Ayr overcame Stirling County and torrential rain on Saturday at Millbrae to score four exciting tries and claim a much-needed bonus point win in the RBS Premiership.
With both sides on the receiving end of back-to-back losses in the British and Irish Cup, it was expected that yesterday's match would be a close affair, and despite the final scoreline, Ayr didn't get it all their own way.
Stirling came out of the blocks pretty quickly and winger Rory Hughes was perhaps too revved up, taking his opposite number Craig Gossman out of the air as they both went for the ball. Referee Gary Gordon had a stern word.
However, County's discipline let them down and after four minutes, Ayr had a penalty in a kickable position and stand-off Finn Russell duly got the three points. 3-0.
The visitors got themselves together and a familiar face to Ayr fans in scrum-half AJ Macfarlane led the attack. Strong tackles from home centres Robbie Fergusson and Dean Kelbrick meant Stirling didn't get very far.
Ayr had struggled in their first few line-outs but settled down with some good takes from second rows Peter McCallum and Scott Sutherland. Their handy work let flanker James Eddie make some effectual breaks, one of which released prop Nick Cox, whose barrelling charge allowed Fergusson to score the first try. Russell converted. 10-0.
The wind was getting fairly gusty too and may have been responsible for County stand-off Stuart Edwards' penalty kick at twenty-two minutes going well wide of the posts.
Whether it was the wind and rain or the pressure from the visitors, Ayr had a few wobbles, including a couple of knocks-on, scrum-half Murray McConnell and Kelbrick bashing into each other as they both went to catch the ball and McConnell being penalised for not putting the ball in straight at the scrum. But Edwards again missed his penalty kick at thirty-two minutes.
Three minutes later and McConnell more than made up for his previous error as he shot away from the back of a scrum near the fifty-metre line like, appropriately for the day Ayr were hosting their Hallowe'en party, a bat out of hell. It looked like he wasn't going to make it to the line but he held off several Stirling defenders to fight his way over for a well-deserved try. Russell got the extras. 17-0.
Players were getting tetchy and fisticuffs broke out right in front of the referee and Gordon had no choice but to send Ayr flanker Andrew Dunlop and County prop Jamie Bhatti to the sin bin just before half-time.
The second half started at a blistering pace with McConnell kicking ahead for Gossman to chase only for the diminutive winger to be once again shunted out of the way by Hughes, this time legally, according to all but the Ayr players and fans.
Mere seconds later and Ayr whipped the ball across the pitch for Eddie to bundle over in the far corner for the day's third try. Russell couldn't convert from such a wide angle. 22-0.
Ayr upped their game in spite of the horrible weather and strong runs from full-back Grant Anderson and more hefty tackles from Fergusson and Kelbrick frustrated Stirling further until Macfarlane got his team sent back ten metres for his backchat.
When the visitors did get possession, it was turned over by Dunlop and kicks were charged down by Eddie. Cox was on bulldozing form and it took several Stirling defenders to stop him in his tracks.
County did buck up their ideas with a quick line-out which allowed winger Graham Lindsay to dash off, with prop Colin Hutton in support but they couldn't get through Ayr's defence, Kelbrick in particular putting in a very big hit to stop them reaching the line.
The match came to a standstill for a few minutes whilst Hughes hobbled off with his leg in a splint and County's luck didn't improve when the game resumed, as they knocked-on just at the try-line.
Ayr's forwards were keen to stretch their legs, with hooker Fergus Scott demonstrating great mobility and replacement back row Graham Fisken showing off his sidestepping skills and tremendous pace.
The men in pink and black were sniffing out a fourth try to get a bonus point and a ruck on Stirling's five-metre line looked to be fruitful until the wily Macfarlane somehow ended up with the ball.
Another attack from Ayr resulted in a knock-on and the clock was ticking. Suddenly, replacement centre Ross Curle came out of nowhere and flew through Stirling's shell-shocked defenders to touch down in the corner with just a few minutes to go. Russell nicely converted from a very tight angle. 29-0.
Stirling could do no more and Ayr didn't need to as the referee blew the whistle for full-time.
Ayr 29 Stirling County 0.
- Elena Hogarth