Sunday, 29 March 2015

Melrose 13 Ayr 14

There was all to play for as Melrose welcomed Ayr to the Greenyards for the final BT Premiership fixture of the season on a blustery Saturday afternoon.

As well as the Bill McLaren Shield being up for grabs, there was the small matter of securing a home tie in next week's play-off semi-final to decide.

There was a real buzz about the famous ground as Melrose's youngsters paraded their season's silverware in front of the appreciative crowd before kick-off and then their tiniest players accompanied the starting fifteen on to the field as the main event was about to begin.

The home team very quickly gave their fans something to cheer about as they took a line-out after Ayr gave away an early penalty and rumbled all the way to the visitors' five-metre line, pink and black defenders bouncing off barrelling prop Nick Beavon as he searched for the try-line.  As play moved out to the backs, outside centre Austin Lockington slipped out of tackles, but a pass went sailing out of play instead of into the hands of wing Bruce Colvine.

It was something of a false dawn as Melrose conceded a penalty and allowed Ayr to drive from the ensuing line-out.  Captain Dean Kelbrick broke through the tackles to unleash his centre partner Robbie Fergusson who flew over for the try.  Full-back Grant Anderson struck the conversion marvellously in the wind.  0-7.

Melrose looked to replicate the feat when they had a line-out from a penalty but Ayr's forwards put on an almighty shove to prevent the maul getting anywhere.  Melrose knocked on and then infringed at the scrum, giving Ayr the line-out but the throw wasn't straight in the continual gusts.  Melrose again struggled at the scrum.  Ayr's scrum-half David Armstrong took the quick one and wing Cammy Taylor sped away but play broke up and they were brought back when Melrose strayed offside.

A few line-outs and a scrum for Ayr gave them a good platform to attack and number eight Blair Macpherson, Armstrong and Taylor pressed into Melrose's half.  Anderson, second row Scott Sutherland and flanker Will Bordill were strong but the hosts were pinged for not rolling away.  Anderson stepped up to the tee but the penalty attempt was wide.

Melrose got stuck into some good attacking play, with scrum-half Murdo McAndrew's kick for his backs to chase the best of their efforts, but it went just too far for anyone to ground.

It was a tough day for the front rows, with Ayr's Fraser Watt an early casualty - he was replaced by Stuart Fenwick - and his Melrose counterpart Ewan McQuillin also leaving the field to make way for Nicky Little.  Ayr were penalised at the scrum for not binding and Melrose stand-off Richard Mill had their first chance of points but pushed the kick wide.

Melrose got their hands on the ball and charged to the five-metre line before Ayr's wing Richard Dalgleish appeared from nowhere to drag down the attacker.  Stand-off Danny McCluskey also put in some hefty tackles before Ayr secured a turnover but it was deemed illegal and Melrose took the kick for the corner.

Some doughty defence from Ayr, led by prop George Hunter, snuffed out any attacking hopes the home team had but they soon got on the scoreboard with a penalty by Mill.  3-7.

Another penalty for Melrose followed and they took the line-out only for Ayr to steal the ball.  Macpherson, Anderson and Sutherland showed great hands to release McCluskey, who sprinted over for the try.  Anderson coped well with the wind and got the conversion.  3-14.

As half-time called, it was the left wings who tried to get things moving, with Ayr's Taylor and Melrose's Tito Mua each displaying some fancy footwork but the Greenyards side's handling again let them down and another pass was flung off the pitch.

The second half began with more messing about at the scrum and with Hunter substituted by Glasgow Warriors back-row James Eddie, they became uncontested as no other front row specialists were available for Ayr.

Melrose were soon trundling to Ayr's try-line and second row James Head claimed the score.  Colvine missed the conversion.  8-14.

Ayr turned over possession and Fergusson and flanker Andrew Dunlop spun their way out of tackles but they were later penalised for holding on.

