STUART RUTHERFORD @ Bridgehaugh
A superb second half performance from Stirling County was enough to see away a spirited Gala side and secure a bonus point victory in treacherous conditions at Bridgehaugh.
The weather was always going to be major factor in this clash with the team that managed to keep their errors to a minimum bound to be in the position to grab victory. On that basis, the home side undoubtedly deserved to come away with the points after coming back from a half-time deficit by keeping things tight and playing to the conditions rather than attempting to run from their own half, which at times Gala were guilty of.
With David Adamson absent due to his commitments with Edinburgh University, it was his assistant coach, Alan Young, who took over the reins and he was clearly ecstatic with the victory.
“I think it was important that we finished strong today. Especially after last week’s defeat, it was a must that we finished well. We did that and to get that bonus point at the end was great. The boys thoroughly deserved it,” he said.
It was the visitors who came out of the blocks fastest, commanding the lion’s share of possession in the County half, and after a succession of pick-and-goes around the fringe they were awarded a penalty which stand-off Gregor Hunter chipped over with ease to give Gala an early lead.
The home side hit back immediately through their superior pack power. After kicking a penalty to the Gala five metre line, the ball was thrown to Adam Sinclair in the middle, and after a well worked drive, Hamilton Burr eventually grounded over the line. Jonny Hope converted to make it 7-3.
Then, in a peculiar passage of play, Gala back row Josh Irvine found himself heading off injured after taking a clearance kick from team-mate Hunter to the back of his head . Alan Emond, the centre/back row hybrid, came on in his place and immediately made his presence felt in helping the men from Netherdale take back the lead.
After a lineout ten metres from the County try-line the ball was eventually fed out to Emond. The replacement did excellently to pop the ball back to the influential Opeta Palepoi. The giant second-row muscled over and Hunter converted to put the visitors back in front.
After Hope hit a penalty to level the tie, Stirling’s Fijian scrum-half Nemia Kenatale found himself in the sin-bin after a high tackle on his opposite number. The Glasgow professional’s frantic play often put his own team under pressure and this particular incident was one of many poor decisions on the day. Hunter hit the resulting penalty to punish Stirling and put the visitors 10-13 up at the break.
It was roles reversed to start the second half as Stirling came out fired up and had the visitors pinned back in their own half. Chris Dalgliesh’s side looked shell-shocked as county raised their intensity with wave after wave of attack. Something had to give and when Ross Jones was taken down with a high tackle from Emond the floodgate started to open. The Gala player was sent to the sin-bin which was the agitator County needed to kick into gear and five minutes later the home side took the lead.
After being camped on the visitor’s try-line for what seemed like an eternity, the referee penalised Gala for being offside at the ruck. Kenatale redeemed himself by instinctively taking a quick tap penalty and diving over the line to put the home side ahead 17-13.
Gala have to be given credit for their attitude in this match. Even with a man in the bin the Borders outfit continued to play free flowing rugby and they were awarded for their efforts after 60 minutes. After intricate build up play the visitors slowly worked themselves into the Stirling 22. The ball was recycled to Hunter, who hit an exquisite crossfield kick to Rob Louw. The deceptively agile number eight did well to duck under a tackle before wriggling over the try line to put Gala back ahead in this seesaw battle.
The visitor’s joy was not to last long, however, as Stirling hit back in a flash. After a fantastic break from Glasgow professional Fraser Lyle, the ball was expertly passed out wide before it fell into the arms of Taylor, who ghosted under the posts much to the excitement of the home crowd.
Fraser Lyle wrapped things up with a fourth try at the death giving Stirling the bonus point victory. It was a much needed win for the side from Bridgehaugh who will start to look up the table, rather than down.
Stirling County: J Hope©; C Pringle, J Cresswell, F Lyle, B Sorbie; R Jones, N Kenatale; M MacDonald, R Kennedy, A Nicol, H Burr, A Sinclair, R Leishman, S Robertson, A Taylor. Subs: C Hutton, M Emmison, S McDonald, C Turnbull, R Elliston.
Gala: G Speirs©; P Hendry, L Berg, R Jeffrey, C Robertson; G Hunter, G Lott; C Keen, M Carryer, G Robertson, C Weir, O Palepoi, G Adams, J Irvine, R Louw. Subs: C Reynolds, D Brooker, A Emond, G Mein, C Dods.
Stirling County: Tries: Burr, Kenatale, Taylor, Lyle; Cons: Hope (3), Jones; Pens: Hope
Gala: Tries: Palepoi, Louw; Cons: Hunter; Pens: Hunter (2).
Referee: Graeme Wells
Man-of-the-Match: Stirling County’s skipper Jonny Hope had a tremendous afternoon. The flying fullback was influential in all facets of the game and added nine crucial points with his boot.
Talking Point: After heart breaking losses to Boroughmuir and Currie where they held considerable leads, Stirling finally manage to hold on for a much deserved victory.