Sunday, 30 September 2012

Ayr 17 Heriot's 13

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.


Friday, 28 September 2012

Jericevich named in 7s squad

Ayr's scrum-half Peter Jericevich has been named in Scotland's sevens squad for the 2012/2013 HSBC Sevens World Series opener in Australia's Gold Coast.  Jericevich has already won six caps for Scotland sevens, and is the only club player selected.

You can read the full story here and David Ferguson's article on Phil Greening's first squad as sevens coach in the Scotsman.


Ayr v Heriot's preview

Ayr welcome Heriot's to Millbrae tomorrow, as they look to continue their unbeaten run in the RBS Premiership.  Despite the five wins on the trot, including last weekend's victory over Melrose at the Greenyards, Ayr aren't taking anything for granted.

"It was a huge achievement for the squad," head coach Kenny Murray says of the victory.  "The boys put in a huge shift to maintain their winning record.  But we realise that Heriot's are capable of beating the best on the road."

Murray expects a very fast and expansive game.  "Our defence will have to match the ambition and pace of the Heriot's attack."

Commenting on the number of yellow cards in recent matches, Murray knows everyone has to be on their best behaviour: "We must ensure that discipline is our top priority."

There are two changes to the starting team.  George Hunter moves up from the bench, with Denford Mutamangira dropping to the replacements.  Ross Curle comes in at fly-half in place of Ruaridh Jackson, who returns to Glasgow Warriors.

Zimbabwean internationalist Shingai Mpofu, who is at Millbrae as part of the South African Rugby Union exchange programme, will make his debut from the bench.

Teenager Gavin Lowe once again appears amongst the replacements, following his impressive debut against Stirling County a fortnight ago.

Team (subject to change on match day):

Anderson, C Gossman, Fergusson, Dalgleish, K Gossman; Curle, Jericevich; Cox, Wisnewski, Hunter; White, Sutherland; Fisken, Dunlop, Forrester (capt).

Replacements: Mutamangira, Mpofu, Fenwick, Doneghan, Lowe.


Thursday, 27 September 2012

D'arcy Rae named in U20s squad

Ayr's teenage prop D'arcy Rae has been named in the first Scotland Under-20s squad of new coach Sean Lineen's tenure.  D'arcy follows in the footsteps of Ayr team-mates Murray McConnell and Robbie Fergusson, who have both represented their country at under-20 level.

D'arcy will link up with the thirty-nine other talented young Scots for a three-day camp next month. Read the full story here.


Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Ayr Ladies and Mini Tournament

Rugby for all continues to grow at Millbrae, as Ayr Ladies played their first friendly match on Monday night.  They took on Stewartry Sirens and ran them close in a highly competitive match.  Despite the great team effort, Ayr were beaten 28-33 by their vastly experienced opponents.

It bodes well for the Ladies' first official match at Millbrae on Friday 26th October against Strathclyde University (kick-off 7:30pm).  It would be great to see a big turn-out for this encounter.  There will be more details nearer the time.

Ladies' training takes place on Mondays, 7pm, at Millbrae.  Please come along if interested.

If you can't get enough rugby, there is the annual Ayr Mini Tournament this Sunday.  From 11am to 3:30pm, visiting teams including West of Scotland, GHA, GHK, Marr, Stewartry and East Kilbride will take part.  Fundraising will also take place for the P7 tour in April 2013.  All welcome.


Friday, 21 September 2012

Ayr v Melrose preview

Ayr head to the legendary Greenyards tomorrow to take on Melrose in the toughest test of the season so far.  With four wins from four matches under their belt, the men in pink and black look to continue their excellent form. 

They will get an extra lift in the shape of Scotland international Ruaridh Jackson, who will have a very busy weekend, after coming off the bench at Scotstoun on Friday night for Glasgow Warriors' victory over Connacht.

Head coach Kenny Murray is excited at the prospect of the 35-cap player turning out for Ayr.

"To get an internationalist of Jacko's ability is a fantastic boost for our squad ahead of such a key game."

Jackson slots in at fly-half in place of the injured Sylvain Diez.  Also not considered for the clash due to injury are Dean Kelbrick, Finn Russell, Murray McConnell and Nick Campbell.

Other selection changes include Zimbabwean international prop Denford Mutamangira gaining promotion from the bench to the starting line-up after a barn-storming second half last Saturday against Stirling County, and elite development player George Hunter.  Hunter was on the bench for Glasgow Warriors last week and returns as a replacement for Ayr.  Ross Curle returns after suspension.

