Sunday, 23 April 2017

Melrose 23 Ayr 18 - BT Cup final

It was another battle that went right down to the wire between Ayr and Melrose on Saturday at BT Murrayfield, but this time it was the Borderers who got their hands on the silverware, their 23-18 win securing them the BT Cup seven days after Ayr had beaten them to claim the BT Premiership title.

Ayr couldn't have got off to a better start at the national stadium. They claimed the ball from the kick-off and made for Melrose's try-line, captain Pete McCallum powering through the defence before winger Danny McCluskey scored in the corner. It was a touchline conversion for stand-off Frazier Climo and he couldn't make it. 0-5.

There was no easing into this final for either side. Ayr scrum-half David Armstrong was his usual industrious self, whilst full-back Grant Anderson was ready to barge off on his trademark muscular runs at any moment. Last week's hero Scott Sutherland carried on his fine form, looking majestic at the line-out and snuffing out any Melrose attack that came his way.

McCluskey and fellow winger Craig Gossman looked dangerous with ball in hand but those yellow shirts were all over them very quickly. Melrose also had to contain Ayr's mobile front row of George Hunter, Steven Longwell and Lewis Anderson.

The two sides were evenly matched at the set-pieces, Ayr putting Melrose under pressure at their scrum before being penalised at their own put-in. The Greenyards men couldn't capitalise though, Grant Anderson appearing with ball in hand after their penalty line-out and shooting off.
Centres Ross Curle and Stafford McDowall had their eyes open for any gaps, and Curle spotted his first of many, breaking away with McCluskey in support. Melrose, of course, turned defence into attack with a bit of mid-air poaching but ended up in touch.

It was the last outing for the back row of McCallum, Blair Macpherson and Will Bordill as the latter moves on due to work commitments, and they had another good day. Macpherson was launched at the line-out, securing good ball for Armstrong to flick to McCluskey, but the winger couldn't get away before the first of a couple of small scuffles broke out. It was swiftly dealt with by referee Lloyd Linton.

Melrose evened things up when their skilled and speedy prop Jamie Bhatti bundled over for a try. Stand-off Jason Baggott missed the conversion. 5-5.

There was another prop on the move moments later when Longwell blasted his way up the touchline on a joyous gallop but he was isolated and Ayr were penalised for holding on.

The penalty count was creeping ever higher for both teams, and line-outs were exchanged before Curle used those dancing feet to let Sutherland, Climo and McDowall make their way through the Melrose defence.

The Borderers regained possession though, and Lewis Anderson, Bordill, Macpherson and second row Craig Stevenson had to put in some hefty tackles to keep them in check.
They soon took the lead though, thanks to a Baggott penalty. 8-5.

Climo swiftly replied with a penalty of his own. 8-8.

Both sets of players were run ragged as the half drew to a close, Climo and Hunter busy in attack for Ayr, and centres Nyle Godsmark and Craig Jackson for Melrose.

Armstrong set off on a run for Ayr, with Climo, Lewis Anderson and Curle in support, the latter turning up on the wing. Moments later he was back in the centre, homing in on a Melrose pass and racing away with McCluskey backing him up.

Half-time was a welcome rest for everybody, fans and players alike, but it was straight back into action at the resumption as Baggott kicked Melrose into the lead. 11-8.

But Ayr were pressing for their line, Curle and Stevenson getting over only to be held up.

McCallum, Armstrong, Gossman and Climo moved things on but Melrose ended up with a free kick. From the line-out, Armstrong whizzed through a gap, too fast for the defenders to get him. Bordill was with him though and took the pass to canter away for a fine try. Climo converted. 11-15.

It was an exciting period, with Curle intercepting again. Gossman took the ball on and chipped, but it was Melrose full-back Fraser Thomson who claimed it. Sutherland nabbed Melrose's line-out, and Climo made a half-break but the defence was tough.

Another petty fight was again subdued by Linton before Climo stretched Ayr's lead with a penalty. 11-18.

