Selkirk 26, Gala 12

Selkirk players hold nerve to outgun Maroons in do-or-die basement battle

WE HAVE TOUCHDOWN! Selkirk flanker Neil Darling can't disguise his delight as Gavin Craig scores the Souters' first try in Saturday's tense game against Gala at Philiphaugh. (Picture: Grant Kinghorn)


ON the day the clocks went forward, the Maroons must have wished they could turn them back again after losing Saturday's crunch relegation tussle with Selkirk - a result which drops the Netherdale team to the bottom of Premier 2.

However, Gala could have little complaint about the outcome of the match, which saw Selkirk's players show steely resolve throughout. After weathering the visitors' early pressure, the Souters soon began to match fire with fire, and ultimately swung the contest their way by turning pressure into points whenever the opportunity arose.

David Cassidy in particular kept a cool head throughout. Making his 150th senior appearance for the club, his booming clearance kicks continually sent the Maroons back to their own half, while the centre's clinical goal-kicking proved equally important - his four penalties and two conversions keeping the visitors at least two scores in arrears for most of the game.

First and foremost this was a team performance by Selkirk, with every home player from one to 19 contributing to the victory. Even the loss of number eight Scott Tomlinson with a knee injury after just 10 minutes failed to faze the Philiphaugh men, and replacement Alister Heatlie turned in a storming display.

With skipper Darren Hoggan giving a spirited lead and Rory Aglen and Neil Darling both excelling at the line-out and in the loose, Selkirk's forwards managed to negate the threat posed by Gala's Graeme Bryce and Tom Weir, both of whom were dangerous with ball in hand. Only in the scrums did Gala have a clear advantage.

Scrum-half Michael McVie gave a typically gutsy 80 minutes in his comeback game, as did hooker Ryan Crockatt, while Fraser Harkness proved Selkirk's most potent attacking force behind the scrum - his dazzling second half try sealing off the Maroons' escape route once and for all.

With Philiphaugh bathed in brilliant sunshine and a bumper crowd spread right around the ground, the stage was set for an epic encounter. Selkirk elected to play towards the scoreboard end, but after a nervy start it was Gala's fired-up forwards who took control of the opening exchanges - hooker Mike Christie emerging as their most effective operators in the loose.

Having managed to keep their line intact in the first quarter, Selkirk opened the scoring after 24 minutes when David Cassidy landed a penalty. Gala then had a gilt-edged scoring chance, when Chris Weir burst clear from broken play at half-field and stormed into Selkirk's 22.

It looked as though the combined efforts of Fraser Harkness and Gavin Craig might not be able to stop the tall lock, but with the try line beckoning a last-gasp tackle by Alan McDowall managed to down the Gala player, and a knock-on by Gala soon afterwards allowed Selkirk to clear the danger.

In the final minute of the half the home side struck a decisive blow. Despite a wheeled scrum, Michael McVie managed to get the ball to Gavin Craig, and the fly-half passed inside to Craig Hunter, who burst through the cover on a cleverly angled run. The wing fed David Cassidy, who in turn beat a man before being stopped just short of the try line by a fine Chris Lawson tackle.

The Selkirk forwards managed to quickly recycle, and Michael Jaffray was on hand to ship the ball to Gavin Craig on the right. The blond fly-half cleverly jinked inside the cover to dive over for a try, bringing the home supporters in the grandstand to their feet. Cassidy slotted the conversion, and added a penalty in injury time to put Selkirk 13-0 ahead at the break.

A third penalty by Cassidy just after halftime stretched the home team's lead further, before Fraser Harkness scored a tremendous try to effectively put Selkirk out of sight. Cassidy kicked a penalty to touch, with Neil Darling winning the line-out and Michael McVie feeding the ball to Gavin Craig.

The stand-off's perfectly weighted pass found Fraser Harkness hitting the line at top speed, and the strong-running full-back burst through a clutch of defenders before rounding the full-back and touching down under the posts. Cassidy's conversion made it 23-0 to Selkirk.

To their credit the Maroons' players never gave up the fight, with David Marshall's breenge producing a penalty against Selkirk, and from Andy McLean's quickly taken tap Graeme Bryce was able to crash over for a try in the corner.

A fourth Cassidy penalty - after Harkness had been obstructed while following up his chip kick to the line - restored Selkirk's momentum. However, within a couple of minutes Gala had scored another try through Andrew Ballantyne, after Marshall had carried on Mike Christie's break and found Ballantyne unmarked on the touchline. McLean's successful conversion ended the scoring.

Despite this victory, Selkirk remain in the relegation zone, alongside Gala and Hillhead-Jordanhill. Selkirk and the Maroons must each play Cartha Queens Park (home and away respectively), while Hills have to face champions Stirling County. With only one team going down, things couldn't be tighter… or more nerve-wracking! Still, it will be the Souter players who are now sleeping more easily at night.

SELKIRK - F. Harkness, M. Jaffray, D. Cassidy, A. Lyall, C. Hunter, G. Craig, M. McVie, G. Paterson, R. Crockatt, M. Murray, R. Taylor, R. Aglen, N. Darling, D. Hoggan, S. Tomlinson. Replacements: B. Armstrong, C. Johnston, A. McDowall, A. Heatlie.

Referee - I. Clark (Haddington).