Melrose bolstered their bid for the RBS Premiership title by achieving a narrow win over their neighbours and championship rivals Gala in a match which fell considerably short of its top-of-the-table billing.

As a result, Melrose are back in familiar territory at the pinnacle of the Premiership table and - with a slightly less difficult run-in - are now in a strong position to finish this season as club champions.

Gala - now two points behind Melrose, although they have a game in hand - look like they could be heading for another silver medal.

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Gala still have to face Ayr, a resurgent Stirling side at Bridgehaugh, Edinburgh Accies at home and there is, too, the small matter of their postponed match against Hawick. Melrose have Currie and Stirling at home and Aberdeen away.

Yet either side could have claimed the honours on Saturday from a match that was tense throughout - with a consequent drop in skill levels - and which ultimately hinged on a first-minute decision by referee Graeme Wells to penalise Gala at a scrum on the halfway line after the home forwards had shunted Melrose off their own scrum ball.

It was a harsh call and one which led to an instant three points for Melrose from a monumental penalty goal by the visitors' centre, Joe Helps, which, when all was said and done, provided the winning margin.

It also gave Melrose a confidence lift at the start of the game but despite dominating the first quarter the Greenyards men found themselves with only a slim half-time lead at 6-3.

"We were disappointed that we didn't make more of our advantage in the first half but Gala deserve credit for the way they stuck in," said John Dalziel, the Melrose coach.

For their part Gala failed to capitalise on their numerical advantage when Melrose were down to 13 men just before the break and again when they lost their own scrum put-in on the Melrose line.

It was Helps and Euan Scott who accounted for the two-to-one penalty goal deficit at half-time. Scott then levelled the scores with his second successful kick before a surge by Gala from a line-out in the Melrose 22m area finished with centre Chris Auld scoring.

Scott missed the conversion and a subsequent penalty attempt but when Melrose applied pressure the dividend was a try for the Edinburgh professional Perry Parker, and the winning conversion goal was taken by replacement Andrew Skeen.