"The squad realise that a win this week away from home would send out a big message to our competitors," says Murray.  "Although we have competed well at home and in the cup finals, we have always been outplayed at the Greenyards.  This is something we are keen to redress."

Murray is all too aware of Melrose's fast, expansive style of rugby. 

"Our defence will have to be at its absolute best in order to stop key players such as Fraser Thomson, Andrew Skeen and John Dalziel."

Team (subject to change on match day):
Anderson, C Gossman, Fergusson, Dalgleish, K Gossman; Jackson, Jericevich; Mutamangira, Wisnewski, Cox; White, Sutherland; Fisken, Dunlop, Forrester (capt).

Replacements: Hunter, Fenwick, McCallum, Doneghan, Curle.


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Ayr 39 Stirling County 17

Man-of-the-match Nick Cox (right) with Ross Curle

It was a tense first half at Millbrae, as Ayr tusselled with Stirling County to maintain their unbeaten record in this season's Premiership. It wasn't simply sporting hyperbole when Ayr's head coach Kenny Murray said taking on County would be a "massive challenge".  Stirling meant business, but Ayr would not be denied.

The visitors opened the scoring at two minutes, with a penalty kick from centre Brian Archibald.  Two minutes later, Ayr got a chance to reply, but scrum-half Peter Jericevich couldn't slot the ball between the posts.  0-3.

That didn't dampen the spirits of the packed stand and touchline or the home side, as captain Calum Forrester led from the front, crawling along the Millbrae turf at one point when Stirling's determined defence brought him to his knees. 

It was Forrester who got Ayr on the score board at seven minutes, sneeking in from the base of a scrum to score his third try of the season.  Jericevich missed the tricky touchline conversion to keep the scores at 5-3.

The next fifteen minutes saw both teams make forays into the other's half, with Ayr matching Stirling's speedy backline.  However, County aren't just flashy backs and their forwards posed many questions.  Ayr answered well at the set pieces, the line-out in particular. 

The home forwards and backs combined on more than one occasion to make for the line, with the ball flying through the hands of fly-half Sylvain Diez, hooker Hayden Wisnewski, second rows Scott Sutherland and Colin White and number eight Forrester, but to no avail. 

Ayr, though, managed to extend their lead to 8-3 after Jericevich kicked a difficult penalty that hit the post but still went over.  Three minutes later, centre Robbie Fergusson displayed some great running to get Ayr's second try.  Jericevich missed the conversion.  13-3.

County were hot on Ayr's heels, however, with prop Garry Mountford bowling over for the visitors' first try.  Archibald converted, his unusual golfing-esque technique standing up to the attempted charge-down from Jericevich.  13-10.

Stirling were bouyed and their backs were sniffing out interceptions.  After one near-miss, winger Matt Lamb was on to a flat pass and hared off for the line.  Archibald added the extras.  13-17.  Just before half-time, the centre had another chance to get more points for County, but missed the penalty.

It wasn't looking good for the home side as the second half began, with Sutherland getting a ticking-off from referee Lloyd Linton.  Archibald again had a shot at goal but missed.  Stirling pressed on, but Ayr bolstered their defence and managed to get a crucial turn-over on their own line.

County continued to show creativity in attack, with full-back Jonnie Hope chipping and chasing only for his pass to find no-one.  Things went downhill for them, as second row Craig Deacons was sin-binned at nine minutes for cynical play.

Ayr took their chances, with Nick Cox tearing around the pitch like the proverbial bull in a china shop.  Centre Richard Dalgleish was fearless in tackling as Stirling tried to force their way back into a game that was now slipping away from them. 

Their frustration was more than evident when the ball was churlishly thrown off the pitch as Ayr were about to take a line-out.  Eventually succeeding at the delayed set piece, after Stirling got a slap on the wrists from the officials, Ayr put in a huge effort to drive Cox over the line for try number three.  Jericevich converted to help Ayr take the lead, 20-17 at fifty-seven minutes.

Ayr's backs took every opportunity to show off their skills, with winger Craig Gossman taking a great high ball, motoring off up the touch line and kicking ahead, only to be taken - the crowd thought - too late.  Fergusson and Dalgleish's centre partnership continues to grow, as their stylish play unleased full-back Grant Anderson.  He couldn't make it to the line, as Stirling's defence stayed strong.

The home crowd didn't have long to wait for another score, as Cox got his second and Ayr's fourth try of the match, the jovial prop diving over the line.  Jericevich's missed conversion took the scores to 25-17 with twenty minutes to go.