Climo, McCallum and McDowall were in attack mode for Ayr but Melrose regained possession and shot off, with Climo slumped on the ground after a knock to the head, being speedily attended to by the Ayr medical team of Graham Hollins and Helen Reid. The referee let the game carry on and Melrose's George Taylor ran away for the try, which Jackson converted. 18-18.

Of course, it was going to come down to a nail-biting final ten minutes, as games between Ayr and Melrose invariably do. It looked like it was going to go to extra time as it had done in the cup final four years ago, but Melrose turned over with ninety seconds to go and Godsmark scored the try, which was unconverted. 23-18.
Ayr all but emptied their subs bench but it was no use. A line-out gave them a glimmer of light but the clock had gone dead and soon the ball went dead to send Melrose and their fans into delirious celebrations.

It was disappointment for the double-seeking men from Millbrae but the players have given their supporters another wonderful season to look back on, with a league title to savour and many highlights to toast at next week's end of season awards dinner.

Final score: Melrose 23 Ayr 18.

- Elena Hogarth.


Photos courtesy of Alan Graham. Please seek Alan's permission before reproducing for commercial purposes.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Melrose v Ayr - BT Cup final preview

Ayr are primed and ready to go for tomorrow's BT Cup final against Melrose at BT Murrayfield, kicking off at 3.30pm.

It will be a day to celebrate the club game at the national stadium, and the two best clubs in Scotland will once again go head-to-head and toe-to-toe, with another piece of prestigious silverware up for grabs.

After Ayr beat Melrose last Saturday to be named BT Premiership champions - a win that also saw them reclaim the Bill McLaren Shield - the men from Millbrae will want to repeat that feat in their fifth cup final, and fourth against Melrose. But the tough Borderers will be just as eager to get their hands on the trophy.

"Melrose will be desperate to finish their season on a high," says Ayr head coach Calum Forrester. "This makes them even more dangerous and our players know that they will need to raise their game again."

Robert McAlpine will unfortunately miss out tomorrow after injuring his hand in last week's final. With the return of Ross Curle, Archie Russell moves to the bench.

A strong contingent of Ayr fans will make the trip to cheer on their team, and everyone at the club would like to thank the pink and black army for their support. We look forward to hearing and seeing them at BT Murrayfield!

Ayr
15. Grant Anderson; 14. Danny McCluskey, 13. Ross Curle, 12. Stafford McDowall, 11. Craig Gossman; 10. Frazier Climo, 9. David Armstrong; 1. George Hunter, 2. Lewis Anderson, 3. Steven Longwell; 4. Craig Stevenson, 5. Scott Sutherland; 6. Blair Macpherson, 7. Will Bordill, 8. Pete McCallum (c).

Replacements
16. David Young, 17. Djustice Sears-Duru, 18. Adam Prentice, 19. Gregor Henry, 20. Harry Warr, 21. Archie Russell, 22. Richard Dalgleish.

Kick-off 3pm.

Follow the scores live on Twitter and watch it live via Scottish Rugby's YouTube channel.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Melrose 8 Ayr 12 - BT Premiership final

It was a match short on points but high on tension as Ayr were crowned BT Premiership champions after beating Melrose at the Greenyards.

A few light showers earlier in the day hadn't made the pitch too greasy, and the sun was out, but it was windy all afternoon, not that the weather put off the Ayr fans who had travelled down to cheer on their players.

They had plenty to shout about right at the start as captain, and eventual man of the match, Pete McCallum made one of his customary blasts for the line, with scrum-half David Armstrong in support but he was bundled into touch.

There were some early fumbles from both teams as nerves seemed to play apart on such a big occasion, but Ayr settled down the quickest. Second row Scott Sutherland led an initial attack, with McCallum and Archie Russell. The latter's centre partner Stafford McDowall stepped in to take the ball, McCallum again reappearing with flankers Will Bordill and Blair Macpherson on hand to help out.

Second Robert McAlpine and the mobile front row of Goerge Hunter, Lewis Anderson and Steven Longwell got in on the attack too but those wily old foxes in black and yellow turned over.

