Ayr Ladies found themselves in a fiercely contested second round match of the Sarah Beaney Cup on Sunday at Millbrae. You only had to hear their opponents, Cartha Ladies, roaring at each other in the changing room before kick-off to know that it was going to be a tough encounter.
It was the home team who got off to the better start, with inside centre and captain Laura Turner taking advantage of the visitors' early handling errors to run round the defenders and score a try in the corner. Jackie O'Neil couldn't manage the wide conversion. 5-0.
Considering Ayr had lost by more than fifty points when they faced Cartha in the league last month, it was a terrific start and a wake-up call for the visitors.
Ayr held their own at the early scrums, but they gave away a penalty in a kickable position and although it hit the crossbar, it bounced over for Cartha. 5-3.
Cartha displayed their good handling and running and put Ayr under pressure in their own half, but determined tackling from scrum-half Niamh Durnan, hooker Saara Vakiparta and number eight Lynda Morgan ensured they never got near the try-line.
When Ayr did get their hands on the ball, they were pinned into their own half by Cartha, who were perhaps over-zealous as they were warned several times about high tackles.
The visitors dominated the line-out at times, but again their open play only got them so far before they ran into the ladies in pink and black, outside centre Daryl Paterson and winger Ann-Marie Connelly leading the way with some determined tackling.
Ayr's strong defence was forcing Cartha handling errors, but their full-back held on to the ball to take off on a dangerous-looking run only to find Vakiparta and stand-off Rachel Mulholland waiting to shove her into touch.
Mulholland was also on form in attack, proving a strong runner, as was full-back Catherine Shennan, but handling errors were creeping into Ayr's game too.
It was already proving a bruising encounter; after a couple of the Cartha players were attended to by the physios, Ayr winger Sarah Paterson took a crack to the face, but got up and carried on.
It wasn't long before Cartha regained possession and out-ran the Ayr defence to an unconverted try in the corner. 5-8.
Ayr Ladies didn't get despondent though. A fine restart kick put Cartha under pressure and the Ayr defence quickly swarmed round them to push them into touch and claim a line-out which they easily secured.
It got slightly ragged from both sides, as the ball was knocked-on a few times more. Cartha found themselves in a difficult position as Ayr stayed solid in the scrum in their opponents' twenty-two and the ball came flying out and bobbled around tantalisingly close to Cartha's try-line. They gathered but knocked-on, giving Ayr the scrum this time. Morgan picked up from the back and it was fired through the hands only for the referee to claim a knock-on, much to the chagrin of the crowd.
Ayr had another opportunity a few minutes later when Cartha were pinged for coming in from the side, but they couldn't get past the defenders.
The second half began with an exchange of line-outs and it was Cartha who managed to launch the first dangerous attacks. They were well snuffed out by Daryl Paterson and Connelly though, with Mulholland, Turner and O'Neil in on the act too.
The home team was once again trapped in their own half, with Turner making the only foray into enemy territory from a quick tap-and-go which unfortunately led to nothing.
There was an enforced break as Ayr's second row Ruth Barclay-Paterson, who had been terrorising the opposition up until that point, was injured in a ruck and an ambulance was called.
With Barclay-Paterson safely carried from the field and off to hospital, play resumed and Ayr were under the cosh again. Cartha had two scrums in Ayr's twenty-two and when desperate defence led to a tap-and-go for the visitors, they barged over for a converted try. 5-15.
Ayr Ladies could have gone to pieces at this point, but they put their heads down and worked hard. Props Louise McLauchlan and Lindsay Dick, flanker Laura Somerville and second row Zoe Montgomerie steadied the ship, whilst Vakiparta again put in some tough tackles.
But they were not happy when Shennan was the victim of a nasty-looking tackle and after replacement Megan Thomson and Daryl Paterson charged for the try-line, a scuffle broke out with the crowd accusing the visitors of foul play.
Tempers were quickly calmed by both teams' back room staff and Ayr were awarded the penalty. They couldn't make use of it, but moments later Cartha were again on the wrong side of Ayr, the crowd and this time the referee, who brandished a yellow card.
With the one-player advantage, Turner dived over for her second try of the day, which almost resulted in yet more scrapping. O'Neil lined up the conversion and despite half the Cartha team roaring and charging at her, calmly booted it between the uprights. 12-15.
Ayr pressed on for the remainder of the match, but good work from Daryl Paterson, Durnan and Mulholland couldn't get them another try. But they did themselves proud with a very determined display against a vastly experienced side.
Final score: Ayr Ladies 12 Cartha Ladies 15.
- Elena Hogarth.