RBS Premiership Stirling County 7 Gala 11 Kevin Robertson reports from Bridgehaugh A tremendous defensive effort from Stirling County ensured the home-side side gained a vital losing bonus-point against the league leaders in front of a large crowd at Bridgehaugh. This was a much improved County performance after their last outing in the Cup two weeks previously when they were well-beaten by Gala at Netherdale.

County brought back Garry Mountford, Matt Larsen, Bengi Barsanti and Matt Lamb to the starting line-up, as the home side looked to get a result that would help in the fight to retain their RBS Premiership status. Gala knew that a victory at Bridgehaugh and defeat for their nearest challengers Melrose would give the visitors their first league championship for 31 years.

Gala were dominant in the scrum throughout the match, and from an early penalty and line-out take, County were caught offside, but the visitors’ stand-off David O’Hagan missed the straight-forward kick at goal.

County weathered the early Gala pressure and stole a line-out just inside the visitors’ half, moving the ball in-field for inside-centre Fraser Lyle who made 20 yards before being caught inside the 22, from the resulting maul, Barsanti emerged with the ball and barged his way under the posts to score the opening try on 18 minutes, converted by Brian Archibald giving County a 7 – 0 lead.

Gala continued to have the majority of possession and pressure, forcing County to defend and concede penalties, with Jamie Bhatti sin-binned on 25 minutes for repeated infringements by the home team. However despite the numerical advantage, the visitors couldn’t find a way through the stubborn County rearguard.

County’s Archibald missed a 30-metre penalty on 35 minutes after Gala collapsed a driving maul but they led 7-0 at the interval.

Gala began to find more momentum in the second-half with their powerful forward pack winning a series penalties with County being pushed back in virtually every scrum.

Inevitably Gala scored their solitary try from a 5-metre scrum, which they drove the home-side back over their own try-line for Ewan Dods to touch-down on 48 minutes, reducing the leeway to 7 – 5, with O’Hagan’s conversion hitting the post..

Billy Dineen replaced Mountford in the front-row, before County were again reduced to 14-men when Struan Robertson was sin-binned for illegally killing the ball in the County 22. O’Hagan put Gala 7 – 8 in front from a 30-metre penalty in 56 minutes following another collapsed scrum.

Worse was to follow for County when scrum-half AJ McFarlane was yellow-carded on 60 minutes for deliberately falling on the ball in an off-side position. O’Hagan then added a further penalty on 65 minutes to extend Gala’s lead to 7 – 11. On 68 minutes Gala’s replacement centre Graham Spiers sprinted 50-metres from half-way through mid-channel only to be caught just short of the host’s line, with a clearing penalty awarded to County when the ruck was formed.

County were restored to 15-men for the final 10 minutes and not only kept Gala at bay, but set up an attacking position in the final minutes only to miss-throw a line-out allowing the visitors to clear and hang on for an 11-7 win.

County’s Head Coach Graeme Young was pleased with the effort shown by his team, particularly in defence, and will be looking to build on this level of performance as County prepare for their final must-win league match against Edinburgh Accies at Raeburn Place on Saturday 22 March.

County’s Man of the Match, sponsored by John Graham Metals, was Bengi Barsanti. Stirling County: Archibald, Addison, Gilmour, Lyle, Lamb, Edwards, McFarlane; Bhatti, Moffat, Mountford, Larsen, Deacons, Bordill, Barsanti, Robertson. Replacements: Dineen, Graham, Dewer, McDonald, Lindsay.