From a penalty line-out, the home team had their first proper go at attack, captain Grant Runciman leading the way with centre Craig Jackson, but Ayr's defence held firm and they pinned Melrose in their own half.
Another couple of penalty line-outs were exchanged before the home team mounted another attack. Russell and Bordill had things covered but a neat Melrose kick bounced out just on Ayr's five-metre line. Full-back Grant Anderson took the line-out quickly to himself but was soon swallowed up by yellow shirts, the ball spilling over the try-line. Armstrong pounced and was then shoved over the dead-ball line.

Hearts were in mouths for Ayr fans, but their team scrummed well and defended bravely as Melrose pressed for the five points, hooker Anderson putting in a thumping tackle. The visitors were caught offside and stand-off Jason Baggott stepped up to the tee for the first points. 3-0.

Ayr let loose along the wing through Craig Gossman but his chip ahead came to nothing. It was then McCallum's turn again to go for the line, with Longwell showing an impressive side-step to make for the whitewash.

Hunter, Russell, McDowall and stand-off Frazier Climo fired the ball through the hands but it sailed off the pitch. Referee Mike Adamson took them back for a high tackle on Gossman and Climo leveled the scores. 3-3.
Aerial ping pong ensued until Melrose winger Sam Pecqueur charged off, McCallum and Lewis Anderson putting in the double tackle and the Ayr captain retrieved the ball.

A line-out for Ayr was the perfect platform for McDowall to tear through midfield on an exciting run but a tackle dislodged the ball. Melrose were solid at the scrum but came undone moments later thanks to some bulldozing counter-rucking by Macpherson.

A penalty was awarded and Climo put Ayr into the lead. 3-6.

Melrose's experienced full-back Fraser Thomson could see just a chink in Ayr's defence and was off like a rocket until Armstrong's superb cover tackle dragged him into touch.

The scrum-half was all over everything, launching Ayr's attack moments later and then hoisting a box-kick high into the Borders sky which was then knocked on by Melrose's George Taylor.

From the ensuing scrum, winger Danny McCluskey tried to make a break, but Ayr's top try-scorer for the season was heavily marked all game. Sutherland showed a deftness of touch to keep the ball moving but it ended up in Melrose hands only for the hosts to knock it on.
But for all the little bursts of excitement, the two teams were locked in stalemate, with no sign of any tries being scored.

Climo stretched Ayr's lead after being flattened by Melrose prop Nick Beavon. 3-9.

Whether it was those pesky nerves or they were just cancelling each other out, neither team looked likely to score a try at the start of the second half.

A beautiful kick for touch from Melrose's Thomson gave Ayr a line-out which the hosts managed to poach. They couldn't get very far as Hunter wrapped up number eight Iain Moody in a bear-hug of a tackle.

Melrose's penalty count was creeping ever higher and the referee played advantage after another high tackle on Gossman. Climo took the opportunity to get creative, chipping over and catching the ball with ease, Armstrong, McCallum, Russell and McDowall displaying good hands too.

But eventually, they went back for the penalty, which Climo summarily kicked. 3-12.
The stand-off had a kick from hand charged down moments later, Runciman chasing the ball to the try-line with Sutherland in pursuit until Climo got there in the nick of time.

Baggott took a kick at goal after Ayr were pinged for not rolling away but he missed.

At the re-start, Gossman took a flying leap on to Climo's kick and propelled himself up the touchline but the ball later went loose.

Thomson and Runciman were Melrose's danger men again but McCluskey and McDowall put in the big hits to bring them down. Nobody could stop second row Ruaridh Knott, however, as he plunged for the try-line to send the home fans wild. Baggott couldn't add the conversion from out wide. 8-12.

Bordill took his leave after another gut-busting shift in the pink and black shirt and was replaced by Gregor Henry, who set to work immediately.

To say the tension was palpable was an under-statement. The crowd was getting riled up and so were the players, but discipline was generally good and emotions didn't spill over until any unnecessary unpleasantness.

Melrose suddenly seemed to have shaken off their stage fright, Thomson rallying his team-mates and giving the crowd palpitations with a kick over the try-line. Luckily for Ayr, it was Gossman who touched it down.
McAlpine was pinged for a high tackle and later left the field after a bash to the ribs. It was unlucky to lose him as he had been supreme in the line-out and the last nerve-wracking ten minutes of the game seemed to be all about the line-out.

