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Graham risks being sent to the dog-house

Once, I met a rottweiler that must have felt much the same as Kevin White, Gala and Boroughmuir's match referee, when discussing Saturday's match with both members of the Graham family.

George Graham Jr, left, kept his better counsel than his father (inset) Picture: Steve Cox
George Graham Jr, left, kept his better counsel than his father (inset) Picture: Steve Cox

It was the early to mid-nineties, just before rugby union went professional and I had arranged to interview the father, George, at his then home in Stirling's much-maligned Raploch.

He was not in when I arrived, but his imposing wife Janette most certainly was, along with their three-year-old and the aforementioned four-legged-friend that, to the uninitiated, looked more like a domesticated bear than a friendly family pooch.

As we had a cup of tea there was a disturbing yelp from the kitchen and to my horror I realised that both the wee lad and the beast were missing.

Janette leapt from her chair before returning moments later with a wide grin on her face to report: "It's fine. . . wee George just bit the rottweiler's ear."

Nowadays, a rather more athletic figure than his square-set, albeit fine footballer of a father, "wee George" no longer fits that description and his running strength produced one of Gala's rare inspired moments on Saturday.

George senior – now Gala's head coach – had been among Scottish rugby's outcasts like Alan Tait. Unlike Tait though, he had no rugby league background before switching codes so, having been the victim of establishment prejudice in the amateur game, he was grinding out a living commuting to and from Cumbria.

He was a prop, but his son is a scrum-half with a taste of professional rugby, and it was inevitable that he would be aggressive and tenacious by nature.

The 21-year-old George Graham Jr did, just about, manage to hold himself in check while being chastised for back-chat by Mr White at the second time of asking, but the 46-year-old dad version showed no such restraint when subsequently offering his views on the referee's performance, as well as that of his own side.

Consequently, it was no great surprise when he gave vent to Gala's frustration as it looked very much like their national title bid might founder at the home of the league's bottom side.

Gala's head coach knows he will be in trouble with rugby's authorities for his description of the official as inept and out of his depth after he had seen three of his team sin-binned while battling rather guilelessly to a 12-11 win which keeps them in touch with RBS Premiership leaders Ayr.

Four penalties from Lee Miller ultimately proved sufficient, but opposite number Harry Leonard – on loan at Boroughmuir from Edinburgh – did little for the reputation of pro players in these parts by hitting the post when attempting to convert the game's only try registered by Kian Coertze late on, then pulling his last-kick-of-the-match penalty attempt wide.

Either would have won the game for the host side, a conclusion Graham readily acknowledged would have been a fair outcome as his typical fair-mindedness cut through his ire. He also felt Boroughmuir had, overall, been the side hungrier for the victory his side claimed.

However, there was a reminder of the days when Scottish coaches were such fearsome creatures that their players would do anything to avoid disappointing them. Gala's players threw their bodies on the line to hang on towards the end, as their coach simmered and bristled on the touchline.

What prompted him to do so includes the moment when replacement Craig Borthwick was sin-binned for the stunning – in every sense – second of two match-saving tackles on Damian Hoyland, and in turn sparked his coach's attack on the referee's competence.

The rights and wrongs of all of that will doubtless be righteously considered by one or other organ of state over the forthcoming days and weeks.

Whatever they decree, the real sadness for the sport is that this inspirational figure – who embodies most of the best qualities of Scottishness, if also occasionally, some of our less savoury characteristics – did not even put his name forward to be involved in the national team management.

The former Scotland forwards coach will not add the duties when his domestic situation, family commitments and his job are all considered.

Another factor, though, is his belief that the current Scottish set-up is not geared towards giving the national team its best chance, noting that even the Italians, who similarly have two full-time professional teams, support them with a range of semi-professional clubs that play in the second tier of European competition.

Graham is the only person in Scottish rugby with genuine experience of that, having coached in Italy, and his disgust at the rules and regulations for advancement in the professional game dictated by the current SRU hierarchy earlier in the season, cannot simply be disregarded. His opinions could be taken on board.

He still hopes that one day the environment will be right for him to fulfil his long-held ambition to coach the national team to greater success than they previously enjoyed during his last involvement.

feature Son bites his lip as father lets rip at officials and authorities, writes Kevin Ferrie

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