It was legendary tennis coach Brad Gilbert who coined the phrase 'winning ugly' and that's exactly what Ayr did at Millbrae yesterday. It wasn't pretty, but the men in pink and black defeated the determined Heriot's to maintain their unblemished record in the RBS Premiership.
Hopes were high after a good away win against Melrose last weekend, and Ayr's backs were off at a canter. Outside centre Robbie Fergusson, fly-half Ross Curle and the Gossman brothers on the wings were eager to run with ball in hand, as was prop-on-the-charge Nick Cox.
If Heriot's were nervous about going up against the only unbeaten team in the competition, they didn't show it. Scrum-half Sam Hidalgo Cline proved himself a nuisance early on with some slick passing, and full-back Mike Penn did more than threaten to break the Ayr defence on several occasions.
But it was the home side who drew blood first, hooker Hayden Wisnewski bowling over the line at 11 minutes after a trademark bulldozing run from Cox. Peter Jericevich couldn't manage the conversion. 5-0.
Heriot's pressed on, and it was only a sledgehammer of a tackle from Craig Gossman on a Heriot's forward twice his size that messed up the visitors' attacking plan of action. At 15 minutes, Heriot's found themselves down to fourteen men, after lock Russell Nimmo was sent to the sin bin.
Ayr took advantage, with Fergusson and Curle engaging in some fancy footwork, but it was second row Scott Sutherland who found his way over the line to make himself Ayr's top try-scorer of the season so far. Jericevich didn't have a good day with the boot, missing the conversion. 10-0.
Heriot's, back to their full team, put Ayr under pressure at the scrum, but each team held steady at the line-out. The visitors struggled with their handling, garnering countless knocks-on throughout the match, and Curle always seemed to be there to chase a loose ball. He, Kerr Gossman and Grant Anderson combined well but couldn't get another score before half-time.
Pre-match, Ayr head coach Kenny Murray had noted that discipline must be improved, but the home side gave away several penalties. Heriot's fly-half Graham Wilson missed with his first attempt at 28 minutes, but was successful four minutes later. 10-3. Just before half-time, he got another chance and took it. 10-6 at the break.
It wasn't long after the whistle blew for the second half that Ayr got their third try, Curle flying over the line after a scintillating break from Craig Gossman. Jericevich converted to make the score 17-6.
That seemed to spur the home side into action, with Jericevich, Curle, Anderson and Craig Gossman combining to quickly move things up the park, only for referee Kevin White to call them back for a forward pass.
Not content with his brother hogging the limelight, Kerr Gossman shot off up the left wing from his own half, only to be brought down five metres from the try line. It was a ferocious tackle, and Gossman sadly left the field with a broken arm. Teenager Gavin Lowe replaced him.
His wasn't the only injury, with one of the touch judges pulling a muscle. An experienced volunteer was located and the match continued.
Ayr's disciplinary woes continued with two yellow cards, firstly lock Colin White for not rolling away, and then fan favourite Denford Mutamangira for reasons unknown.
Heriot's saw their chance and took it, second row Struan Cessford grabbing the try. Wilson was successful with the conversion, despite a charge from Jericevich. 17-13.
It was a tense affair for the remaining twenty minutes, but Ayr's defence held up with only thirteen men on the pitch. Replacement hooker Stuart Fenwick did some good scavenging work and managed to charge down a Heriot's kick. Also, Zimbabwean internationalist Shingai Mpofu made his 1st XV debut and was quickly into the thick of the action.
Five minutes before full time, Jericevich had a kick at goal but was unsuccessful. It was a relieved Ayr that celebrated when the whistle was blown. It wasn't attractive, but they now have six wins from six matches.
Man of the match was Scott Sutherland.