Melrose kept going for the corner and kept taking the ball well at the line-out. They just couldn't get over the line though. Ayr were defending their hearts out, holding them back and then holding them up.

Everyone was piling in, replacements Djustice Sears-Duru and David Young adding some energy to the defence. But the referee yellow-carded McCallum for illegally collapsing the maul.

Melrose could scent a late triumph. There were forty seconds left on the clock. They had the man advantage. They had the home advantage. They had the line-out. Ayr had Scott Sutherland.

The wise head of the pack leapt in front of the Melrose jumper and knocked the ball to his forwards. Hunter took care of it until it was fired back to Climo and he booted it off the park to bring the game to an end.

Ayr celebrated a tough, dogged, hard-fought victory, but they also commiserated with their Melrose counterparts, knowing how difficult it is to make a play-off final as league leaders and be denied the title at home.

Melrose were tenacious opponents and head coach Robert Chrystie and his on- and off-field teams must be commended for a terrific season full of entertaining and commanding performances that showed the very best of the BT Premiership.

Ayr head coach Calum Forrester was almost speechless, but not quite. "I'm delighted. I just want to thank the players and coaches for their efforts."

Final score: Melrose 8 Ayr 12.

Man of the match: Pete McCallum.


- Elena Hogarth.

All photos copyright George McMillan. Please seek permission before reproducing for commercial purposes.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Melrose v Ayr - BT Premiership final preview

Ayr travel to the Greenyards tomorrow to battle it out with Melrose for the title of BT Premiership champions, kicking off at 3pm.

After eighteen regular games, two semi-finals and nearly 200 tries scored between them over the past seven months, eighty minutes in the pretty Borders town will decide who lifts the trophy.

"Ayr and Melrose have enjoyed a number of great battles over recent years and it is fitting that it has come down to the wire again this season," says Ayr head coach Calum Forrester. "Rob (Chrystie, Melrose head coach) has done an outstanding job with his squad. We are fully aware of the challenge that lies ahead. We have prepared well and the players are in a good place."

There is only one change to the starting line-up, with Stafford McDowall moving to inside centre.

Ayr
15. Grant Anderson; 14. Danny McCluskey, 13. Archie Russell, 12. Stafford McDowall, 11. Craig Gossman; 10. Frazier Climo, 9. David Armstrong; 1. George Hunter, 2. Lewis Anderson, 3. Steven Longwell; 4. Robert McAlpine, 5. Scott Sutherland; 6. Blair Macpherson, 7. Will Bordill, 8. Pete McCallum (c).

16. David Young, 17. Djustice Sears-Duru, 18. Adam Prentice, 19. Gregor Henry, 20. Harry Warr, 21. Jamie Bova, 22. Richard Dalgleish.

Kick-off 3pm! Follow the scores live on Twitter.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Melrose 7s preview

A week before Ayr visit the Greenyards for the BT Premiership final with Melrose, they will go to the picturesque Borders ground to take part in the world-renowned Melrose 7s.

Coaches Calum Forrester and Glen Tippett have put together an exciting squad for the tournament, with Gregor Henry as captain.

Henry made his 1st XV debut for Ayr this season, as have Jamie Bova, Scotland U19s' Harry Warr, Paddy Dewhirst and Graham Hunter, with Craig Stevenson a 1st XV player since last year.

2nd XV youngsters Lewis Young and Johnny McCorkindale will get the chance to star on the big stage, and it will be senior 7s debuts for Ayr-Wellington U18s' Cameron Reece and Mac McInnes.

Ayr will play Dundee in the first round and should they get through that tricky encounter, the hosts await in round two.

There will be live coverage on BBC Two and via Melrose's social media.

Ayr
1. Craig Stevenson, 2. Cameron Reece, 3. Gregor Henry (c), 4. Jamie Bova, 5. Harry Warr, 6. Lewis Young, 7. Paddy Dewhirst, 8. Graham Hunter, 9. Johnny McCorkindale, 10. Mac McInnes.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Ayr 38 Glasgow Hawks 22 - BT Premiership semi-final

Another Saturday, another semi-final and another win for Ayr as they beat Glasgow Hawks 38-22 to reach the BT Premiership final.

