Monday, 26 September 2016

First POTM of 2016/17

It's time to vote for your first player of the month of the season!

Every player who has featured in the first five matches of the BT Premiership is nominated, with the winner announced on Thursday.

Vote here.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Ayr 11 Melrose 7

The good old west coast wind and rain couldn't dampen the spirits at Millbrae on Saturday afternoon as Ayr came through a stern test against Melrose to remain the only unbeaten side in the BT Premiership and top the table.

Both teams had racked up the tries in the first four rounds of league competition, but there was no chance of a high-scoring match in such damp conditions. It was going to be a case of sticking it out, and that was what Ayr did.

The visitors set their stall out early, running the ball from their own twenty-two, and when they lost possession, they quickly turned it back over.

Ayr thought they would have a bit of a saunter in the mud too, scrum-half David Armstrong, winger Cameron Taylor, centre Stafford McDowall, stand-off Frazier Climo, number eight Blair Macpherson and prop Steven Longwell moving the ball through the hands.

Inevitably, on such a day, there were errors aplenty and Melrose pounced on all.

The men from the Greenyards turned over in their own twenty-two and flew off. Full-back Fraser Thomson chased a kick into Ayr's half only to pull up with an injury that forced him to leave the pitch for the remainder of the game.

It was scrum-half Murdo McAndrew who claimed the ball and got over for the try, stand-off Jason Baggott easily converting. 0-7.

Ayr had the chance to get on the scoreboard but Climo's penalty kick just curved away from the posts.

After a good kick for touch by full-back Grant Anderson that slid through the hands of Thomson's replacement Struan Hutchinson to give Ayr the line-out, the home team set off for the line with flanker Gregor Henry leading the way, but they were called back for crossing.

Henry had another go a few minutes later from another Ayr line-out, with second row Scott Sutherland, centre Danny McCluskey and winger Craig Gossman in support. The points came from the boot of Climo, however, as he kicked a penalty. 3-7.

There were a few wayward line-outs from both sides, but Ayr hooker David Young safely got the ball to George Hunter in Melrose's twenty-two, and the prop delicately flipped it to Armstrong. The scrum-half spotted the narrowest of gaps but his pass back to Young went awry.

More slipping and sliding and knocks-on occurred until Melrose put boot to ball but flanker Will Bordill charged it down and kicked on. Macpherson and Henry could see space out on the wing but the referee spotted a forward pass.
Another Climo penalty got Ayr within a point of the visitors. 6-7.

There were further attacking chances for both sides just before half-time, but Melrose were scuppered by thumping tackles by Gossman, whilst charges for Ayr from Armstrong and second row Robert McAlpine came to nothing.

Melrose started the second half well and were looking to spark their creative backs with a cross-field kick but it just wasn't the day for it. Baggott had a penalty kick but missed.

Ayr got into a slow and steady mind-set, barging rather than running, with forwards and backs working together to gradually move out of their own half.

Sutherland can always be relied on to thump his way through the defence, and it was such a move that released Taylor, Hunter and Bordill. Climo's cross-field kick went into Melrose hands but they had strayed off-side and Climo's next kick was for the corner.

Again, Melrose were where they shouldn't have been and Climo lined up a penalty. The kick was unsuccessful but it was still live and Melrose had a job to retrieve it and clear with Ayr's forwards swarming all over them metres from the try-line.
Melrose found themselves down to fourteen men when prop Nick Beavon was sin-binned for repeated professional fouls, but Ayr found it difficult to take advantage until it came to scrum time.

They dominated with the experienced Beavon on the sidelines, and Armstrong twice propelled himself at the line, finally being held up by the black and yellow defence.

Ayr were strong at the scrum again and the ball flew out to Anderson who timed his pass to Taylor well, the winger stepping away from the touchline and leaving the Melrose defence confused enough so he could dive over for a try. The conversion angle was too wide for Climo. 11-7.

