Watsonians were the visitors on a crisp autumnal afternoon at Millbrae - an afternoon in which running rugby dominated a pulsating encounter from start to finish.
Ayr came racing out of the blocks, and despite losing winger Gibson Siwo to injury within the first few minutes of the match, the men in black and pink scored first through a long range penalty from Graham Hunter. Shortly after, Ayr extended their lead as Archie Russell broke the Watsonians line and fed Hunter who dotted down to take the game to 8-0. The score was unconverted and that was how it stayed for the better part of the first half.
After some heavy Watsonians pressure on the Ayr line and some staunch defensive resistance, a mis-cued line-out by Watsonians allowed Ayr to relieve the pressure. This lead to a penalty inside the ‘Sonians half, which Ayr opted to kick for the corner. This proved a wise decision as the resulting maul was driven over the line by blindside flanker Stuart Fenwick, and the try converted by Hunter giving Ayr a 15-0 lead midway through the first half.
But Watsonians came roaring back into the game, first through an Ali Harris penalty, but more abruptly through centre and Scotland Sevens cap Jack Ferguson, as he evaded some weak tackles in the midfield to score in the corner. 15-8. Some more weak defending from Ayr allowed Watsonians lock Ali Middleton to break through the middle and give the simplest of two-on-ones to his inside centre to score under the posts. The try was converted by Harris and the boys trooped off at half time with the scores locked at 15-15.
The boys in maroon were clearly galvanised by the half-time break, as they came storming out of the blocks in the second half, and were soon two more tries to the good within a matter of minutes. First a strong carry by the Myreside number eight led to him breaking a few tackles before eventually being felled on the five-metre line, only for a great supporting line by the ‘Sonians' tighthead prop to be rewarded with the easiest of finishes underneath the posts. Not even a minute later and the Watsonians pack were at it again. This time Watsonians’ lock walked through a non-existent Ayr midfield, again being brought down just before the line and as the ball was recycled it was the number eight’s turn to get the easy finish. Both tries were converted by Harris and the scoreline all of a sudden looked an ominous 15-29 in favour of the boys from Myreside.
However, as is true to form, Ayr were not one for lying down and accepting defeat. The frantic start to the second half continued and with plenty sore ‘Sonians bodies on the ground, replacement scrum-half Sam Graham darted round the side of a ruck untouched to score under the posts. Hunter duly converted and just like that we had a game on our hands again. 22-29
Watsonians began to build some serious pressure on the Ayr line, but similar to the scenes in the early part of the first half, huge Ayr defence kept them at bay and turned the ball over. However, this monumental rearguard was breached through some clever running lines by the Watsonians’ winger and a great piece of ingenuity by the Watsons’ fly-half who hacked the ball on as an offload went to deck and had the simplest of touchdowns directly underneath the posts. Harris converted the try to give ‘Sonians a two-try buffer once again. 22-36.
A missed penalty opportunity to put the Myreside men out of sight, along with the substitution of the hugely influential Harris, galvanised the Ayr boys into one final assault. A scrum won against the head deep in the Watsonians twenty-two allowed Fenwick to grab his second of the game, and with a hurried conversion sailing over, the belief began to spread back through the team.
Unfortunately indiscipline let the team down, as some back-chat turned a long range penalty into a far easier one, which the replacement scrum-half converted, to move Watsonians ten points - and crucially two scores - ahead.
This game was far from over, however, and with time fast running out, another huge Ayr scrummage on the Watsonians line led to Fenwick grabbing a well deserved hat-trick, and bringing the scores within five. The try was unconverted and so a penalty would no longer bring the sides level. Ayr had to go for the try.
After minutes of sustained pressure, Ayr were held up in a maul, and from the resulting scrum the ball was booted from the park ending what was a great game of rugby. In the end the relentless carrying of an experienced Watsonians pack, well marshalled by the ever-present Harris, proved to be the deciding factor in the tightest of games.
There were notable performances from Ayr openside Craig Brown, whose game was unfortunately cut short through injury, and Archie Russell, who looked a constant menace to the Watsonians backline.
Man of the match: Ali Harris (Watsonians).
- Matt Horsman.