The visitors were full of vim and vigour in the opening exchanges, centre Brendan McGroarty and winger Kerr Gossman bullying their way through the pink and black shirts before scrum-half George Horne had an unsuccessful shot at goal.

Hawks' thundering full-back Jack Steele was next into the fray but hit the immovable Robert McAlpine, Ayr's towering second row felling him and gaining a penalty.

The home team took the line-out, but Hawks turned over only to knock on. Ayr had another go after Hawks infringed at the ensuing scrum, and drove on until the ball reached the hands of stand-off Frazier Climo, who nicely flicked it to winger Danny McCluskey. He slipped through the Hawks defenders with flanker Will Bordill in support.

Play switched to the other side of the field, Climo involved again, before centre Archie Russell managed to get an arm free from a pile-up and stretch for the line. It was a touchline conversion for Climo and he couldn't make it. 5-0.
It was compelling viewing as both teams traded possession and tried every trick in the book to get the upper hand. Just when Steele and McGroarty were away for Hawks, Climo stopped them in their tracks, and just when Ayr scrum-half David Armstrong, McCluskey and prop George Hunter were combining to move play up the wing, they were pinged for crossing.

It was a bad tempered game at various points, and Hawks captain Steven Findlay was the first player to go to the sin bin for an ill-advised altercation with Ayr hooker Lewis Anderson.

They pressed on without their skipper, hooker Cammy Fenton making a break before Horne stepped up to the tee again. He struck the kick perfectly this time. 5-3.

Ayr threw the kitchen sink at them, props Hunter and Steven Longwell leading the way, with centres Russell and Ross Curle, flanker Blair Macpherson and full-back Grant Anderson involved too. But the ball was knocked on.

A line-out throw for Ayr went too far, but Armstrong scooped up the ball and released Climo. Number eight and captain Pete McCallum took it on before a dangerous tackle on him by Hawks winger Sean Yacoubian saw him tumble dangerously to the ground. Yacoubian was dismissed for ten minutes.

McCallum received some treatment from physio Helen Reid and was fine to carry on, getting the ball moving from the penalty line-out. It was more deft handling from Climo that got the ball to full-back Anderson and he dotted down. Climo converted. 12-3.
Glasgow Warriors' young dynamo Scott Cummings was back in the Hawks fold and made his presence known all over the pitch, but Macpherson was more than a match for him, putting in a great tackle to stop him in his tracks.

A messy Hawks line-out was mopped up by Longwell, with Bordill and winger Craig Gossman firing the ball across the pitch for McCluskey to score just on half-time. It went unconverted. 17-3.
Ayr retook the field with intent, holding firm at the scrum to let McCallum loose. With Armstrong and Climo in support, second row Scott Sutherland fired into the Hawks defence. Gossman the elder then took it on, miraculously escaping unscathed from a thumping tackle. McAlpine then barged his way over for a try, which Climo converted. 24-3.
Gregor Henry replaced Bordill, who had run himself and the opposition ragged on his final appearance at Millbrae and was warmly received by the fans as he took his leave.

Hawks started to creep back into the game, replacement second row from Glasgow Warriors Tjiuee Uanivi blasting through midfield, with Curle clinging on for dear life.

Russell followed Bordill to the sidelines, with Stafford McDowall replacing him.

Hawks had a couple of scrums in quick succession before their exciting young flanker Matt Fagerson went over for a try, which was converted by Horne. 24-10.

Ayr got back into Hawks' half quickly and the tackles from the Old Anniesland side were heftier than ever. Armstrong took a double hit, with the thud heard in the stand, but the man of the match somehow managed to wriggle his way out and get the ball to his backs.

McDowall, Climo, McCluskey and Hunter charged off before Hawks reclaimed possession, but they didn't keep a hold of it for long, Henry turning over with aplomb.

