Friday, 21 December 2012

Stirling County v Ayr preview

After two postponed Cup games, Ayr are getting back to RBS Premiership duty with a tough encounter at Bridgehaugh on Saturday.  They take on Stirling County, who will be feeling confident after a great away win last week over Bedwas in the British and Irish Cup.

"Bridgehaugh has proved a difficult hunting ground for us in recent years," concedes Ayr head coach Kenny Murray, "and we anticipate a hard, physical match.  Our defensive organisation will have to be at its best to close out some of their danger men such as Sean Kennedy, Stevie Swindall and Ben Addison."

Stirling's squad is boosted by the inclusion of Glasgow Warriors' players Alex Dunbar and the very familiar figure of Mark Bennett, a former Ayr favourite.

"Our boys will be very keen to welcome him back to league action!" enthuses Murray.  "To win, though, we need a big performance from our pack and game control from our half-backs.  It should be a real cracker of a game."

Team (subject to change on match day):

Grant Anderson, Richard Dalgleish, Robbie Fergusson, Dean Kelbrick, Craig Gossman; Finn Russell, Peter Jericevich; Denford Mutamangira, Hayden Wisnewski, Nick Cox; Nick Campbell, Scott Sutherland; Colin White, Andrew Dunlop, Calum Forrester (capt.).

Replacements: Stuart Fenwick, D'arcy Rae, Graham Fisken, Murray McConnell, Ross Curle.

Kick-off 3pm.

- Elena Hogarth

Friday, 14 December 2012

GHA v Ayr preview

It's back to business after all the excitement of last night's RBS Club of the Month award presentation at Millbrae.  Ayr head up the road to Glasgow to take on GHA in their second encounter in the RBS West Regional Cup at Braidholm, with the players champing at the bit to get some rugby played after last week's Cup clash with Hillhead/Jordanhill was unfortunately postponed.

Although Ayr beat GHA 33-0 in their last Cup encounter in November at Millbrae, they will take nothing for granted as they square up to their opponents away from home.

There are a few notable changes to the squad.  Nick Cox makes a very welcome return to the starting line-up after fully recovering from an injured hand.  Nick Campbell is away in France on Glasgow Warriors duty as they take on Castres Olympique in the Heineken Cup.  He is replaced by Peter McCallum.  Ross Curle returns from his ban. 

Team (subject to change on match day):

Grant Anderson, Richard Dalgleish, Ross Curle, Dean Kelbrick, Craig Gossman; Finn Russell, Murray McConnell; Byron Schmidt, Stuart Fenwick, Nick Cox; Scott Sutherland, Peter McCallum; Colin White, Ross Doneghan, Calum Forrester (capt).

Replacements: Hayden Wisnewski, Denford Mutamangira, Ben Rankin, Peter Jericevich, Cammy Taylor.

-Elena Hogarth

Friday, 7 December 2012

Hills v Ayr preview

After last week's important victory over Gala, Ayr return to RBS West Regional Cup action and head for the Hills on Saturday.  The Millbrae men will go to Hughenden to take on Hillhead/Jordanhill in a match they won't be taking lightly after a fright against them in their home tie last month.

Ayr head coach Kenny Murray isn't getting ahead of himself after last Saturday's table-topping triumph.

"It was the most important win for Ayr in the past few seasons," he reflects.  "But it only keeps us in the race and we are under no illusion that we have a lot more to do if we are to compete for the title."

Turning his attention to the Cup, Murray states that winning it is a huge goal for the players.

"We will approach the game this week with the same attitude, focus and determination as we do for league games."

There are two changes to the front row as prop Byron Schmidt replaces George Hunter, who is on Glasgow Warriors duty, and Hayden Wisnewski drops to the bench and Stuart Fenwick starts at hooker.

Several of the backs are shuffled around, with Craig Gossman getting his first start of the season at full-back.

Nick Cox makes a welcome return to the squad, taking his place amongst the substitutes, after recovering from injury.

Team (subject to change on match day):

Craig Gossman, Richard Dalgleish, Robbie Fergusson, Dean Kelbrick, Cammy Taylor; Finn Russell, Murray McConnell; Byron Schmidt, Stuart Fenwick, Denford Mutamangira; Scott Sutherland, Nick Campbell; Colin White, Graham Fisken, Calum Forrester (capt).

