Welcomed by the Jersey Pipe Band on to a perfect playing surface in front of a large crowd in warm sunshine, Ayr started their British and Irish Cup sortie minus 5 first-team regulars – which was balance out by Jersey’s inclusion of a number of 1st team debutants.
The opening exchanges were shared, then a charge by Callum Templeton aided by Peter Jericevich (a constant thorn in Jersey’s flesh) brought Ayr on the attack. A break by Robbie Fergusson went close and sustained pressure led to the first points of the game, a penalty by Finn Russell.
The Jersey backs committed several handling errors but their powerful pack rumbled over the Ayr line with a perfect rolling maul. Penberthy’s conversion gave Jersey a 7 -3 lead. After 20 minutes Ayr received their first yellow card for Scott Sutherland, then hooker Fergus Scott went off injured.
The game changed after half an hour when Andy Dunlop received a red card for a swinging punch in retaliation to a forearm smash, the decision being made by the touchline official who drew the referee’s attention. The players and both sets of supporters were surprised and perhaps the 22-year-old referee from the Welsh RFU could have been more lenient, especially as he ignored other offences during the game, particularly a no-arms, crash tackle which floored Robbie Fergusson in the second half.
Undaunted, the Ayr backs continued to impress with superb, defensive tackling and scintillating breaks, one of which by Kerr Gossman with backs support swept down the entire field only to be foiled five meters from the Jersey line. However, 5 minutes from half-time Ayr pressure told when a superb line-out catch by Scott Sutherland and feed by Jericevich led to Finn Russell’s dummy and dart to the posts for a try which he himself converted – fine reward for a player who had an outstanding match, impressing with his kicking, tackling, distribution and coolness under pressure.
A yellow card for George Hunter meant that Ayr reached half-time with a 10 -7 lead but with only 13 players on the pitch. The depleted team moved into a 13 – 7 lead after 48 minutes with a Russell penalty. However, after 55 minutes referee Jones gave Hunter a second yellow (and resultant red card), leaving Ayr to play the remaining 25 minutes with 13 men.
A herculean effort was going to be needed and resolute tackling kept Jersey at bay until the big Jersey pack powered over again from another rolling maul. The conversion put Jersey into a one-point lead. The lack of numbers showed when the Jersey backs spun the ball along their line for a Fidler converted try. Score 21 – 13 for Jersey.
However, back came Ayr again and a superb Russell penalty put them into bonus-point position at 16-21 with 5 minutes remaining. Despite stout defence by the 6-man pack, they could not hold out and a late try by winger Dempsey was well converted from the touchline.
A 28 – 16 defeat was rough justice for the Ayr team. The 40-odd travelling supporters expressed pride at this performance – the forwards stuck to their task with great resilience against a massive pack and the backs were magnificent in defence and constantly prepared to attack, often initiated by the enterprising Grant Anderson at full back.
Make no mistake, with 15 men, Ayr would have been in with an excellent chance of winning this game. The return match is looked upon with great anticipation.
- Brian McNally