The action slowed after the quick start to the half but Melrose captain Fraser Thomson tried to liven things up.  He couldn't get past the attentions of Anderson, McCluskey and hooker Fergus Scott.  Tempers frayed and a small scuffle broke out but it was quickly smoothed over.

Melrose dug in, desperate for another try, but Glasgow Warriors' Dougie Hall led the defence for Ayr alongside second row Rob McAlpine, Taylor, Bordill and Armstrong.  They held out for as long as they could, but the blasting runs from inside centre Andrew Nagle, Mua and Thomson meant a try was inevitable.  It was replacement back row Hugh Blake who finally scored it but it went unconverted as the wind persisted.  13-14.

The home team were determined to wreak havoc and almost did when Colvine sprinted off up the wing.  The Ayr defenders just managed to bundle him into touch.

McCluskey left the field after an industrious afternoon to be replaced by Murray McConnell, with Armstrong moving to stand-off.

As the tension heightened, things got sloppy from both sides, but Nagle had the crowd cheering as he made an exciting break.  He was tracked down by Kelbrick who, along with Taylor and Macpherson, managed to quell the threat under Bordill did some poaching and turned over.

There was a momentary pause as bodies appeared to be strewn all over the pitch and players from both sides needed some attention from the medical teams after such sustained periods of intensity.

A line-out for Ayr let Dunlop burst forth with McConnell in support but a few phases later and Ayr were on the wrong side of the law as McAlpine found himself in the sin bin.  The travelling support held its breath as Mill's penalty attempt went wide.

Anderson then had a chance to stretch Ayr's one-point lead after Melrose were penalised for crossing but his kick hit the left post.

The final ten minutes seemed to last for ever.  McConnell twice saved Ayr's bacon with excellent tackles, the second a terrific tap that brought McAndrew crashing to the ground.  Armstrong put in a thumping hit too, and dislodged the ball from Melrose hands, picked up and passed to Bordill, who found Anderson.  Unfortunately, the move led to nothing.

Sutherland had shown his all-round skill all day and the cherry on the cake for him was a brilliantly unexpected interception.  He homed in on the ball almost in slow motion and then raced off as fast as those long legs could take him.  Hall was in support but Melrose swarmed round him and he couldn't get the pass away.

It looked at last like Ayr fans could relax as Anderson had another chance for three points with mere minutes remaining but he couldn't manage the kick.

With Head yellow-carded, it was all over for the home team and they ended their afternoon in disappointment as their twenty-two drop-out sailed straight off the pitch to bring the game to an end.

Ayr and Melrose will meet again next Saturday at Millbrae in what is sure to be another intense encounter as they fight it out for a place in the play-off final.

Final score: Melrose 13 Ayr 14.

15. Fraser Thomson (c); 14. Bruce Colvine, 13. Austin Lockington, 12. Andrew Nagle, 11. Tito Mua; 10. Richard Mill, 9. Murdo McAndrew; 1. Nick Beavon, 2. Richard Ferguson, 3. Ewan McQuillin; 4. James Head, 5. Lewis Carmichael; 6. Neil Irvine-Hess, 7. Grant Runciman, 8. Graeme Dodds.

16. Todd Pearce, 17. Nicky Litte, 18. Ruaridh Knott, 19. Hugh Blake, 20. Tom Galbraith.

15. Grant Anderson; 14. Richard Dalgleish, 13. Robbie Fergusson, 12. Dean Kelbrick (c), 11. Cammy Taylor; 10. Danny McCluskey, 9. David Armstrong; 1. George Hunter, 2. Fergus Scott, 3. Fraser Watt; 4. Rob McAlpine, 5. Scott Sutherland; 6. Andrew Dunlop, 7. Will Bordill, 8. Blair Macpherson.

16. Dougie Hall, 17. Stuart Fenwick, 18. James Eddie, 19. Murray McConnell, 20. Kerr Gossman.

- Eléna Hogarth

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