Ayr were quickly back into attack through Macpherson and later Armstrong, Longwell and McCluskey. Another penalty opportunity arose but Climo couldn't land the kick at goal.

The final ten minutes were edge-of-the-seat stuff for the packed stand as Melrose camped out in Ayr's twenty-two, taking line-out after line-out. But Ayr defended solidly, poaching and clearing, and Melrose just couldn't engage their backs.

A brilliant kick and catch by Anderson got Ayr out of their own half and with Melrose's other prop Jamie Bhatti shown a yellow card for a no-arms tackle, it was almost all over.

Macpherson, Longwell and McAlpine headed for the try-line but couldn't find a way through and Climo booted the ball off the pitch to bring the game to an end.
Final score: Ayr 11 Melrose 7.

Slaters Menswear man of the match: Cameron Taylor.

- Elena Hogarth.

Photos by George McMillan.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Ayr v Melrose preview

An exciting afternoon lies ahead at Millbrae on Saturday as Scotland's two best teams go head-to-head in round five of the BT Premiership.

A battle between visiting top dogs Melrose and hosts Ayr, who are just a point behind the Borderers in the table, fans can expect some excellent rugby, and it's not just the supporters who are keenly anticipating the tie.

"Ayr and Melrose have enjoyed a number of fierce encounters in recent years, and we look forward to the challenge," says Ayr RFC head coach Calum Forrester. "Rob (Chrystie, Melrose coach) has got his team playing well, scoring points for fun and posing threats right across the team. Likewise, our performances have been improving over the weeks, and with both teams looking to preserve their unbeaten start to the season, it is set to be a great match."

Ayr's squad remains settled five weeks into the season, and there are only a few changes to the team. Frazier Climo returns at stand-off and David Young moves to the bench, with James Malcolm taking over at hooker.

Malcolm's fellow Glasgow Warrior, Canadian international prop Djustice Sears-Duru is in line to make his Ayr debut from the bench.

15. Grant Anderson (c); 14. Danny McCluskey, 13. Archie Russell, 12. Ross Curle, 11. Craig Gossman; 10. Frazier Climo, 9. David Armstrong; 1. George Hunter, 2. James Malcolm, 3. Steven Longwell; 4. Robert McAlpine, 5. Scott Sutherland; 6. Will Bordill, 7. Gregor Henry, 8. Blair Macpherson.

16. David Young, 17. Djustice Sears-Duru, 18. Craig Stevenson, 19. Cameron Taylor, 20. Jamie Bova.

15. Fraser Thomson; 14. Ross McCann, 13. Richard Taylor, 12. Craig Jackson, 11. Austin Lockington; 10. Jason Baggott, 9. Murdo McAndrew; 1. Jamie Bhatti, 2. Russell Anderson, 3. Nick Beavon; 4. James Head, 5. Ruaridh Knott; 6. Neil Irvine Hess, 7. Grant Runicman (c), 8. Ian Moddy.

16. Cammy McKay, 17. Dan Elkington, 18. Ali Grieve, 19. Struan Hutchinson, 20. Nyle Godsmark.

Kick-off 3pm!

Ayr 2nd XV v Melrose Storm, 3pm.

Cumnock v Millbrae RFC, 3pm.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Ayr Ladies 33 Stewartry Sirens 46

Ayr Ladies and Stewartry Sirens entertained the crowd with a try-fest at Millbrae on Friday night, but it was the visitors who came away with the win in the third round of the BT Premier League.

Stewartry had the lion's share of possession in the first quarter, with Ayr's back row of Rachael Mulholland, Kelsey Swift and Rachel Morrison leading the defence, backed up by centres Catriona Cowan and Laura McTaggart.

The back row proved handy in attack too, as did second rows Phoebe McDowall and Joanne Jones and props Laura Turner and Lauren Gunn.

But the Sirens were always ready to turn over and if they couldn't break that pink and black wall at first, they chipped away. Their patience was rewarded with an unconverted try. 0-5.