Replacements: Nick Cox, Hayden Wisnewski, Andrew Dunlop, Peter Jericevich, Grant Anderson.

Kick-off 2pm.

- Elena Hogarth

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Ayr 19 Gala 14

It was a tense encounter at Millbrae on Saturday afternoon as Ayr took on RBS Premiership leaders Gala to see if they could get back to the top of the table.  The Borderers made the Millbrae men sweat in the freezing conditions, but Ayr showed patience and maturity to secure a vital win and send their faithful fans home happy.

The first quarter was all Gala, as they showed the home side that they were there for a victory.  Ayr's infringments didn't help matters, and the referee blew his whistle numerous times.  Gala never took a shot at goal, preferring the set piece, but this just played into Ayr's hands.  Every time a maroon shirt was within a sniff of the try line, a pink and black one would appear to snuff out the danger, with Ayr's Dean Kelbrick, Grant Anderson, captain Calum Forrester and Denford Mutamangira being the biggest party poopers from Gala's perspective.  The Maroons' head coach George Graham met this frustration with his usual calm and measured response.

Gala pressed on, however, and Ayr were rattled at times, with kicks for touch and line-out throws going awry.  At fifteen minutes, Gala got their first try, after scrum-half George Graham craftily picked up from the back of Ayr's scrum and fed Euan Dods who went over for the score.  Fly-half Lee Millar converted.  0-7.

If Ayr were shell-shocked, they didn't show it.  Four minutes later, they replied with winger Craig Gossman scoring a fine try after a patient, sustained attack.  Fly-half Finn Russell settled his nerves - and everyone else's - with a solid conversion.  7-7.

Once in Gala's half, Ayr intended to stay there and fight.  Terrier-like scrum-half Peter Jericevich is so often the set-up man for Ayr, but he took a try for himself at twenty-two minutes after spotting a gap and nipping over the line.  Russell just nudged the conversion wide.  12-7.

It looked like Gossman would be in for another score, after speedy hooker Hayden Wisnewski released him on the wing, but he was adjudged to have knocked-on before the ball could be grounded.

Gala put Ayr under pressure at the scrum and managed to get out of their own half and back up to Ayr's line.  The home side put in another impressive defensive effort to thwart the visitors' ambitions, with Russell more than making up for his fluffed conversion with two huge tackles that surely saved Ayr's bacon.

Ayr's defence continued to impress at the start of the second half when Jericevich pulled off a stunning try-saving tackle just centimetres from the line.  Things got even more tense, though, at fifty minutes, when Ayr second row Scott Sutherland found himself in the sin-bin for a professional foul. 

Gala took advantage of the extra man, with captain Opeta Palepoi using his great footwork to get his team up the park and replacement prop Craig Borthwick displaying excellent hands.  They didn't reckon with Ayr fan favourite Mutamangira, who put in a powerhouse performance all afternoon both in defence and attack.  He was a perpertual thorn in Gala's side and his every charge was met with roars of approval from the packed stand and touchlines.

The numbers were evened up at fifty-five minutes, when flanker Gary Graham joined Sutherland in the bin.  It was Ayr's turn to make for the line and be frustrated by some good defence.  Young prop George Hunter, replacement scrum-half Murray McConnell, Mutamangira and Wisnewski all nearly burrowed over, but it was a returning Sutherland who grabbed Ayr's third try at sixty-six minutes.  Again, Ayr showed real composure, as did Russell with his successful conversion attempt.  19-7.

Gala's left winger Craig Robertson and inside centre Alan Emond were looking increasingly dangerous with ball in hand in the final quarter, and Ayr seemed to be letting the nerves get to them with some silly mistakes. 

With four minutes to go, Gala made their move, forcing their way over Ayr's line only to be held up by yet another superb display of defence.  But the visitors would not give up, trundling their scrum over the line a minute later.  Dods was again the try scorer.  Millar converted.  19-14.

All of Millbrae held their breath for the final three minutes, but their players would not let their fans down.  A forward pass from Gala proved the last act, with the referee sounding full-time to the delight of the team and supporters.  Ayr now find themselves restored to the top of the RBS Premiership table after a tremendous performance.

- Elena Hogarth