Sunday, 23 March 2014

Gala 33 Ayr 34

It was a suitably dramatic finale to the RBS Premiership as Ayr clung on for a victory over Gala at a packed Netherdale.

It was a beautiful day in the Borders but the home side didn't want to take advantage of the dry conditions and instead opted to get their first points on the board via the trusty boot of stand-off David O'Hagan, after Ayr gave away a penalty with three minutes gone.  3-0.

It was only two minutes later that Ayr struck their first blow, the ball swiftly being moved into the hands of Craig Gossman who shimmied his way round tacklers, sold a dummy and fired on up the wing for the first try.  Finn Russell's touchline conversion attempt was short.  3-5.

Gala didn't panic and tried to release their flying winger Gerald Sibanda but he couldn't get past Kerr Gossman, who put in some doughty tackles all day.  He unfortunately found himself being flipped over, legs flailing, by the Gala defence, which kicked off the first round of fisticuffs.  It was quickly contained by referee Neil Paterson, who then awarded Gala a penalty, which O'Hagan knocked over.  6-5.

The home side were rampant in the scrum but their line-out in Ayr's 22 went awry and they were shoved off the park.  The visitors fared better, with lock Scott Sutherland being a usual towering presence.  Number eight Peter McCallum burst from the back of a drive to scurry away into Gala's half but the ball couldn't find the hands of inside centre Dean Kelbrick.

Gala couldn't get their backs going, but flanker Stevie Cairns was just as speedy and would have been away up the pitch were it not for the defensive efforts of Ayr scrum-half Murray McConnell, who whipped the crowd up into a frenzy with his tenacious terrier antics.

Ayr's penalty count was too high though, but Gala again went for the posts at twenty minutes, O'Hagan successful with kick number three.  9-5.

Four minutes later and the Gala stand-off had another go but this one hit the upright.  Ayr's clearance wasn't far enough and the ball sailed into the arms of Gala full-back Andy McLean but it was later knocked-on.

Ayr's scrum was a bit steadier and allowed flanker James Eddie to make a break but a forward pass brought the attack to a halt.  Both sides had a couple of solid line-outs and Gala managed to launch a few runs but they were quickly snuffed out by Kelbrick and Russell.

Ayr captain Grant Anderson displayed his trademark strong running but it was McCallum who was making ground, allowing McConnell to put in a cross-field kick, which went too far for Craig Gossman to collect.

The visitors kept possession and at thirty-three minutes, Eddie and Craig Gossman combined to send the flanker over for Ayr's second try.  Russell couldn't convert.  9-10.

Gala briefly regained possession but prop Ewan McQuillin was soon brought crashing down by a excellent textbook tackle from Ayr outside centre Ross Curle.

At thirty-six minutes, Ayr moved proceedings into Gala's 22 and Kerr Gossman zig-zagged his way through the defence to score.  Russell converted.  9-17.

The younger Gossman was clearly irking Gala, as a few minutes later when play was stopped, he was shoved off the pitch by centre Chris Auld, narrowly missing a line of ball kids.

Despite some strong play from flanker Andrew Dunlop, Ayr couldn't wrack up any more points in the first half, another forward pass not helping their cause, and they gave away a penalty which O'Hagan duly kicked.  12-17.

It was the home team's turn to concede a penalty for not rolling away two minutes into the second half.  Russell knocked it over the crossbar.  12-20.

Another scuffle broke out but the players involved quickly saw the folly of it and returned to action. 

Ayr again worked well at the line-out and a powerful drive allowed prop Denford Mutamangira to bash his way through the first wave of Gala defence but the Maroons stayed solid and managed to get a scrum on their own five-metre line.  However, they somehow lost control of the ball and it came bobbling out on Ayr's side, where it was scooped up by Curle, who jinked over for a try which Russell converted.  12-27.

There was a short break whilst Auld was escorted from the field with an arm injury.

Gala, wildly cheered on by their dedicated fans, didn't panic at being fifteen points adrift.  They secured possession but it was slow ball and they couldn't do anything with it.  Their cause was helped at fifty-nine minutes when Dunlop found himself in the sin-bin. 

A minute later and Gregor Mein made a blistering break which looked like a certain try had it not been for the defensive attentions of both Gossmans.  It got Gala into a good position though and prop Rory Sutherland was bundled over for a try.  O'Hagan converted.  19-27.

Ayr had a chance for more points at sixty-three minutes but Russell missed a penalty kick. 

There was a dip in intensity from both sides, but that was hardly any wonder considering how much effort they were putting in.  Gala again used their strong scrum to cause Ayr problems but Mutamangira, hooker Fergus Scott and veteran prop Gordon Sykes put in strong performances to contain them.

Just as it looked like Ayr were going for another try, Gala intercepted and raced off, only to be tracked down yet again by the pacy Gossmans, prompting one Gala supporter to suggest that the only way to get ahead would be to maim Craig.  He wasn't the one they should have been worrying about.

With ten or so minutes to go, Gala's troubles were eased when Ayr replacement flanker Graham Fisken was yellow-carded and replacement forward Tom Weir sent the crowd into raptures with his try.  O'Hagan converted.  26-27.

The Netherdale faithful was quickly silenced though as Kerr Gossman held firm to dive over for Ayr's fifth try.  Russell easily kicked the conversion.  26-34.

The clock was deceiving the fans as it hadn't been stopped for Auld's injury and it looked like there was only a minute left when there were seven, enough time for Gala to prove just why they had got themselves to the top of the league.

Ayr showed some sturdy defence from, amongst others, replacement scrum-half Peter Jericevich and Kelbrick, who had put his body on the line all day, resulting in a bloody nose.  But Gala were determined and it was their iconic lock Opeta Palepoi who crashed over for a last gasp try.  O'Hagan converted but it wasn't enough to win the RBS Premiership and the trophy was sent a few miles down the road to Melrose.

Final score: Gala 33 Ayr 34.

-Elena Hogarth.

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