Another slow start from Ayr almost got them into trouble but they managed to make a good comeback to overcome a determined Stirling County in the BT Premiership at Millbrae on a wintery afternoon.
The crowd had barely settled into their seats when County were awarded a penalty, drove from a line-out and sent second row Ruaridh Leishman over for a try, which was converted by full-back Jeff Hope. 0-7.
There was some crafty work at the line-out by Ayr and a good early jinking run from man-of-the-match David Armstrong, and it wasn't long before the visitors infringed at the scrum, giving Ross Curle a kickable penalty, which he duly took. 3-7.
County were proving very slippery in the damp and cold conditions and Ayr couldn't contain them. The home side's penalty count didn't help either, and Stirling were charging for the line again, centre Danny Gilmour going over for try number two. Hope again converted. 3-14.
Curle had another chance at goal but his second attempt flew away to the side of the post.
Ayr settled for a while, with second row Rob McAlpine, flanker Callum Templeton and prop George Hunter leading the attack. Returning full-back Grant Anderson was superb under the high ball but the game began to lose its shape for a few minutes, with errors from both sides.
The scrums held well considering the muddy pitch and Ayr's number eight Blair Macpherson made the most of it to launch himself into attack, but he was well wrapped up by County and unable to get the ball away to winger Robbie Fergusson.
It was fired out of the ensuing ruck and kicked on, with flanker Will Bordill taking it brilliantly in Stirling's half and charging on. From there, it was moved through the hands and chipped on for winger Craig Gossman to chase but the opposition defenders took it into touch.
The resulting line-out led to Ayr's most promising-looking attack where they pressed for the try for several minutes, but again that solid Stirling defence prevented them from crossing. The visitors ended up off-side though and Curle booted the penalty. 6-14.
County had one thing on their mind in the first half and that was to score tries and Gilmour was almost over again when he shot through the Ayr defence and sprinted fifty metres. Anderson was hot on his heels though and dragged him down a metre from the line.
It was a nail-biting period for the crowd as County refused to capitulate, despite the excellent defensive efforts of Fergusson, Curle and Gossman. Again, Ayr didn't help themselves by giving away penalties and it got worse when second row Scott Sutherland found himself in the sin bin for repeated infringements.
The man-advantage allowed Stirling hooker Reyner Kennedy to dive over for their third try, which went unconverted. 6-19.
Despite being a player down, Ayr kept their heads up and pushed play right into County's half and a fantastic charge down from Templeton as the visitors tried to clear got Ayr a scrum. Centre and captain Dean Kelbrick became a makeshift flanker to add some heft and the ball was fired out to Fergusson who skipped through a gap to get a much-needed try. Curle converted. 13-19.
Another knock-on from Stirling put a stop to a good period of attack from the visitors, and yet again Macpherson was great from the back of the scrum. That allowed Curle, Hunter, prop D'arcy Rae, hooker Fergus Scott and Bordill to go roaming but County turned it over.
The two sides traded line-outs but Ayr gave Stirling the upper hand just before half-time with a knock-on. County's scrum got nowhere, though, after an enormous shove from the Ayr forwards.
More knocks-on marked the start of the second half to bring groans from both sets of supporters, but they were soon laughing in disbelief at Gossman's unique tackling style which saw him jump into the arms of a Stirling attacker, legs flailing, before finally dragging him down.
The errors and infringements continued from both sides, with Stirling giving Curle another chance in front of the posts, which he took to close the gap. 16-19.
The visitors' discipline let them down and not long after they got a ticking off for taking Sutherland out of the air, flanker Shaun McDonald was yellow-carded for a high tackle on Gossman.
From the line-out, Hunter, replacement prop Jerry Yanuyanutawa and Curle pressed for the line. They were twice held up and when the ball did go out wide, it was knocked on by Gossman.
With both teams tiring, or perhaps numbing in the plummeting temperature, the handling errors were ever more prevalent and the kicks increased. A beautiful take from Armstrong let stand-off Danny McCluskey sprint from his own half for a thrilling try, converted by Curle. 23-19.
McCluskey had a good second half, proving himself just as deadly in defence as attack and he was quick to put a stop to anything by Stirling.
A good take at the line-out by Sutherland let the man who threw it, Dougie Hall, score Ayr's third try after a determined drive for the line. Curle couldn't convert this time. 28-19.
County wouldn't lie down and roll over and they were soon ripping the ball from Hall's hands and making off into Ayr's half. It came to nothing though and they gave away another penalty.
The fans and the players thought Anderson had raced away for the bonus-point fourth try but the referee called him back for a forward pass. Ayr took the scrum against the head and went for the line and yet again the referee and his assistants deemed a forward pass had been thrown.
The visitors had one last dash into Ayr's half, determined to close the gap and get a bonus point of their own. They couldn't get a try, largely thanks to the defensive efforts of Templeton, Fergusson and Anderson, but they had a penalty and Hope took the three points. 28-22.
That brought the game to a close. Ayr remain in second place in the BT Premiership table. There's going to be a tussle for the top spots when the league resumes in January.
Final score: Ayr 28 Stirling County 22.
- Elena Hogarth.