Ayr half-backs Catherine Shennan and Emily Irving were keen to boss the game but never got the chance in the first half, the Sirens smothering them and mopping up any errors. An interception and some incredibly fast footwork brought them another try, the conversion bouncing off the upright. 0-10.

It was an enjoyable game from a Stewartry perspective as they scored yet again (and yet again the conversion hit the post). 0-15.

But Ayr Ladies never give less than their all, as exemplified with some tenacious work at the scrum. Morrrison and Gunn got their heads down and went for the line, but the ladies from Castle Douglas were on their A game with their cover tackles.

They overthrew at the line-out though, allowing Turner to spark the attack. It was newcomer Claire Law, playing at full-back, who scurried over in the blink of an eye for a try. Shennan converted. 7-15.

Ayr hooker Lisa Croniken made several terrific breaks over the course of the evening, but the ladies in dark pink always managed to close her down. Their backs were like lightning, and Law and winger Kirsty Wilson were busy hauling them to the ground before they could do too much damage.

It wasn't enough though, as the Sirens slipped through and under the crossbar for a converted try. 7-22.

Mulholland tore their defence apart with half-time approaching, Jones, Turner, Irving, Gunn, Law and winger Lisa Main in support.

A brief stoppage for a Sirens injury gave everyone a breather but Ayr quickly got back into it, Turner shooting over for a try, Shennan converting. 14-22.

A mistake at the start of the second half gave Ayr a scrum on the half-way line, Mulholland breaking away from the back and superbly handing off a defender. Swift, who was here, there and everywhere throughout the evening, Cowan and Shennan took on the ball but couldn't breach the defence.

A series of penalties took the oomph out of the game but Croniken soon put it back in with a scintillating try and Shennan got another great conversion. 21-22.

Sirens still had plenty gas left in the tank and after poaching Ayr's line-out, made for the try-line only to knock on.

They soon regained possession, but Ayr then turned over after solid tackles by Law and Wilson, and more blasting runs by Mulholland and Croniken.

The ball loose, Swift hacked on for Turner to chase. Stewartry retrieved it and cleared.

Ayr leaked a couple of penalties to put the pressure back on, and a beautiful dink over the top of the defence and deft catch by the Sirens gave them another try. It was unconverted. 21-27.

The home team were still undaunted, the centres and back row forcing their way out of their own half. After a penalty against the Sirens, Mulholland sprinted away for a try. The conversion eluded Shennan. 26-27.

The match just started to get away from Ayr though. The longer it went on, the more the Sirens' confidence grew. They got another converted try between the sticks and an unconverted one (a third kick to hit the post) in the corner. 26-39.

Great handling by Gunn and Swift let Mulholland loose and she claimed her second try of the evening. Shennan converted in front of the posts. 33-39.

Stewartry got a penalty and after swithering whether to go for the posts (those three that hit the upright on their minds?), they took the corner. It didn't bring them any points, but their power at the scrum did. They shoved Ayr off the ball right at the end to get their final converted try. 33-46.

- Elena Hogarth.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Hawick 28 Ayr 43

The sun was shining at Mansfield Park on Saturday afternoon as Hawick and Ayr squared up in the fourth round of the BT Premiership, with the visitors emerging as 43-28 winners.

All eyes were on Glasgow Warriors' and Scotland's Finn Russell as he made his competitive return from injury, and at times, there seemed to be more cameras and long lenses - not to mention present and future Scotland coaches - than fans in the stand.

There has never been any love lost between the tough Borderers in green and the men in pink and black, and there was tension from the off. The home side fed off it and made an excellent start, slippery winger Darcy Graham eluding the tackles, despite the best efforts of Ayr's Russell and Ross Curle.

Full-back Neil Renwick flew in for an exciting try that sent the home crowd into raptures. He converted his own score. 7-0.

