Playing Melrose home or away is always a challenge, and Ayr certainly found their first match of 2013 a hard-fought encounter as the Borderers snapped at their heels like the proverbial terrier.
Ayr shot out of the blocks with some early pressure. Although they struggled with the forceful Melrose scrum, the home side made plenty of ground thanks to the bulldozing efforts of prop Denford Mutamangira.
It was his fellow front-rower Nick Cox who got the first score at just four minutes, when he plunged over Melrose's try line. Fly-half Finn Russell slotted the conversion. 7-0.
Ayr were in a marauding mood in the first half, turning over several times and stealing Melrose's line-out throws. They didn't have it all their own way, giving away too many penalties. It was clearly a tense affair, as Melrose knocked-on once too often (as did Ayr) and brief scuffles broke out.
Ayr kept their eyes on the prize though, getting their second try at ten minutes, with hooker Hayden Wisnewski burrowing over after a series of attempts to break the doughty Melrose defence. The Ayr front row may have struggled in the set-pieces, but they more than made up for it elsewhere. Russell missed the conversion, making the score 12-0.
Ross Curle seemed delighted to be back at Millbrae after an extended period on the sidelines due to a ban, and showed some magic, taking a high ball and shooting off up the park. He wasn't the only one with some gas, as captain and number eight Calum Forrester flying on more than one occasion.
It was Curle's centre partner Dean Kelbrick who claimed the next try at twenty-five minutes, displaying superb footwork to race up the right wing after Cox barged his way through several defenders. Russell couldn't manage the extras. 17-0.
Melrose began to string together some threatening phases of attack, with fly-half Richard Mill sparking some fire in his backs. Ayr's winger Robbie Fergusson made some big tackles and Russell put in an assured performance with some good clearance kicks and all-round bossing of the game.
Ayr's scrum problems weren't helped when Mutamangira was replaced due to a knee injury. At thrity-five minutes, Melrose got their first chance for points when centre Andrew Skeen successfully kicked a penalty. 17-3.
The remaining five minutes of the half were topsy-turvy as the teams traded possession. Just before half-time, Melrose put considerable pressure on the Ayr scrum and referee Johann van der Merwe tired of it collapsing, eventually awarding the dreaded penalty try. It was easily converted by Skeen. Ayr's lead was suddenly disappearing. 17-10.
Ayr aren't the team to panic, but both sides seemed edgy at the start of the second half. Russell missed a kick for touch, each team was penalised for off-side and Melrose again had problems with their handling.
Melrose used their strong scrum to gain ground and number eight Andrew Nagle and openside flanker Grant Runciman combined to trundle up the wing. It looked like Runciman would score, only for Russell to determinedly track him down and drag him to the ground.
Ayr got back into the swing of things with an exciting try at forty-seven minutes. Scrum-half Peter Jericevich darted through a gap in the Melrose defence, found the equally nimble Curle who fired the ball back to Jericevich and he flew in under the posts to send the crowd wild. Russell converted. 24-10.
It began raining fairly steadily and the teams engaged in a little aerial ping-pong. Ayr again fell foul of the referee, but Melrose couldn't capitalise, knocking-on more than once. But they camped out on Ayr's line and were only repelled by some ferocious defence from the home side, cheered on vociferously by the large crowd.
The referee once more found Ayr wanting and awarded another penalty try at seventy minutes, converted by Skeen. 24-17.
Three minutes later, Ayr showed real tenacity to grab another try, replacement prop D'arcy Rae and second row Nick Campbell going for the line before Forrester crossed. Russell's conversion was just wide. 25-17.
Melrose wouldn't lie down though, replying a couple of minutes later with a try from blindside flanker John Dalziel. Skeen converted to take the score to 29-24.
The crowd roared their team on though, despite Melrose's continued attack. With just a minute to go, Russell stepped up to take a penalty, easily slotting it to make the final score 32-24 and get himself the man of the match award too.
- Elena Hogarth