Ayr leave it late to see off Llandovery in Millbrae thriller.
Llandovery travelled to Millbrae for the second time this season, the initial B & I fixture in December being called off due to heavy frost. The tie had all the promise of being an exciting affair and both teams did not let the crowd down by contributing to an end-to-end game that could have gone either way right until the final whistle.
The Millbrae men knew that only a win would be enough to keep their quarter final hopes alive.
Ayr welcomed back their 5 Club international players for this tie as well as influential forwards Scott Sutherland and Paul Burke. With no game last week coach Kenny Murray was hopeful that his men would hit the ground running and get the all important win.
Ayr kicked off towards the Burns monument and immediately put the visitors under pressure. With the forwards and backs linking well together the home side put 10 phases together before Llandovery illegally interfered with AJ Macfarlane at a ruck. The referee signalled for a penalty and Ross Curle stepped up to stroke a lovely 45 metre penalty to get Ayr’s first points on the board. Ayr 3 Llandovery 0.
This lead didn’t last long however as straight from the kick off Andy Dunlop obstructed an opponent and the referee awarded a penalty in front of the posts. The kick was successful and the score was leveled at Ayr 3 Llandovery 3.
Llandovery extended their lead less than a minute later when poor play in the back field saw a Grant Anderson clearance kick charged down and Ayr were forced to carry the ball over their own line. From the resulting Llandovery scrum Ayr were penalised for taking it down and Llandovery accepted the 3 points. Ayr 3 Llandovery 6.
This penalty seemed to inspire Llandovery and they started to exert pressure on the Ayr defence. Their big strong running forwards were proving a handful and their backs were showing that they were capable of creating space with limited ball. Ayr seemed to be a bit lackluster, making poor decisions with ball in hand and struggling to dominate the contact against their bigger counterparts.
It wasn’t long before the first try came and on the 18th minute Llandovery made the break through. Ross Curle fielded a kick midway in his own half and drove a cross-field kick straight into the hands of a Llandovery player. The big back row sprinted back at the Ayr defence and bounced off Gordon Reid before off-loading to the right-winger who went in at the corner. The conversion was missed and the score stood at Ayr 3 Llandovery 11.
Ayr reacted well to this try and started to get themselves back into the game. They put together some good passages of play with Colhoun and Dunlop both looking hungry for the ball. The Llandovery defence stood firm however with some outstanding defence from flanker Nio Aiono.
The Ayr forwards started to get on top a little and were unlucky not to score following series of lineouts in the visitors 22. They were also starting to get an advantage in the scrum and forced 2 turnovers as a result of the scrum turning 90 degrees.
It was from a turnover at the scrum that helped create Ayr’s first try. The scrum was reset after it had gone 90 degrees and a clever blindside move involving Dunlop and MacFarlane created space for full-back Anderson to burst through the Llandovery defence and send Manning over the whitewash. Ross Curle hit the post with the conversion and the gap was closed to Ayr 8 Llandovery 11 with 34 minutes played.
Half-time: Ayr 8 Llandovery 11
Llandovery started the 2nd half well and played some good rugby at a high tempo. It was significant even at an early point in the 2nd half that the visiting scrum was starting to creak. A foot injury to Ayr number 8, Glen Tippett, forced an early change and he was replaced by influential flanker Paul Burke.
Ayr were soon reduced to 14 men when Stuart Fenwick collapsed a driving maul close to the Ayr goal-line. The referee had a clear view and sent the player to the bin fro 10mins.
Llandovery took advantage of the extra man advantage straight away when following a turnover from an Ayr lineout the welsh stand-off dropped a goal to take the score to Ayr 8 Llandovery 14 with 45 minutes played.
Ayr’s 14 men worked hard during this stage of the game but Llandovery were proving to be a handful and the visitors eventually breached the home try line. From a lineout on the right touchline Llandovery got Ayr on the back foot with some effective pick and go play. As the ball was spun wide the Llandovery centre came back on an angle and beat a lazy Ayr defence to send the right winger in at the corner. The conversion was missed and the score was extended in the visitors favour to Ayr 8 Llandovery 19 with 50mins played.
Ayr made further changes at this point with Scott Sutherland replacing Dean Stewart, Scott Nimmo replacing Damien Kelly and Stephen Adair replacing Stuart Fenwick This seemed to give Ayr a second wind and they started to dominate the visitors at scrum and at contact. Most of the play was taking place in the Llandovery 22 and only some poor final decision-making stopped the hosts getting the much needed try.
The home forwards eventually became too much too handle and forced Llandovery into submission. On the 61st minute Llandovery were awarded a scrum on their own 5 metre line. The Ayr pack attacked the visitors scrum and a skillful strike against the head by Stephen Adair allowed Andy Dunlop to pick up at the base and crash over the Llandovery line. Ross Curle converted the kick and the gap was closed to Ayr 15 Llandovery 19 with 19 minutes remaining.
Ayr continued to pressure the Llandovery defence and by this stage the home forwards were on fire. Their close contact defence was stopping every attack and their dominance in the scrum resulted in a turnover almost very time. The pressure became too much for the visitors and on the 70th minute Ayr camped on the visitors 5 metre line. Following a series of scrums Andy Dunlop powered over to put Ayr ahead with 10 minutes to play. Curle missed the conversion and the score stood at Ayr 20 Llandovery 19.
The final 10 minutes were not for the faint hearted with both teams determined not to lose the game. Llandovery forced their way into the Ayr half and had several lineouts in good attacking positions. They continued to go through the phases but the Ayr defence was outstanding and could not be broken.
Final Score: Ayr 20 Llandovery 19
This was an excellent cup-tie that could have gone either way even until the final whistle.
Head Coach Kenny Murray was pleased with the win:
“ I’m really proud of the way the players dug deep to win this huge game. In all honesty we didn’t start playing until about the 30th minute and we allowed Llandovery to dictate the game in the first half. I felt that our application and attitude in the 2nd half was outstanding, particularly in the forwards where we dominated the scrum. It was great to see Paul Burke and Scott Sutherland back in action and I felt that they, along with Stephen Adair and Scott Nimmo, made a huge impact when they came on.
This win now gives us an unprecedented opportunity to reach the quarter-final of the B & I Cup if we can get past Doncaster when we play them at the end of February”
Ayr now must beat Doncaster to become the first Scottish team to reach the quarter-final of the British & Irish Cup. This game will take place at Millbrae on Saturday 26th February. This will undoubtedly be one of the biggest games in the clubs history and your support on the day will no doubt spur the boys on.
Before that however Ayr return to Premier 1 business when they travel to Hawick next Saturday for another must win game.