The dynamic duo of Graham and Renwick were causing all kinds of problems with their slick passing and speedy footwork, but Ayr's front row of George Hunter, David Young and Steven Longwell brought them to a halt.

Ayr wanted to stretch their legs too, Archie Russell, playing alongside big brother Finn for the first time, and Craig Gossman dancing their way up the wing only to be forced into touch.

Gossman was quickly back in the thick of it, supporting Hunter, scrum-half David Armstrong and full-back Grant Anderson, but handling errors put an end to any scoring hopes.

Set pieces were exchanged and both sides gave away penalties. A small scuffle broke out but Ayr settled at their line-out and Russell the younger, second row Scott Sutherland, Curle, flanker Will Bordill, Russell the elder and winger Danny McCluskey combined seamlessly to send Armstrong scurrying away for a try. But it was disallowed after tempers boiled over and Sutherland was shown a yellow card for foul play.

Hawick couldn't take advantage though, Finn Russell swarming all over them in both attack and defence. Ayr number eight Blair Macpherson was on battering-ram form, and along with Russell and Curle, he bashed his way through the green defence and flanker Gregor Henry propelled himself over the line for a try. Finn Russell converted. 7-7.

You can't keep Hawick down for long, and soon bearded menace Bruce McNeil barrelled over for a try, which Renwick converted. 14-7.

Gossman, Anderson, Armstrong and Hunter were on the look-out for any gap, but Hawick closed them down. A line-out from a penalty allowed Longwell to bulldoze up the pitch, second row Craig Stevenson (on for Rob McAlpine) taking the ball on until Archie Russell zoomed away for a try, converted by his brother. 14-14.

Half-time brought some respite for the fans, who were just as invested in the game. Hawick were straight back into their frenzy of attack as soon as play resumed.

It didn't get them far as Young and Henry closed down any attempts to break free. Soon, Ayr had possession, Bordill blasted through the green shirts and Curle used his balletic feet and his strength to get over in the corner without being dragged into touch. Russell couldn't convert. 14-19.

Archie Russell and McCluskey next had a go, with Anderson chipping a few moments later and getting dangerously close to Hawick's line. The green wall was intact though, at that point anyway, but not when Finn Russell sailed away for a try he converted himself. 14-26.

Armstrong stuck like glue to Hawick's attackers and they failed to swat him aside. If he wasn't ripping the ball from their hands, he was leading the charge. He was in about everything, as was Longwell, who fired into the defence and perfectly popped the ball away to his backs.

Hawick fought hard for a turnover but Curle and Armstrong were upon them, Sutherland and Henry there to back them up in a fraught phase of play that saw possession change hands until Macpherson got the ball and barged over for a try. The conversion was out wide and Russell couldn't make it. 14-31.

Cameron Taylor replaced Curle, who was joined on the bench by Finn Russell, Frazier Climo replacing him.

Hawick composed themselves, flanker Stuart Graham looking fleet of foot and deft of hand. A couple of penalties given away by Ayr gave the home team the opportunity to fight back and it was McNeil who scored. Replacement Kirk Ford took over kicking duties and easily slotted the conversion. 21-31.

Armstrong and Climo tightened Ayr's grip on the game and let their forwards loose. Henry took the ball into the greens' twenty-two and after a few phases, it returned to the backs and Archie Russell got his second try of the match. Climo couldn't convert. 21-36.

Robbie Smith replaced Young at hooker and joined fellow young gun Stevenson in some energetic play. But Ayr were pinged for holding on, although Hawick's kick for the corner landed right in the bread basket for Taylor.

That set Ayr off again, Bordill chipping on into Hawick's half. But crossing stopped their efforts to get to the try-line. A scrum right in front of the posts gave them another opportunity and a lovely pass from Armstrong let Macpherson get his brace. Climo converted. 21-43.

There was still time for Hawick to make a comeback, or so the fans thought; the clock had other ideas. They didn't help themselves by overthrowing at the line-out but it mattered not when they had winger Wesley Hamilton ready to fly over for a consolation try, which Ford converted. 28-43.

