Sunday, 17 December 2017

Ayr 12 Currie Chieftains 14

It wasn't quite the Christmas cracker everyone had been expecting as Ayr and Currie Chieftains toughed it out in the cold of Millbrae in round thirteen of the BT Premiership.

After two close, tense encounters between the sides earlier in the season, there was some hype around this match, and it was the visitors who held their nerve to get the win.

Ayr started well, with excellent breaks by captain Pete McCallum and fly-half Scott Lyle. The pitch was in good condition after a few dry, mild days in Alloway, and the players were enjoying a suitable surface to run around on.

The home side had a couple of early penalties, taking the line-out option twice. Hooker Robbie Smith found second row Robert McAlpine with ease, and on the second occasion, Ayr patiently drove until flanker George Stokes dotted down for the opening try. Lyle converted. 7-0.

The Chieftains had a real buzz about them, their scrum-half Charlie Shiel the chief mischief-maker. Ayr had their work cut out for them trying to contain him and centre Robbie Nelson, who seemed to power through the pink and black jerseys until Ayr centre Stafford McDowall brought him to a halt.
The game went a little topsy-turvy in the first quarter. Possession changed hands a few times thanks to poaching by Ayr in the loose, and then some wayward kicks by both teams. Ayr winger Craig Gossman kept a cool head to retrieve a Currie kick under pressure and put in a good clearance kick.

Gossman was saving Ayr's bacon again moments later when he and Smith put in a succession of hefty tackles to stop the visitors marauding their way to the try-line.

Ayr were soon down to fourteen men when full-back Grant Anderson was yellow-carded.

Currie became more combative with the man advantage, and Lyle and centre Paddy Dewhirst had to think quickly and work hard to keep the ball away from opposition hands.

McCallum, Stokes and fellow back-rower Tommy Spinks kept the Chieftains at bay when an attack led by full-back Jamie Forbes looked dangerous. But there was only so much Ayr could do when they ended up with thirteen men on the pitch after prop Steven Longwell joined Anderson in the sin bin.

Currie turned the screw at the scrum, and Shiel flew away with ball in hand for an inevitable try. Forbes converted. 7-7.

The men from Malleny were away again, taking advantage of those gaps in the Ayr defence, and it looked like they would power up the wing until Gossman and McDowall combined to bundle them into touch.
Ayr held on at the set-pieces and McCallum, Spinks, second row Blair Macpherson and prop Robin Hislop were working hard to keep Currie at bay until their team-mates returned from the sidelines. But there was just no stopping Nelson getting to the try-line. Forbes added the extras. 7-14.

The visitors started the second half in the same energetic manner, and Dewhirst, Macpherson, Smith and winger Sam Graham had to make crunching tackles to stop them.

They had flown up to Ayr's five-metre line, but the men in pink and black bullied them right back into their own half, with Gossman the architect of Currie's demise. Ayr then turned over, and McCallum charged up the wing with a look of utter determination on his face. It took three Chieftains to stop him. Sadly, he had nobody to pass to and Currie turned over.

Currie then kicked away possession, allowing Spinks to barrel about a bit, with Longwell and Gossman in support.

Ayr made some substitutions after scrum-half Lewis Young was flattened by a no-arms tackle. Winger Jamie Bova came on, with Anderson moving to scrum-half and Gossman going to full-back. Second row Scott Sutherland replaced Stokes, meaning Macpherson moved to the back row, and Ryan Grant took Hislop's place in the front row.
Sutherland was straight into the thick of the action, charging away from a penalty line-out. The ball was whipped across the pitch until Smith displayed a beautiful piece of handling to flick it to Dewhirst, but he ran out of space.

As the temperature dropped, the match heated up, and a scuffle broke out.

Currie delighted in winning a penalty at the Ayr scrum, but they weren't so happy when McCallum charged down their clearance kick after the line-out. The home captain was on their kicker in a flash and chased the ball but it bobbled out of play.

Another kick after a line-out from Currie was safely hoisted into the air but it landed right in the arms of the awaiting Graham, and he got it to Gossman, who sped off.

That move came to nothing, but Ayr had a penalty line-out in a good position and drove from it, with Smith grounding the ball for the try. Lyle's conversion unluckily glanced off the side of the post. 12-14.

Ayr fired into Currie again, Anderson foregoing his usual screeching of instructions at his team-mates to take the ball on himself and make for the try-line. In his desperation, he offloaded straight into Currie hands.
Dewhirst had shown grit and determination in the tackle, and one such effort cause the Chieftains to knock on. At the scrum, Ayr got the penalty and Lyle's monster boot pushed them deep into opposition territory for the line-out.

Anderson gathered a loose ball and got it to his namesake Lewis, who had replaced Smith. Graham, McDowall, Lyle and Grant moved play closer to the try-line, and McCallum went on one of his now customary blasts through the tacklers.

Currie were caught offside, and Ayr took the kick at goal. Unfortunately, it just slid past on the wrong side of the left upright.

Time was ticking away, but Ayr hadn't given up hope. Longwell suddenly appeared in midfield, the jocund prop galloping away in a frenzy of joy. It wasn't so joyous for the Currie tacklers he steam-rollered over the top of. Grant was in support but he was turned over.

Ayr brought on their last replacement, Jonathan Agnew, with minutes to go.

Currie had a penalty that got them a line-out in a plum position in Ayr's half, but in their haste to score another try, they flung the ball straight off the park. No matter as they had a kick at goal for the final play. It was well wide, but they didn't care as the whistle was blown to signal full-time.

Final score: Ayr 12 Currie Chieftains 14.

Slaters Menswear man of the match: Steven Longwell.

Ayr 2nd XV were up against it in their BT National Reserve 1 match with Currie Chieftains A. The visitors dominated much of the match, but Ayr showed true fighting spirit to claim a wonderful 18-17 win. Cameron Reece, Johnny McCorkindale and James Armstrong scored tries, and Armstrong's last kick at goal - a penalty - sealed the victory.

All photos courtesy of George McMillan. Please seek permission before reproducing images for commercial or journalistic purposes.

- Elena Hogarth.

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