With a four-try bonus point under their belt, Ayr could have settled into protecting their lead for the remainder of the match, but took the line of attack being the best form of defence.  Anderson and Craig Gossman linked up but found no way through.  Kerr Gossman's mazy running made some inroads but County were holding their ground.

Jericevich, socks ever at his ankles, swiped the ball from the back of an Ayr scrum in Stirling's half, before racing off, kicking ahead and forcing the visitors into touch.  The resulting line-out led to flanker Graham Fisken charging for the line and getting the fifth try of the afternoon for the men in pink and black. 

Jericevich's conversion attempt was delayed as County's flanker Adam de St Croix was helped from the field by both sets of medical teams with a very painful-looking arm injury, an indication of Stirling's never-say-die attitude. 

Jericevich slotted the kick to make it 32-17.  Changes were made as fan favourite Denford Mutamangira took his place in the front row, and seventeen-year-old centre Gavin Lowe made his senior debut.

Stirling tried to come back, with a good run from Lamb, but they got themselves in a fankle and knocked on.  With the minutes ticking down, Craig Gossman did what he had been threatening to do all afternoon and ran in a superb try from his own half.  Jericevich's conversion made the score 39-17.

Stirling's misery was compounded by a final minute yellow card for full-back Hope.  But it was celebrations all round for Ayr as the whistle was blown for full-time.  Four matches played, four matches won.

Man-of-the-match was Nick Cox for his two tries and all-round herculian efforts.


Friday, 14 September 2012

Ayr v Stirling preview

After three wins in a row and topping the RBS Premiership table, Ayr host Stirling County at Millbrae to see if they can make it a fourth victory of the season.  It was a tight match at Netherdale against Gala last Saturday, and the team will be hoping to show an equally gritty performance and give the Millbrae faithful something to cheer about.

There is one change to the starting line-up, with prop D'arcy Rae, who represented Scotland at under-18s level last year, replacing George Hunter, who links up with Glasgow Warriors this week.  Zimbabwean international prop and fan favourite Denford Mutamangira returns to the bench.

17-year-old centre Gavin Lowe makes his senior debut on the bench, after having trained with the first XV for several months.  Gavin has played for Scotland under-18s and is one of the most exciting prospects in Scottish rugby.

Despite Ayr's great start to the new rugby year, head coach Kenny Murray isn't getting ahead of himself.

"We are obviously eager to maintain our winning record and stay ahead of the chasing pack.  As it's still early in the season, we realise that one loss could see us fall into a mid-table position."

Murray expects a tough match against Stirling: "They have a very effective back line that has been helped by Glasgow pros in the past few weeks.  It will be crucial that we dominate the forward battle and limit the ball that these guys will crave."

Team (subject to change on match day):

Anderson, C Gossman, Fergusson, Dalgleish, K Gossman; Diez, Jericevich; Cox, Wisnewski, Rae; Sutherland, White; Fisken, Dunlop, Forrester (capt).

Replacements: Mutamangira, Fenwick, McCallum, Doneghan, Lowe.


Friday, 7 September 2012

Ayr v Gala preview

After Ayr's galloping win over Dundee at Millbrae last Saturday, the men in pink and black hit the road once again and head for the Borders to take on Gala.  Both sides have had a good start to the season and it will be a closely contested fixture to see who can carry on their fine form.

There are two changes to the starting line-up, with Graham Fisken and Hayden Wisnewski replacing Ross Doneghan and Stuart Fenwick respectively.  Doneghan joins teenagers Peter McCallum and D'arcy Rae on the bench.  The latter two replace the injured Nick Campbell and Denford Mutamangira, who turns out for the second XV this weekend.

Head coach Kenny Murray was encouraged by last week's win.  "We were pleased with the pace and intensity that we created throughout the game.  Although we were missing Ross Curle, Finn Russell and Dean Kelbrick from our midfield, I felt we showed some excellent movement and defended particularly well."

He continued: "Our set piece improved from our game against Boroughmuir but we recognise that Gala pose different challenges.  In particular, we will have to be alert at the line-out, where Gala like to attack through the middle, and have already caused problems for teams this season."

Murray expects an open yet physical game at Netherdale.  Ayr, however, are well prepared after training on Tuesday night with Glasgow Warriors at their new Scotstoun stadium.

Team (subject to change on match day):

Anderson; C Gossman, Fergusson, Dalgleish, K Gossman; Diez, Jericevich; Cox, Wisnewski, Hunter; White, Sutherland; Fisken, Dunlop, Forrester (capt). 

