Sunday, 21 April 2013

Melrose 25 Ayr 28

It was an RBS Cup Final of epic proportions as Ayr took on their old rivals Melrose and needed 100 minutes to secure the victory and ensure that the trophy cabinet at Millbrae would be fit to bursting.

When both teams took to the pitch at Murrayfield, silverware was already making its way back to Ayrshire thanks to Marr, who had just beaten Livingston to claim the RBS Shield.  It was good to see the purple and gold-clad fans stick around to swell the ranks of the already abundant pink and black army that had brought the beach party to the home of Scottish rugby.

Ayr got off to a good start, with scrum-half Peter Jericevich getting points on the board after just a minute of play with a successful penalty kick.  0-3.

Melrose, of course, were up for the challenge, stealing Ayr's line-out only for their flanker John Dalziel to get sin-binned for some foul play.  However, even down to fourteen men, they were dangerous, especially full back Fraser Thomson, who was keen to stretch his legs.

With ten minutes on the clock, Melrose got the opportunity to even up the scores, centre Joe Helps kicking a penalty.  3-3.

Ayr got right back into the thick of things though.  A move started off by outside centre Robbie Fergusson released winger Richard Dalgleish, who dived over in the far corner for the first try.  Jericevich couldn't make the wide conversion.  3-8.

Melrose were clearly getting frustrated and some back chat didn't help them, as they were told to retreat ten metres.  Their indiscipline gave Ayr another kick at goal, Jericevich slotting the penalty.  3-11.

Ayr were then pinged for not rolling away, and Helps took the three points.  6-11.

Both teams seemed fairly evenly matched, and every opportunity that Ayr got to release their backs was swiftly snuffed out by the Melrose defence and vice versa. Forward passes and knocks-on from each side didn't help matters, but these seemed more forced errors rather than silly mistakes, as they tried to battle their way into each other's halves.

At twenty-six minutes, Helps had another successful penalty kick to close the gap to 9-11

Ayr's flying winger Craig Gossman was heavily marked throughout, as expected, but made some lion-hearted tackles and had a couple of great takes in the air, one of which, unfortunately, saw him crash into team-mate Ross Curle.  After a few minutes on the ground, the diminutive winger was back on his feet, much to the relief of the players and fans.

Captain Calum Forrester did what he has done all season, and led from the front, with some spirited charges.  Full back Grant Anderson carried on his fine form from last week's Melrose Sevens, appearing all over the park and kicking well from hand.  Also showing good handling skills was hooker Hayden Wisnewski.

Half-time came with the scores unchanged and the game resumed with real tension in the air.  Everyone knew before the match how close it would be, and it really counted for nothing that Ayr had beaten Melrose twice in the league this season.  The men in black and yellow continued to swarm all over their opponents, and Helps' fourth penalty kick nosed them into the lead for the first time.  12-11.

Things got worse for Ayr as second row Scott Sutherland, who was later assisted off with a nasty-looking leg injury, was sin-binned at forty-eight minutes.  Helps' penalty hit the post but still went over.  15-11.

The addition of replacement prop Nick Cox bolstered Ayr, and along with flankers Andy Dunlop and Ross Doneghan, he worked hard to gain some territory.  Battering ram inside centre Dean Kelbrick also helped to get Ayr into Melrose's half, but the men from the Borders turned them over twice in quick succession.

Ayr regained possession and worked their way side-to-side to the try-line.  It was aptly Cox who finally managed to barrel over at sixty-four minutes.  With Jericevich off, Curle took over the kicking duties and deftly nabbed the conversion.  15-18.

Nobody in pink and black was heaving a sigh of relief, however.  Melrose continued to press on, getting another penalty chance, which Richard Mill duly kicked.  18-18.

Ayr were penalised for holding on, but somehow managed to steal Melrose's line-out, although they could do nothing with it.  Then, with a minute to go, they were awarded a penalty in a kickable position.  Curle stepped up, but booted it too far to the right.  The clocked ticked to eighty minutes, and the match went into extra time.

After a short break, both teams began again, and it was man-of-the-match Cox who hurled himself over the line for a try just two minutes after the resumption of play.  Curle narrowly missed the conversion.  18-23.

Again, nobody was taking this lead for granted, but Melrose caught Ayr on the hop, and a couple of minutes later chipped up the pitch, with Thomson collecting to dive over for a score that left everyone stunned.  Andrew Skeen's conversion saw Melrose edge in front.  25-23.

They nearly extended that lead in the second half of extra time with Bruce Dick going for a drop goal that floated wide. 

As the clock ticked away, it seemed that Melrose would be taking the cup home, but Ayr were not to be dismissed.  Roared on by their dedicated fans, the men in pink and black were patient, getting possession back from a wayward Melrose kick and working their way into their twenty-two and then camping out on the five-metre line.  Ruck seemed to follow ruck.  The Melrose defence was holding firm. 

Time was up, but Ayr carried on, replacement scrum-half Murray McConnell eventually finding his backs, who got the ball into the hands of replacement winger Cammy Taylor.  In his fourth RBS Cup Final appearance, Taylor dived over in the far corner for a last gasp try that sent the fans, the players and the coaches into raptures and secured a remarkable victory to cap a remarkable season.

Nobody seemed to notice Anderson missing the conversion to make the final score 25-28.  Everyone was too busy celebrating but also commiserating with a hugely disappointed Melrose side.  They played their hearts out in a truly memorable final, but the spoils go to an Ayr team who showed great spirit, determination and mettle.

Elena Hogarth.

(All photos Rob Hardie/Touchline Images)

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