Monday, 9 April 2018

BT Premiership Final: Melrose 16-13 Ayr

It wasn't to be for Ayr RFC on Saturday in the BT Premiership Final when they fell 16-13 to a powerful Melrose side.

Booked as a 'war of attrition', the match at times lacked flare and execution, but gut-wrenchingly tense rugby made it box office.

A persistent rain plagued proceedings and soggy conditions underfoot limited running rugby- it was clear from the off this contest would be won up front.

It didn't take long for Ayr to register their intent. Mere minutes into the game a lofting throw from hooker Lewis Anderson- winning his 50th appearance for the club- landed perfectly into the hands of Blair Macpherson. The ball was shipped wide and several phases chipped away at a sturdy Melrose defence but they eventually forced a penalty. Lyle slotted the routine three pointer to take the lead.

Throughout the opening period David Armstrong's game management had Ayr on the front foot. Multiple box kicks continued to test Melrose before Fraser Thompson misjudged his jump and the ball landed in the grateful arms of Craig Gossman. Gossman darted clear but was eventually brought down and isolated. A penalty for holding on in the ground soon followed which Jackson capitalised on. After 12 minutes the scores were tied 3-3.

Melrose started to enjoy more of possession but Ayr didn't give them an inch- monstrous hits from George Stokes could probably be heard from Gala.

Scrummaging has been a strong suit of Ayr this season but it was clear early on that they weren't getting the rough of the green from referee Keith Allen. A scrum-penalty against the head gifted Melrose another chance for three points on 21 minutes and Jackson duly converted.

Melrose's 6-3 lead wasn't to stay for long however and just four minutes later Ayr mustered up their only try of the contest. From the base of a scrum- one of the few where the ball was allowed to be played- David Armstrong sniped in field and hit the stampeding Stafford McDowall with a flat pass. McDowall carved through the defensive line and brought in the full-back before placing a pass into the supporting hands of Rory Hughes. Hughes touched down to the jubilation of an impressive travelling support and Lyle slotted the conversion. Ayr now lead 6-10 at the Greenyards.

Ayr began to exert themselves with a spring in their step and looked comfortable. Melrose tried to retaliate immediately with some forward carries of their own but Tommy Spinks snuffed out the danger- getting over the ball and forcing the penalty for not releasing.

With just five to play in the half Lyle took aim at the posts from about 50 metres out. A mammoth kick in any conditions, the fly-half made no notice of the dreary weather and nailed it. 6-13.

Ayr were in cruise control but just as the half withered away Melrose were gifted an opportunity to stay in contention. Another scrum penalty sent Robin Hislop to the sin bin and Jackson managed to capitalise with another three points in the 40th minute.

Half-time: Melrose 9-13

Ayr had played the better rugby for the first 40 but a lack of discipline haunted them, allowing Melrose to stay within arms length.

The second half was soon upon us and a revamped pack due to the prior yellow card saw Club Stalwart Scott Sutherland take to the field for the final time.

Melrose were unrecognisable in the second half. A faulty line-out which had leaked possession was starting to click and on 47 minutes a resulting driving maul put the home side in touching distance of a score. The maul sucked in Ayr jerseys which allowed them to ship wide and take full advantage of an overlap. Runciman didn't need the extra man and cantered over to take the lead. Jackson added the extras to make it 16-13.

From then on primitive rugby was the order of the day. Possession swung like a pendulum and defence continued to come out on top. Melrose enjoyed long periods of the ball and continually came close to landing the sucker punch but Ayr didn't budge. Heroic last-gasp defending on the try line kept them in the contest and gave the travelling support hope of a late winner.

Throughout the season Ayr and Melrose have went toe-to-toe in meteoric battles and you could contribute the last half hour to knowing the enemy. A series of blows and counter-blows were snuffed out by two sets of 15 players familiar with how each other play- stalemate.

This battle of wits resulted in no more scoring and Melrose held on for BT Premiership glory.

Full-Time: Melrose 16-13 Ayr.

For departing stalwarts George Hunter, Scott Sutherland and head coach Calum Forrester it means no fairytale ending to their illustrious Ayr careers. The three have contributed immensely during their time at the club and from all at Ayr RFC we say thank you.

Callum Kerr
Photo: George McMillian

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