Replacements: Rae, McCallum, Doneghan, Young, Taylor.


Sunday, 2 September 2012

Ayr 28 Dundee HSFP 10

Ayr followed their fantastic opening win of the season last week with a terrific home victory yesterday over Dundee HSFP.

Running out at Millbrae for the first time in four months, Ayr had the weight of expectation on their shoulders due to last Saturday's resounding defeat of Boroughmuir.  The fans expected and the players delivered. 

With ladies' day already in full swing, there was a great atmosphere, but the merriment was respectfully put on hold as all assembled remembered Jim McDonald, who recently passed away.  An Ayr stalwart, Jim was a fitness adviser at the club in the days when such a thing in rugby was rare.  A minute's silence allowed reflection on his life and contribution to Ayr RFC.

Ayr began their opening home game of the season with gusto, stealing Dundee's line-out at the first go.  The players were clearly keyed up for a physical encounter, with commitment on show from the off.  Unfortunately, within the first eight minutes, flanker Ross Doneghan's heroic tackling efforts led to a nasty-looking knock and he had to be replaced by Graham Fisken. 

Two of Ayr's new arrivals, Craig and Kerr Gossman, showed their merit in last week's season opener, and that good form continued for the brothers at Millbrae.  Kerr was the first to display his fast pace and fancy footwork, but it was Craig who got on the scoreboard, scoring a try at ten minutes.  Scrum-half Peter Jericevich set it up beautifully with a break and kick-and-chase.  He added the conversion, making the score 7-0.

Three minutes later, Dundee had their chance to get on the board with a penalty, but dodgy contact with the ball meant stand-off Jack Steele sent it under the crossbar.  A missed kick to touch from Dundee didn't help matters either, as Ayr used the mistake to their advantage, launching a sustained onslaught in the opposition 22 that only ended when Dundee knocked the ball from Andy Dunlop's hand.

The home fans didn't have to wait too long for another try.  At twenty-two minutes, inside centre Richard Dalgleish took a sharp pass from his midfield partner Robbie Fergusson to cross the line.  Jericevich was again successful with the conversion.  14-0.

The crowd was getting plenty to shout about with more breaks from Kerr Gossman and tenacious tackling from stand-off Sylvain Diez (what's an eighteen-stone Dundonian prop when you've been bashed about by bulls in Pamplona?).  The fans were particularly vociferous when Dundee hooker Darrel Russell threw a line-out ball at his own prop's head and it was deemed straight by the referee.

Fergusson let his creativity show, with a clever kick-and-chase that pushed Ayr into Dundee's half.  Full-back Grant Anderson wasn't about to let the youngster steal the limelight, and shot off, only for his pass to Craig Gossman to be adjudged forward and the try disallowed.

Dundee had had enough of Ayr running all over them, and with ten minutes of the first half to go, got on the scoreboard thanks to a wonderful running try from winger Andrew MacLean.  Steele converted to bring the scores to 14-7.  He added a penalty just before half-time to make 14-10.

Ayr's comfortable lead had disappeared quickly, but spirited defence and attack in the second half meant Dundee didn't get any more points on the board.

The start of the final forty minutes was messy, with mistakes from both sides, and a scuffle breaking out -  Dundee's Taylor Paris (one of Glasgow's new signings) keen to engage Dunlop in some kind of waltz or tango. 

Craig Gossman, Diez and the ever-popular Nick Cox combined to force their way up the park, with Anderson and Fergusson again in the thick of it.  Fergusson looked to be through for a try, but the referee ruled crossing had taken place.

Thirteen minutes in and Ayr got their first penalty shot at goal, but Jericevich hooked it.  Anderson's stunning running and terrific passes from Jericevich and Diez brought another try, Anderson finally getting on the score sheet.  Jericevich converted.  21-10.  But Anderson's try came at a cost, with the full-back being substituted by Cammy Taylor because of a sore shoulder.

There was some good work at the line-out from Ayr, with another Dundee ball stolen.  Captain Calum Forrester proved himself a versatile number eight, with a deft chip ahead that eventually led to Ayr driving for the line, only to be held up just short.  A few minutes later, Dalgleish got his second try of the game, fighting his way over.  Jericevich added the extras.  28-10.

The final quarter saw Dundee desperately trying to get some more points, but Ayr's stolid defence wouldn't let them.  A few more attacking runs from the home side came to nothing, but there were happy faces all round when the referee blew the whistle for full-time.

Man-of-the-match was awarded to Sylvain Diez for some remarkable work in both defence and attack.

- Elena Hogarth