Ayr fancied another trip to the Hawick try-line but ended up in touch, bringing a tiring and fractious encounter to an end.

Final score: Hawick 28 Ayr 43.

- Elena Hogarth.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Ayr Ladies v Stewartry Sirens preview

It's the battle of the south-west at Millbrae tonight as Ayr Ladies and Stewartry Sirens meet in the BT Premier League for the first time, kicking off at 7.45pm.

The two newcomers to the top tier of Scottish women's rugby have had a similar rise to prominence and know each other very well. This will be a hard-fought game.

Laura Turner again leads the team from the front row, with the dynamic duo of Catherine Shennan and Emily Irving bossing proceedings at half-back.

Ann-Marie Connelly takes her place on the bench, with youngsters Kelsey Brown and Connie Griffiths adding youth to experience amongst the replacements.

15. Claire Law; 14. Kirsty Wilson, 13. Laura McTaggart, 12. Catriona Cowan, 11. Linsey Bunten; 10. Catherine Shennan, 9. Emily Irving; 1. Laura Turner (c), 2. Lisa Croniken, 3. Lauren Gunn; 4. Phoebe McDowall, 5. Joanne Jones; 6. Rachel Morrison, 7. Kelsey Swift, 8. Rachael Mulholland.

16. Louise McLauchlan, 17. Michelle Nelson, 18. Sonja Liekens, 19. Kelsey Brown, 20. Lisa Main, 21. Ann-Marie Connelly, 22. Eilidh Stewart, 23. Connie Griffiths.

Kick-off 7.45pm!

Hawick v Ayr preview

Ayr travel to Mansfield Park on Saturday to face Hawick in the BT Premiership with Glasgow Warriors' and Scotland's Finn Russell starting at stand-off.

Russell was a league and cup winner with Ayr three years ago before becoming a professional player and everyone at Millbrae is delighted to see him back in a pink and black shirt. He'll line up alongside younger brother Archie, who joined Ayr last season, to make his long-awaited return from injury.

"It's great for the BT Premiership to have the link with the pro clubs," says Ayr head coach Calum Forrester, "and with international players getting released on a weekly basis, it will only raise the profile of our club game."

He continues: "Mansfield is always a challenging environment to play in and we will need to improve on last week's performance if we are to get the result we desire."

The vastly experienced second row Scott Sutherland makes his first appearance of the season, with Danny McCluskey moving to the wing, and hooker David Young, centre Ross Curle and scrum-half David Armstrong return to the starting line-up.

On the bench, young guns Robbie Smith, Adam Prentice and Craig Stevenson take their place with Cameron Taylor and Frazier Climo.

15. Grant Anderson (c); 14. Danny McCluskey, 13. Archie Russell, 12. Ross Curle, 11. Craig Gossman; 10. Finn Russell, 9. David Armstrong; 1. George Hunter, 2. David Young, 3. Steven Longwell; 4. Robert McAlpine, 5. Scott Sutherland; 6. Will Bordill, 7. Gregor Henry, 8. Blair Macpherson.

16. Robbie Smith, 17. Adam Prentice, 18. Craig Stevenson, 19. Cameron Taylor, 20. Frazier Climo.

15. Neil Renwick; 14. Darcy Graham, 13. John Coutts, 12. Gary Johnstone, 11. Wesley Hamilton; 10. Lee Armstrong, 9. Bruce Campbell; 1. Matt Landels, 2. Fraser Renwick, 3. Callum Mackintosh; 4. Dylan Harlen, 5. Michael Robertson; 6. Bruce McNeil (c), 7. Stuart Graham, 8. Keith Davies.

16. Terry Skeet, 17. Ryan Hogg, 18. Ross Gibson, 19. Kirk Ford, 20. Grant Huggan.

Kick-off 3pm. Follow the scores live on Twitter or watch live via the Scottish Rugby YouTube channel.