Duns took a break from league action on Saturday to contest the RBS Border Shield in a home match against Gala.
Seven Borders clubs - Duns, Berwick, Langholm, Earlston, Hawick Linden, Hawick Harlequins and Gala YM - are taking part in the Border Shield, which is being played as a round robin this season rather than under the more traditional knock-out format. This guarantees each of the seven participating clubs six matches, with the winner going forward to represent the Borders in the national semi finals.
Gala arrived in Duns with a very strong side, and made no secret of the fact that they had replaced almost the entire YM team with the Gala A side, whose own match had been postponed.
A closer inspection of the Gala teamsheet revealed that only one player, the YM captain, was registered to the side Duns were supposed to be playing against, with the remaining 18 in the squad all being Gala players. No fewer than 12 of those players have played Premier 1 rugby this season, with the Gala scrum-half and full back both having represented Gala in the British and Irish Cup in matches against London Scottish and Llanelli.
It was clearly going to be a very difficult afternoon for Duns, and so it proved. Man for man, each of the home side were smaller than their opposite numbers, but Duns stuck to the job in hand and put in a really hard shift, particularly in defence where it was only in the last 15 minutes that gaps in the defensive line began to appear.
Duns kicked off down the Hardens slope on a sunny, breezy afternoon, and were awarded a penalty after only two minutes. Dale Robertson missed a difficult chance from just inside the Gala half, the ball drifting wide on the breeze.
For the next half hour or so the match was contested largely in the midfield area, with both defences on top. Gala hadn’t played for a few weeks and were clearly a little rusty, and Duns struggled to make any headway in the face of some huge hits by Gala in the tackle. One area of the match where Duns held sway was in the scrum, where Gala were under extreme pressure on occasions - Scott McCraw had his opposite number Martin Christie, who has played a handful of Premier 1 games this season, in all sorts of trouble but the referee chose not to penalise the Gala prop despite him standing up in the scrum time and time again.
Gala took the lead on 32 minutes when Craig Dods kicked a penalty, and Dale Robertson replied three minutes later with a similar effort. Indeed, the Duns captain had the opportunity to give his side the lead with another penalty on the stroke of half time, but he missed a relatively straightforward attempt.
Playing up the Hardens slope in the second half, Duns raised their game and the majority of the action was in the top half of the park. There was to be no way through, however, as the Gala defensive line stood firm despite the pressure exerted by the home side.
The big hits began to tell, and there was none bigger than Craig Borthwick in the Gala back line. The 6 foot 4, 17 stone, centre - who has played half a dozen Premier 1 games this season, and represents Scotland at rugby league - put in some thumping tackles, and with his team-mates also hard-hitting in the tackle it was no surprise that Duns took longer to get to their feet as the half wore on.
Scott Lindsay was forced to retire with a neck injury, then Dale Robertson withdrew with a nasty cut to his hand. The reshuffled back line struggled to cope with the directness of the Gala running, and eventually the visitors scored after an excellent solo break by scrum half Danny Owenson. The conversion by Dods made it 10-3.
With time running out, Gala made the match safe with their second try, scored by former professional player Tom Weir in the corner as he capitalised on an overlap on the Duns left wing.
Duns deserve credit for sticking to their task, and never giving up against a physically bigger and fitter side. Two of last year’s Colts side - Nathan Chisholm and John Walker - had an opportunity to impress the coaches when both made an appearance from the bench. Best for the home side were Stewart Cockburn, whose dander was up all afternoon, and Richard Burns, who was hungry for the ball and looked for contact throughout the match.
Gala landed a cheap shot on Duns before the match had even kicked off. Duns have a squad of players to choose from, and have to contest every game from the squad which is available to them, as do the vast majority of teams. Gala, however, were able to use the rules to their, some would say, unfair advantage by parachuting 18 players into the match from a higher placed club. Even the Gala committee who attended the match agreed that it was a ludicrous state of affairs, an insult to Duns, and makes a mockery of the whole tournament.
There are no matches this Saturday, November 17, because of the Scotland v South Africa international at Murrayfield. The next Duns game is on November 24, away to Berwick in the next round of Shield matches. Kick-off is at 2pm.
Saturday’s match ball was kindly sponsored by Denis Lawson Ltd, Plumber.
Duns: Keiran Wilkinson; Ross Turner, Neil Graham, Scott Lindsay and David Hutchison; Dale Robertson (captain) and Stuart Thompson; Scott McCraw, Cammy Hill, Andrew Connor, James Thorburn, Stewart Cockburn, Chris Blaikie, Richard Burns and Chris Williamson. Replacements: Andrew Baxter, Nathan Chisholm and John Walker.