A few kicks proved fruitless for both sides until Curle and McCluskey combined to send Anderson over for his brace. Climo converted. 31-10.
There was some reshuffling as Climo was replaced by Richard Dalgleish and Canadian international Djustice Sears-Duru came on in place of McAlpine. Macpherson moved into the second row and Hunter went to flanker, with Sears-Duru taking his front row slot. It made no difference to the already steady Ayr scrum, as they pushed Hawks off their own ball.

Full-back Anderson and Gossman's combined moves came to nothing as Ayr were pinged for crossing. Horne took it quickly for Hawks, but Armstrong was all over him.

Further changes were made for Ayr, with hooker David Young, prop Adam Prentice and scrum-half Harry Warr taking the field just as play became fraught.

McDowall gathered a loose ball, hacked on, Hawks nabbed it, then Ayr got it before McCallum galloped into the twenty-two with Curle in support. He flew away for the try, running round the posts to give himself a difficult angle from which to convert. And he did convert. 38-10.

Moments later, Curle was gone, red-carded for a dangerous tackle. Referee Keith Allen awarded a penalty try, which Horne summarily converted. 38-17.

Hawks' tails were up, Steele and McGroarty repeating their bullocking runs from the first half. But the latter couldn't get near the line thanks to a superb covering tackle by Warr.

Ayr were then reduced to thirteen men as Grant Anderson was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle, and Fagerson went over for his second try. Horne couldn't convert. 38-22.
It was a strange end to an action-packed match, but Ayr celebrated reaching another final. They will face Melrose at the Greenyards in the BT Premiership showdown on Saturday 15th April, a week before they play them in the BT Cup final at BT Murrayfield.

Final score: Ayr 38 Glasgow Hawks 22.

- Elena Hogarth.

Photos copyright George McMillan. Please seek permission before reproducing for commercial purposes.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Ayr v Glasgow Hawks BT Premiership semi-final preview

It's a semi-final showdown at Millbrae once again this Saturday as Ayr take on Glasgow Hawks, with a place in the BT Premiership play-off final up for grabs, kicking off at 3pm.

Ayr had the upper hand in last week's BT Cup semi-final but the slate has been wiped clean and the men in pink and black know anything can happen when they go up against Hawks.

"We learnt from last season that the results from previous matches mean nothing at this stage in the season," says Ayr head coach Calum Forrester. "The players' attitude has been great at training this week and our focus has turned fully to this weekend."

The only change to Ayr's squad is the return of Robert McAlpine from illness.

"Craig Stevenson is the unlucky player to miss out after performing well last week," adds Forrester.

With this possibly Ayr's last home game of the season, the players will be eager to put in another good performance for the Millbrae faithful.

Ayr
15. Grant Anderson; 14. Danny McCluskey, 13. Archie Russell, 12. Ross Curle, 11. Craig Gossman; 10. Frazier Climo, 9. David Armstrong; 1. George Hunter, 2. Lewis Anderson, 3. Steven Longwell; 4. Robert McAlpine, 5. Scott Sutherland; 6. Blair Macpherson, 7. Will Bordill, 8. Pete McCallum (c).

Replacements
16. David Young, 17. Djustice Sears-Duru, 18. Adam Prentice, 19. Gregor Henry, 20. Harry Warr, 21. Stafford McDowall, 22. Richard Dalgleish.

Glasgow Hawks
15. Jack Steele; 14. Sean Yacoubian, 13. Paddy Kelly, 12. Brendan McGroarty, 11. Kerr Gossman; 10. Hagen Schulte, 9. George Horne; 1. Steven Findlay (c), 2. Cammy Fenton, 3. Gary Strain; 4. Scott Cummings, 5. Andrew Kirkland; 6. Matt Smith, 7. Matt Fagerson, 8. Bruce Flockhart.

Replacements
16. Grant Stewart, 17. Chris Barnes, 18. Lyall Archer, 19. Stephen Leckey, 20. Tjiuee Uanivi, 21. Paddy Boyer, 22. Josh Henderson.

Kick-off 3pm! Follow the scores live on Twitter.

Please note that entry is £10 for adults, with under-18s free.

Ayr U23s v Glasgow Hawks U23s kicks off at Millbrae at 2pm.