Ayr overcame a doggedly determined Heriot's and their own indiscipline to record a tough away win at Goldenacre yesterday in freezing cold conditions.
Heriot's began in great style with some fantastic handling but, whether it was the drop in temperature or pressure from the visitors, fumbled several passes and missed out on many a chance to get early points on the board.
Heriot's inside centre Cameron Ferguson always seemed to be threatening to break, but he and his fellow backs were quickly closed down by Ayr, with scrum-half Peter Jericevich and winger Craig Gossman, two of the smallest players on the pitch, leading the way with some excellent tackles.
It was fairly scrappy until, at sixteen minutes, Gossman chipped up the wing for Ross Curle to chase. Ayr's flamboyant outside centre touched down in his usual inimitable style. Fly-half Finn Russell missed the conversion. 0-5.
Six minutes later, Heriot's replied with a great break from winger Max Nimmo that led to a fine try by hooker Kevin Bryce. Scrum-half and captain Graham Wilson's conversion attempt hit the post. 5-5.
The travelling supporters were biting their nails for the rest of the half, watching Heriot's backs making some exciting breaks and stealing Ayr's scrum. At twenty-eight minutes, the home side nudged their nose in front with a successful penalty kick from Wilson. 8-5.
Three minutes later, Ayr's misery was compounded when replacement centre Robbie Fergusson was sin-binned for off-side. The men in pink and black didn't panic, and full-back Grant Anderson steadied the ship with some superior tactical kicking whilst under considerable pressure.
Five minutes before half-time, Russell brought the scores level with a successful penalty kick. 8-8.
The second half started badly for Ayr, with Anderson having a kick charged down, and Heriot's winger Michael Paterson crossing the whitewash. Wilson's conversion again hit the post. 13-8.
Ayr's squad was bolstered by Glasgow Warriors' props Ed Kalman and Jon Welsh, who are making come-backs from long-term injuries. Both played well, but it was Welsh who was sniffing out the scoring opportunities, crossing for his first try at forty-eight minutes. Russell got the extras from a difficult angle. 13-15.
The home side got straight back into attack but could only get a chance at a penalty goal, which Wilson missed.
Replacement scrum-half Murray McConnell made his presence felt with a terrific dart from the base of the scrum to the Heriot's try line but was tackled just in the nick of time. Someone in pink and black seemed to burrow over, but referee Phil Davies needed his assistant to confirm that Welsh had indeed grabbed a try. Russell converted. 13-22.
Ayr showed some real ambition in both attack - hooker Stuart Fenwick galloping his way up the park - and defence - Kalman's crunching tackle causing knocks-on - but it was momentarily undone by Nick Campbell's yellow card at sixty-seven minutes. The big second row did not retire ten metres and the man with the whistle was swift in sending him to the bin. Wilson successfully kicked the penalty. 16-22.
Ayr's scrum was under pressure without Campbell, but Heriot's couldn't capitalise on the extra man, juggling the ball like a hot potato on Ayr's 22. The visitors defended with a calm resolve and despite Heriot's best efforts, the score remained 16-22 until the final whistle.
- Elena Hogarth