Ayr battled their way into the final of the RBS West Regional Cup with a victory over Cartha Queen's Park that was far more difficult than the scoreline suggests.
The men in pink and black not only had to overcome the doughty visiting team but also the Millbrae pitch, which had the consistency of the perfect chocolate brownie - crunchy on the outside yet gooey in the middle. Perfect for eating but a real pain in the pantry to play rugby on.
Ayr started well with some fine attacking play from winger Kerr Gossman and assured defence from openside flanker Andy Dunlop. The home side were certainly looking for points from the get-go, but it wasn't until nine minutes in that Craig Gossman crossed for the first try. It was a difficult touchline conversion which fly-half Finn Russell couldn't make. 5-0.
Handling errors crept into both teams' games, and despite the excellent footwork from Gossman the elder, Ayr couldn't get over the line again as soon as they'd wanted. Cartha were strong in the scrum, managing to mess things up for the hosts at the set piece and elsewhere. However, when they did get possession - ripping the ball out of Ayr centre Ross Curle's hands being just one way - they couldn't do anything with it.
There was disappointment for the younger Gossman - Kerr, newly returned from injury - when he was helped from the pitch after a particularly shoddy-looking tackle from Cartha left him with a painful-looking bash to the arm. He was replaced by the experienced Cammy Taylor.
Blindside flanker Graham Fisken was the next Ayr player to get a try, at twenty-eight minutes. It was another on the touchline and Russell again couldn't get the conversion from the tricky position. 10-0.
Cartha weren't about to lie down and roll over and came back four minutes later with a try of their own from hooker Greg Gilmore, who was bundled over the line. There was a huge roar of approval from the large number of travelling fans. It was swiftly converted by Wayne Burrows to make the score 10-7 and prove that Cartha were in it to win it.
Their opponents' determination spurred Ayr on, with a half-break from Fisken and a charge for the line from Taylor, only for him to trip. He picked himself up and Curle provided some momentum to get him closer to the whitewash, but Cartha's defence was too strong, holding both backs up.
Ayr didn't have to wait long for a score, prop Stuart Fenwick (pictured above) getting good ball from the line-out to grab a try two minutes before half-time. Russell converted this time. 17-7.
Ayr blasted themselves into action at the resumption of play, with scrum-half Peter Jericevich taking off like a rocket from the back of a scrum. He couldn't find his way to the line and Cartha managed to push themselves out of their own half.
There were some replacements early in the second half, with teenager Gavin Lowe coming on in the backs and - at the opposite end of the age spectrum - veteran forward Gordon Sykes making a welcome return to the Ayr 1st XV.
At forty-four minutes, Fisken, on fine form all afternoon, suddenly found himself in his own twenty-two with ball in hand and seemingly miles of open field. There was nothing else for it but to pin his ears back and motor up the pitch to score a memorable try. Russell didn't get the extras. 22-7.
For the next ten minutes or so, nothing much seemed to happen as the conditions hampered any kind of running rugby. Cartha winger Tony Nywangweso was in dangerous form but couldn't make headway.
Cartha did get themselves into an attacking position, kicking up the wing, the ball bobbling over the line, but Ayr full-back Grant Anderson quickly grounded it. Ayr replied with breaks from Gossman and Curle but to no avail.
Cartha were unlucky to find themselves down to fourteen men with ten minutes to go, when prop Fraser MacKinnon was sin-binned. Ayr took advantage and replacement forward Ross Doneghan dived over for a try. Curle took over the kicking duties, as Russell had been substituted, and nonchalantly claimed the conversion. 29-7.
It was a hard-fought match with a few nasty knocks, which saw Fisken join his bruised and battered team-mates on the sidelines, who included replacement flanker Shingai Mpofu. The erstwhile Zimbabwean international captain did the splits in his attacking efforts and limped off just before full time.
It was Craig Gossman who started the scoring, so it was fitting that the diminutive winger had the final say with another try. Curle slotted the conversion, bringing the final score to 36-7 at a muddy Millbrae and taking Ayr into a final against Hawks.
- Elena Hogarth