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Melrose secure Premiership title after Ayr kill off Gala hopes

They may have relinquished their RBS Premiership title, but Ayr still had an almighty say in who was to succeed them.

Melrose players celebrate after dramatically regaining the title they surrendered a year ago  Photograph: SNS
Melrose players celebrate after dramatically regaining the title they surrendered a year ago Photograph: SNS

In an epic at Netherdale, the Millbrae men spoiled the Gala party with an extraordinary 34-33 win while four miles along the road, the Championship trophy found its way back to the Melrose cabinet after an absence of a year as they ran out comfortable winners 26-10 against Currie.

The result brought the curtain down on an afternoon of nerve-jangling drama and no one was put through the emotional wringer more than Melrose coach John Dalziel, whose first thoughts were for the players who had got his team over the line in his debut season.

He said: "I feel we deserve to be champions since we have beaten Gala twice and have won more games. This is my first season as coach and this means a huge amount, but in the end it was a win for the boys who have worked so hard all season and have been the most consistent team in the league."

The Greenyards side always looked to be more in control up front with second row James Head putting in an outstanding performance and it was that dominance which led to the three penalties they claimed in the first half. Joe Helps and George Horne exchanged penalties then Helps slotted another two to take Melrose 9-3 ahead as half time approached.

But the try which went a long way to clinching the title came in 36 minutes as Bruce Colvine finished off a ruthless Melrose attack which Helps then converted to give them a half-time lead of 16-3.

Helps extended the lead with an early second-half penalty but then some lengthy midfield exchanges suggested that any further scoring might only come from the boot until wing Damien Hoyland took a hand and scorched in for the home side's second try. Helps' unerring boot added the conversion and the home crowd began to relax.

John Cox added a late try for Currie for Horne to convert, but then came a nail-biting few minutes as the match at Netherdale came to a close. Ayr had gone in at half time with a 17-12 lead thanks to tries from Kerr Gossman, James Eddie and Robbie Fergusson with Finn Russell converting the last one while Gala's 12 points came from the boot of David O'Hagan, who nailed four penalties.

Gala needed a big start to the second half, but found themselves rocked by a Russell penalty followed by the No 10's conversion of Ross Curle's try and at 27-12, they were staring down the barrel.

The final quarter was not for the fainthearted, with prop Rory Sutherland barging over in 61 minutes for O'Hagan to convert. Then with seven minutes left, Tom Weir's try, again converted by O'Hagan brought the margin back to one point.

There then came a moment of indecision which will haunt Netherdale for a long time and it presented the slick Ayr backs with a final opportunity for Fergusson to blast in for his second try. Russell converted and Gala needed two scores and a miracle to save their title hopes.

Deep into injury-time, Opeta Palepoi breached the Ayr defence, but everyone knew that, successful or not, O'Hagan's conversion would be the last kick of the game and so it proved as it went over to bring up a final, agonising scoreline of 34-33 in favour of the deposed champions.

Despair flooded Netherdale, while the Greenyards erupted in an explosion of relief and joy following one of the most thrilling conclusions to an RBS Premiership title race.

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