GALA have made a significant start to this first division rugby

campaign by knocking over, away from home, two of the acknowledged

heavyweights, Melrose and Boroughmuir.

They create a pattern of play that exploits strengths, and masks

vulnerability, which suits the capabilities and physical attributes of

the available personnel. This is vital in the modern game.

No-one knows better than the Netherdale disciples of Peter Dods and

Johnny Brown that there is a long, long trail awinding before the

championship is decided, and that some heavy artillery waiting just

round the corner might make it harder for Gala to stay on course. But

they make the most of what they have and show resourcefulness in


For one thing, their early season fitness levels are very high. It was

the Northampton and England B centre, Nick Beal, who commented ruefully

after the Selkirk Sevens final in August that Gala had just kept on

coming at them, had run, run, and run again.

That dogged commitment to covering the paddock and to running as

quickly in retreat as in advance seems one of the important ingredients

in Gala policy. That this is augmented by an element of sharp

acceleration along their back division -- and with Mark Moncrieff still

to join the fray -- gives the Netherdale outfit a sharp edge. There is

in the wings the talented Jim Maitland.

Gala currently do not command the bulk or street wisdom of their

championship pack of 10 years ago -- Jim Aitken, Ken Lawrie, Bob

Cunningham, Tom Smith, Ken Macauley, Jock Berthinussen, Derek White, and

David Leslie -- and they may well have to make do on short lineout

rations especially against the big boys. It was tribute, however, to

their tactical preparation that Melrose and Boroughmuir monopolised

lineout ball, yet still lost.

Trying to keep your head above water against bigger, well-organised

opposing lineouts can be a frustrating task. Playing musical chairs with

jumpers, resorting to mini-lines and use of the tail places heavy onus

on throwing in. Things have to be spot on. Once at Meggetland on

Saturday that all round back five grafter Graeme Shepherd, shot to the

front and won the ball but was adjudged to have prevented it going five

metres which is a free-kick offence.

So, it made sense as a form of Gala insurance, to occasionally

withdraw a loose forward into centre to augment the midfield defence,

which, when allied to the tenacious marking by the centres, Jimmy

Turnbull and Brian Swan, explained in part the inability of the

Boroughmuir backs to bring enough workable ball to scoring fruitition.

Gala, too, clearly appreciate that if their lineout is to struggle to

stay upsides and, therefore, to have limited value as a launch base,

their scrummage simply has to prove dependable and competitive. All

scrummages are heavily reliant on their front row and Gala have a

formidable trio in Gary Isaac (Scotland A), Ian Corcoran (full cap), and

the captain, Hamish Hunter (South of Scotland).

Even without Corcoran they frustrated Boroughmuir's bulky pack in

denying them pushover success and the value of their scrummage in

igniting attack was demonstrated when Tom Weir's quick pick and drive

provided the time and space for Gregor Townsend to leisurely stroke over

his second drop goal in consecutive games.

Gala's planning also takes into account that any side anticipating a

shortage of good possession has to compensate with an amalgam of

aggressive harassment, strong emphasis on making tackles count,

quick-witted unorthodoxy aimed at catching opponents on the hop, and

individual skills that stand up so that whatever quality ball does

present itself is utilised to maximum effect.

Of course, swift engagement of opponents in possession has its

hazards. Loose forwards and midfield backs tend to look for flying

starts in exploding from just on, or over, offside lines and there is a

tendency also to infringe at tackle points in desperate search for

attack ammunition. Boroughmuir's promising young stand off, Bryan

Easson, had 11 offence kicks at goal against Gala on Saturday. Teams

short of ball tend to live dangerously.

Where Gala impressed most is in their alertness for grasping every

fair opportunity to run and handle. There is a spirit of adventure just

waiting to explode, as when Michael Dods gathered an Easson punt and

erupted out of the deep in a thrilling 60 metres gain involving both

centres and Weir.

Gala appreciate, too, that frequently the best ball to run is when

opponents have been quickly dispossessed at stoppage point. Nor have

Gala need to concern themselves about their forwards getting out wide.

Theirs must be just about the most mobile pack in the division.

As Watsonians, also, are not averse to spinning the ball, those at

Netherdale this afternoon could be in for a rich repast.