area. A penalty award to the visitors a run by Messrs Angus and Gill, allowing the Gala side to score in the corner. The difficult conversion failed, and the score was now: GHA 10 GALA 15. This was the half time score.
It had been an absorbing first half as both sides attempted to wrestle control of the match. Unforced errors and conceding penalties clearly destroyed momentum. The home side had shown that they could have the better of the set piece and would surely look to use this in the second half. Gala, for their part, had played some flowing rugby but were stymied by a stubborn and accurate home defence. The visitors would clearly have to step up a gear to gain the upper hand in the second half and scoring just before half time increased their confidence.
From the restart Gala emerged in confident mood, clearly determined to take control of the match and overcome the home resistance. Gala were awarded a penalty on halfway and Scott Peffers kicked long into the GHA twenty two. In a model of close support penetrating play, Gala moved the ball before releasing Scott Peffers who easily moved through the GHA defence to score in the corner. An excellent conversion by the same Mr Peffers made the score after forty two minutes of the half: GHA 10 GALA 22.
Gala seized control of the match and forced a bemused home side deep into their own half from the restart. Close support driving and subtle chips behind the home defence were allowing Gala to dictate this period of the match. Attempts to relieve the pressure from the home side resulted in spilled passes and kicks straight into touch which just added to the Gala feeling that they were now in control. From a lineout at the GHA ten metre area the visitor- aware of the success GHA had in disrupting their lineout- carefully won the ball and moved at pace through the backs. A lovely feint by Messrs Nicholson and Mitchell set up the charging Angus Dun to take the ball and run through to score. The try was converted and the score after just seven minutes of the second half was: GHA 10 GALA 29.
Gala were now dominating the exchanges and again from the restart made great strides into the GHA half. The visitors were awarded a penalty at the ten metre area. And elected to kick for goal. In a curious moment the kick hit the post and travelled across the pitch to the eager hands of the visitors who had followed up the penalty and with the home side caught in disarray, took the ball at height and scored to roars of approval from the visiting support. The try was converted and after just over fifty minutes the score was now: GHA 10 GALA 36.
A furious riposte by the home side from the restart saw the home side being awarded a penalty. Adam Kerr took the ball and drove through a rather startled visiting defence with close support from his teammates, with Ruari Campbell scoring. The try was converted, and the score was now: GHA 17 GALA 36.
In an astonishing second half opening period the visitors had taken complete command of the match and had scored twenty one points. Yet the home side had hit back and scored. Further attempts to take the match to the visitors by GHA broke down through the concession of penalties or losing control of the ball. Indeed, as we passed the fifty fifth minute of the match another conceded penalty at the GHA ten metre area gave the opportunity to kick at goal. A superb kick punished the home side for their transgression and made the score GHA 17 GALA 39.
As the sixty fifth minute arrived, GHA began to regain some of their first half composure and successive drives by a myriad of players and in particular Messrs Ewing, Derrick, Kerr, Drummond and McCormick made yardage but moves came to naught with the repeated concession of penalties which allowed the visitors to clear danger and mount attacks.
As we moved into the last ten minutes of the match, Gala attempted to reassert their dominance with consistent pressure inside the GHA twenty two metre area. Despite this, the home side were able to break out and took the game into the Gala half. A surprised visiting side now found that they would have to defend and indeed they conceded a penalty which the home side elected to kick to the corner. In a furious couple of minutes both sides won and lost possession of the ball before Gala turned the ball over in midfield and took play up to the GHA twenty two area. A penalty was awarded to Gala and Russell Kerr claimed the points with a kick which made the score after seventy eight minutes: GHA 17 GALA 42.
As we moved towards the final minute GHA attacked and drove a rather startled Gala side right back to their own five metre line. With great industry the home side managed to drive the ball over and score in the corner. The conversion failed and the final score was: GHA 22 GALA 42.
An astonishing fifteen minute period at the start of the second half won the match for Gala, who emerged from half time clearly determined to take the plaudits in this match. Mistakes and unforced errors by the home side destroyed continuity at critical moments in the match. It was not the result Michael Fox making his one hundred and fiftieth appearance, nor Luke McCuthcheon making his fiftieth appearance would have wanted nor indeed any of the GHA squad. A very disappointed coach Calum reflected that we had opportunities in the first half but were killed by the first fifteen minutes of the second half.
GALA: M.WILSON R.MITCHELL C.PATE D.NICHOLSON B.GILL S.PEFFERS J.NIVEN M.ANGUS J.EASSON G.BROUGH G.McCRUM C.PATE T.McKAVANAGH A.DUN D.WEIR R.TOD K.SCOTT D.KERR G.COLLINS R.KEIR
GHA: J.TRUESDALE R.O’KEEFE K.DIXON F.McCOSS S.DERRICK T.LONERGAN R.MacFARLANE C.STIRLING R.CAMPBELL M.FOX A.KERR D.KILPATRICK O.LONERGAN-BLACK D.EWING L.McCUTCHEON L.HENDERSON S.CALLAGHAN R.HAY G.DRUMMOND L McCORMICK
REFEREE: Dr M BOSEMAN
ASSISTANT REFEREES: MR S MALLON MR J RYDER