Sunday, 25 September 2016

Ayr 11 Melrose 7

The good old west coast wind and rain couldn't dampen the spirits at Millbrae on Saturday afternoon as Ayr came through a stern test against Melrose to remain the only unbeaten side in the BT Premiership and top the table.

Both teams had racked up the tries in the first four rounds of league competition, but there was no chance of a high-scoring match in such damp conditions. It was going to be a case of sticking it out, and that was what Ayr did.

The visitors set their stall out early, running the ball from their own twenty-two, and when they lost possession, they quickly turned it back over.

Ayr thought they would have a bit of a saunter in the mud too, scrum-half David Armstrong, winger Cameron Taylor, centre Stafford McDowall, stand-off Frazier Climo, number eight Blair Macpherson and prop Steven Longwell moving the ball through the hands.

Inevitably, on such a day, there were errors aplenty and Melrose pounced on all.

The men from the Greenyards turned over in their own twenty-two and flew off. Full-back Fraser Thomson chased a kick into Ayr's half only to pull up with an injury that forced him to leave the pitch for the remainder of the game.

It was scrum-half Murdo McAndrew who claimed the ball and got over for the try, stand-off Jason Baggott easily converting. 0-7.

Ayr had the chance to get on the scoreboard but Climo's penalty kick just curved away from the posts.

After a good kick for touch by full-back Grant Anderson that slid through the hands of Thomson's replacement Struan Hutchinson to give Ayr the line-out, the home team set off for the line with flanker Gregor Henry leading the way, but they were called back for crossing.

Henry had another go a few minutes later from another Ayr line-out, with second row Scott Sutherland, centre Danny McCluskey and winger Craig Gossman in support. The points came from the boot of Climo, however, as he kicked a penalty. 3-7.

There were a few wayward line-outs from both sides, but Ayr hooker David Young safely got the ball to George Hunter in Melrose's twenty-two, and the prop delicately flipped it to Armstrong. The scrum-half spotted the narrowest of gaps but his pass back to Young went awry.

More slipping and sliding and knocks-on occurred until Melrose put boot to ball but flanker Will Bordill charged it down and kicked on. Macpherson and Henry could see space out on the wing but the referee spotted a forward pass.
Another Climo penalty got Ayr within a point of the visitors. 6-7.

There were further attacking chances for both sides just before half-time, but Melrose were scuppered by thumping tackles by Gossman, whilst charges for Ayr from Armstrong and second row Robert McAlpine came to nothing.

Melrose started the second half well and were looking to spark their creative backs with a cross-field kick but it just wasn't the day for it. Baggott had a penalty kick but missed.

Ayr got into a slow and steady mind-set, barging rather than running, with forwards and backs working together to gradually move out of their own half.

Sutherland can always be relied on to thump his way through the defence, and it was such a move that released Taylor, Hunter and Bordill. Climo's cross-field kick went into Melrose hands but they had strayed off-side and Climo's next kick was for the corner.

Again, Melrose were where they shouldn't have been and Climo lined up a penalty. The kick was unsuccessful but it was still live and Melrose had a job to retrieve it and clear with Ayr's forwards swarming all over them metres from the try-line.
Melrose found themselves down to fourteen men when prop Nick Beavon was sin-binned for repeated professional fouls, but Ayr found it difficult to take advantage until it came to scrum time.

They dominated with the experienced Beavon on the sidelines, and Armstrong twice propelled himself at the line, finally being held up by the black and yellow defence.

Ayr were strong at the scrum again and the ball flew out to Anderson who timed his pass to Taylor well, the winger stepping away from the touchline and leaving the Melrose defence confused enough so he could dive over for a try. The conversion angle was too wide for Climo. 11-7.

Ayr were quickly back into attack through Macpherson and later Armstrong, Longwell and McCluskey. Another penalty opportunity arose but Climo couldn't land the kick at goal.

The final ten minutes were edge-of-the-seat stuff for the packed stand as Melrose camped out in Ayr's twenty-two, taking line-out after line-out. But Ayr defended solidly, poaching and clearing, and Melrose just couldn't engage their backs.

A brilliant kick and catch by Anderson got Ayr out of their own half and with Melrose's other prop Jamie Bhatti shown a yellow card for a no-arms tackle, it was almost all over.

Macpherson, Longwell and McAlpine headed for the try-line but couldn't find a way through and Climo booted the ball off the pitch to bring the game to an end.
Final score: Ayr 11 Melrose 7.

Slaters Menswear man of the match: Cameron Taylor.

- Elena Hogarth.

Photos by George McMillan.

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