Pontypridd 33 Ayr 12
It was never going to be easy for Ayr against top Welsh club and current league leaders Pontypridd, particularly having gone down to a last minute score at Millbrae when the two met in the British and Irish Cup last season. What was a meticulously planned build up to their opening game in the cross border competition was totally disrupted by the weather with the distinct possiblity at one point that the game would have to be cancelled as Wales suffered the same freezing conditions as were being experienced north of the border.
The game finally went ahead on Sunday with Pontypridd’s Sardis Road ground having proved unplayable on Saturday and again on Sunday so at the Memorial Ground, Cardiff, home of Glamorgan Wanderers, the game eventually kicked off at 1pm.
Ayr barely had time to notice the surroundings before Ponty had five points on the board, full back Gareth Wyatt going over in the corner to give the home side the best possible start.
Ayr knew it was respond or be overrun and they did just that after five minutes and with slick hands in heavy conditions they piled the pressure on the Ponty line for Gordon Reid to claim yet another try in a competition which featured his name among the top try scorers for a while last season. Ayr were forcing Ponty into mistakes as their scrum provided a solid platform and when the ball went loose, it was snaffled up, Mark Bennett chipped forward and Cammy Taylor went over under the posts for Frazier Climo to convert after twenty two minutes.
The Ayr back row of Jono Crossan, Andy Dunlop and Rob Calhoun were rampant and they were responsible for Ayr winning the breakdown battle but ominously they were unable to add to their total before the break and it was Ponty who closed the gap thanks to a Dean Gunter penalty on the half hour which saw Ayr go in with only a narrow four point lead at 12-8.
Into the second half, Ponty upped the tempo and the aggression and with some useful citizens joining the fray from the bench, the game started to turn their way. Gunter banged over a penalty nine minutes into the second half after tempers flared and that was a sign that Ponty were taking control then with the final quarter approaching, replacement No10 Simon Humberstone stuck over the penalty which gave Ponty the lead as Andy Dunlop trudged off to the sin bin.
Ayr were now consistently on the defensive and when Humberstone’s cross kick found Dafydd Lockyer, the centre put Baller, on for Wyatt, over for the home side’s second try. Humberstone converted from wide out and the nine point gap was an almighty mountain for Ayr to climb, particularly since they were now playing so much of the game on the back foot and it became a damage limitation exercise as Ponty now reversed things in the set piece to take the upper hand.
Ayr, with the lack of game time over the past few weeks now telling, continued to defend desperately, too desperately in the case of Glen Tippett who was yellow carded and with Ayr a man down, they found themselves under the cosh and at the wrong end of a penalty try awarded on the eighty minute mark which Humberstone converted. Into injury time Ponty again exposed Ayr’s numerical shortcoming for Adam Thomas to crash over for the try which gave Pontypridd the bonus points and a clear lead in Pool D.
“It looked good for us in the first half with the scrum really solid, the back row dominating and Frazier Climo turning them with some great kicks to the corners” said Ayr Director of Rugby Jock Craig. “We were certainly worth our lead at half time but then we seemed to be unable to maintain that superiority and keep it going into the second half and they started to get the upper hand at the breakdown and we lost our momentum. It was really disappointing to lose the two late tries because it skewed the scoreline but in the end they upped their game enough and we had no answer after half time.”
Coach Kenny Murray was philosophical about the result. “The preparations were very difficult for the players, first of all not knowing if the game would go ahead then where we would be playing and then turning up to find the pitch still frozen so there was a lot of uncertainty. Having said that we put them under a lot of pressure in was a very good first half but then we ran out of steam. The fact that we were a bit rusty is hardly surprising since we haven’t played since the Hawks game on November 20th and there was always the risk that we would run out of steam particularly since we played fifteen of the last twenty minutes with fourteen men.”
“Having said that, Ponty have a big aggressive pack and they control the game well so you can see why they are top of the league and they really took the game over in the second half when we started to struggle from our lack of game time for three weeks.”
“There is a lot for us to work on but we know from our first half performance what we can do so we will try to replicate that against Llandovery on Saturday. The boys will be really up for that one, a big game in front of a home crowd against a side we have been told by the Ponty lads not to underestimate or be fooled by their lowly position in the league.” The Ayr coach also acknowledged the help of Glasgow Hawks who had, as is permissible under the rules of the competition, loaned Ayr lock Nick Campbell and prop George Hunter.
In the bottom reaches of the league they may be but Llandovery came up with a great result at Rotherham Titans, winning 34-17 and showing that they can play a bit away from home as well. The other match in Pool D between Birmingham and Doncaster fell foul of the weather so the Pool looks like this; Pontypridd top with nine points from two games, Llandovery next with four from two then Ayr trailing Rotherham Titans in fourth spot on differential, each yet to pick up a point.
It is going to be an absolute belter at Millbrae on Saturday (kick off 3pm) and Ayr will be pulling out all the stops in the knowledge that if they are going to progress to the quarter finals of the British and Irish Cup, home wins are imperative.
Grant Anderson; Robbie Fergusson, Mark Bennett, Ross Curle, Cammy Taylor; Frazier Climo, AJ MacFarlane; Gordon Reid, Stuart Fenwick, Andy Kelly, Damien Kelly, Nick Campbell(Hawks), Jono Crossan, Rob Calhoun, Andy Dunlop. Subs Stephen Adair, George Hunter (Hawks), Peter McCallum, Glen Tippett, Dougie Steele, Richard McCallum, Murray Beckwith
Referee Michael Tutty (RFU)