Selkirk 3, Gala 8

Gala stun courageous Souters with last-gasp score in epic derby match

THERE was to be no story book ending to Selkirk’s first match on their new Philiphaugh pitch, despite a heroic effort by the home team. With the scores locked at 3-3, and the game deep into injury time, it looked as though a stupendous defensive display by Selkirk would earn them a share of the points, so ending the Maroons’ run of four successive league victories. Alas the fates were not on the side of the underdogs on Saturday, and it was left to ex-Gala skipper Alan Johnston to deliver the ‘coup de grace’ by somehow smuggling the ball over the line from a maul in the dying seconds for the game’s only try. This was a match both sides had chances to win, but ultimately it was Gala’s superior firepower up front which proved the deciding factor.
Even so, Selkirk demonstrated that when it comes to the big occasion, they can more than hold their own, no matter how strong their opponents. Lying second in BT Premiership Division Two, and averaging 42 points a game, Gala were odds-on favourites in most people’s books to defeat their local rivals by a comfortable margin. However, just as they did in last season’s epic BT Cup tie against first division leaders Boroughmuir, Selkirk confounded all the pre-match predictions by turning in a performance of passion and pride which almost caused the biggest upset of the day.

GROUND CONTROL. Selkirk prop Martin Murray secures possession in Saturday’s hotly contested league match against Gala at Philiphaugh, watched by team-mates Neil Darling and Ewen Robbie. Maroons player-coach George Graham prepares to close in. (Picture by Gordon Lockie)

In fact the similarities between Saturday’s game and the Boroughmuir fixture were uncanny. In both matches Selkirk missed a succession of penalty chances which could have secured victory, and in both contests the visitors only snatched a win in the final seconds. Another similarity was the presence of a full complement of Selkirk Rhino mini-rugby players, who formed a guard of honour through which both teams passed as they ran out on to the field.
The Rhinos’ presence undoubtedly added to the atmosphere around Philiphaugh, and it came as no surprise that the youngsters voted Aussie flanker Matt de Franck as their Man of the Match. After the game the 21-year-old from Perth told the Selkirk RFC website that the game had left a bitter-sweet taste in the home players’ mouths.
“It was great to be back playing at Philiphaugh after four straight games on the road, but the manner of our defeat was hard to take. We really thought we’d done enough to merit a share of the spoils, so when they scored in injury time it was devastating.
“That said, there were a number of plus-points to come out of the match. Our defence was solid throughout, and we shut them down pretty much right from the kick-off. We knew they would give us a hard time in the set pieces, but everyone stuck to what we had been working on at training, and Gala just couldn’t get the breakthrough.
“Even after we lost Iain Purves at halftime our tight five put in the hard yards, and I thought young Steven Renwick did a good job when he came on as replacement — in fact all our young guys stood up to be counted under some pretty fierce pressure. They will have learnt a lot from being involved in such a tough contest.”
In addition to de Franck, lock Dwayne Jackson gave a typically committed display, until a recurrence of his shoulder injury forced him to the sidelines in the final 10 minutes of the match. Prop Martin Murray also made a telling contribution with some bulldozing runs, but it is perhaps unfair to single out individuals in what was a fine team effort from numbers one to 15.
On the debit side, prop Iain Purves suffered a painful injury to his sternum, and after leaving the field at the interval was unable to return to the fray.
For their part, Gala’s much vaunted pack put their opponents through the mill in the opening scrums, player-coach George Graham using all his wiles to disrupt Selkirk on their own put-in, resulting in the smaller home pack regularly being pushed off the ball at a rate of knots to concede possession.
Naturally when this pressure wasn’t turned into points, frustration began to creep into the visitors’ game, and a series of knock-ons and spurned overlaps by the normally slick Gala threequarters only served to crank up the tension in the Maroons camp.
Selkirk’s best chance of a score came midway through the second period when Jim Ross’s fly-hack over the line saw the ball agonisingly go dead before the flanker had the chance to touch it down.
The only points of the first half came from an Andy McLean penalty, but within three minutes of the restart opposite number Guy Blair had brought Selkirk level from a similar award. That was the way things stood until those final, fateful seconds when Johnston pounced to score the winning try and maintain Gala’s 100 per cent record. Selkirk’s consolation bonus point was the very least they deserved.

SELKIRK — D. Cassidy, F. Harkness , A. Lyall, C. Cochrane, A. Jamieson, G. Blair, S. Tomlinson, I. Purves (rep. S. Renwick 40 mins), E. Robbie (rep. I. Walling 70 mins), M. Murray, N. Darling, D. Jackson (rep. M. Barnett 69 mins), M. de Franck, J. Ross , A. Heatlie.

Referee — David Douglas (Hawick).