Ayr's matches with Gala are always tough encounters, but yesterday's game had the feeling of an epic battle as smoke engulfed the pitch and players emerged bloodied and battered.
If the men in pink and black were the Picts, then the mighty maroons were the Romans, building a wall of defence so strong and high that nobody could get up, over, through or round it.
It all started so promisingly for the home team. Determined to make amends after last week's away loss to Currie, Ayr launched an early attack but it was a sign of things to come that they couldn't break down Gala's defence.
Ayr had the first chance for points with a kickable penalty, and with regular kicker Ross Curle having his leg heavily strapped, it was full-back and captain Grant Anderson who stepped up to the tee, only to miss.
Much of the first forty minutes was played in Gala's half, but they coped well with the onslaught from Ayr, scrum-half Murray McConnell and prop Nick Cox proving difficult to wrestle to the ground.
When Gala did manage a turn-over, they failed to clear their lines, sending the ball straight into the arms of winger Kerr Gossman, who shot off up the touchline and nicely flicked the pass to Anderson, who was bundled off the pitch.
Nevertheless, Ayr got a penalty as Gala continued to infringe, despite warnings from referee Graeme Wells. Ayr took the line-out and a strong drive saw them trundle in the direction of Gala's try-line only for that stout maroon defence to shove them off-course.
Gala centre Ewan Scott had been pushing his luck with the referee and Wells finally got fed up and sent him to the bin for a professional foul at thirteen minutes. Winger Craig Gossman was handed the kicking duties and managed to boot the ball over. 3-0.
Despite being a man down, Gala still wouldn't capitulate, coping well at the set-pieces and dealing with some lovely angled kicking from hand by Anderson. They couldn't hold out for ever though, and a move started by Cox from an Ayr lineout saw the ball make its way to the corner and into the hands of Grant Anderson, who dotted down for a try. The angle was too wide for Gossman to get the conversion. 8-0.
Gala were so busy trying to close down the threat of Craig Gossman - by any means - that they seemed to forget about Kerr, and two minutes after Ayr's first try, he scooped up a loose ball and touched down for the second. Again, Gossman the elder had the distance with the conversion but the ball sailed past the wrong side of the posts. 13-0.
With Gala back to fifteen, they worked their way out of their own half. Centre Scott made a blistering break and would have shot under the posts but for a heroic tackle by Craig Gossman, which unfortunately left the wiry winger spread-eagled on the ground and created a big gap for prop Ewan McQuillin to canter through and get Gala's first try. Scott converted. 13-7.
As expected in such a tense encounter, the players became bad-tempered at times and fisticuffs broke out. Gala scrum-half and captain George Graham did not lead by example, immaturely refusing to hand over the ball to his opposite number McConnell and getting his team sent back ten metres.
Despite attacking line-outs for both teams, neither could score again in the first half.
Gala took to the pitch for the second half with a renewed fire in their bellies and immediately set about camping out on Ayr's five-metre line. The home defence managed to prevent them getting over for a try, with McConnell and Kerr Gossman wrapping up Gala's attackers, but referee Wells adjudged Ayr to be on the wrong side of the law at the scrum and awarded a penalty try. Scott converted. 13-14.
Smoke began to roll in from a nearby fire and with the dusk descending, the floodlights coming on, the Millbrae faithful providing unfaltering vocal support and the Gala coaching team's querulous yowling from the sidelines, it all got a bit primal.
Craig Gossman found himself in the bin after taking a Gala player out of the air and his teammates' further indiscipline saw Scott get a kickable penalty which he took. 13-17.
Gala's tails were up and electric winger Gerald Sibanda thought he was on his way to a rip-roaring try only for Kerr Gossman to turn on his heel, track him down and hold on for dear life until his opposite number was hauled to the ground.
Even the referee seemed to be getting caught up in the atmosphere - or possibly smoke had hampered his vision - and it took Gala's physio to alert him to three players all lying injured.
Ayr were doing everything they could to hammer the Gala defence, be it chips from Curle or charges from second row duo Scott Sutherland and Peter McCallum. But there was no way through.
They didn't help themselves by giving away a penalty which Scott duly kicked. 13-20.
Gala, despite leading, again showed an impetuosity and kicked the ball away from Ayr when they should have just handed it over and the referee marched them back ten metres.
Still, Ayr could get nowhere. It did look at one point like Sutherland had burrowed over but Wells didn't think so. The ball went from side-to-side and the crowd roared their players on, but it was no use.
Gala held on and managed to do what they had failed to twice last season and beat Ayr. Not only did the visitors chasten the home side, but very soon the Bill McLaren Shield, which Ayr had reclaimed at the Greenyards, was off the clubhouse wall and on a bus heading back to the Borders.
Final score: Ayr 13 Gala 20.
- Elena Hogarth