Sunday, 31 August 2014

Ayr 28 Gala 24

Games against Gala are always full of incident and yesterday's was no different as Ayr edged a win in the opening fixture of the BT Premiership at Millbrae.

The match couldn't have got off to a worst start for the home side as the kick-off went astray and Gala scrum-half George Graham scrambled over for a try, which full-back Craig Dods converted.  0-7.

Ayr tried to hit back through winger Craig Gossman, number eight Blair Macpherson, prop Nick Cox and a between-the-legs catch from flanker Callum Templeton, but they got nowhere until Gala infringed in a kickable position and outside centre Ross Curle took the three points at six minutes.  3-7.

Ayr retained possession for the next few minutes and moved the ball side-to-side but couldn't overcome the solid Gala defence until scrum-half David Armstrong burst forth and scurried to the line for a try in his first XV debut.  It was a wide conversion but Curle managed it.  10-7.

Armstrong was on brilliant form all afternoon, picking up the man-of-the-match award, and it wasn't just because of his attacking play.  He was there to mop up the spills and contain the marauding Maroons. 

What couldn't be contained, however, were the tempers from both sides, and it wasn't long before Ayr flanker Andy Dunlop was taking a suspected elbow to the eyebrow and had to hurry back to the clubhouse to be stitched up.

Ayr applied some pressure, particularly at the set pieces, but couldn't make ground.  Another infringement from the visitors, this time not rolling away, gave Curle his second penalty attempt at nineteen minutes, which he duly booted over.  13-7.
Curle and full-back Grant Anderson displayed their usual slicing runs, but despite a good off-load to Craig Gossman, they still couldn't get anywhere, and the home team were starting to infringe too, being caught off-side.  Dods couldn't make the kick at goal though.

Dods launched an attack a few minutes later and it looked like winger Graham Speirs was in for a try until Armstrong came racing across to make a superb tackle and Speirs ended up throwing the ball into the face of an Ayr player.

Gala tried yet again but George Graham kicked away possession.  Tempers were fraying, with Dunlop somehow losing his shirt and prop Fraser Watt dragging his Gala opposite number Luke Pettie around by the collar when he found himself on the wrong side, but nothing ignited into fisticuffs.

It was a tough old battle with both captain Dean Kelbrick and lock Rob McAlpine down injured for some time before carrying on and Gala had their fair share of substitutions.

Then things did kick off.  Gala replacement prop Callum MacIntosh seemed to take exception to being felled by Craig Gossman, a possible seven stones lighter than him, and a bit of silly pushing and pulling broke out.  Gala lock Chris Weir, however, took things too far, making contact with an Ayr face in what looked like a punch.  It couldn't have been though as he was only awarded a yellow card. 

The ensuing rammy was quickly calmed by the more level-headed players in both teams, but the crowd was getting hot and bothered on Ladies' Day as Templeton found himself whistled and cheered at as he changed his ripped shirt.

Ayr used their ire to their advantage and took off on a superb drive up the park that couldn't be stopped by Gala captain Opeta Palepoi mischievously popping out of the pink and black side.  They moved it out wide but a chip by Anderson was pounced on by a Gala player.

With their man advantage, Ayr put on a huge shove at the scrum and Macpherson flipped over a defender and over the line for a try.  Curle's conversion was short.  18-7.

Gala meant business in the second half, with flanker Gary Graham proving a bearded menace who was only stopped in his tracks by an excellent tackle from Templeton.  Craig Gossman bounced off Graham in an attempt to quell the threat and had to be escorted from the pitch with a dislocated elbow.

Gala took advantage of Gossman lying crumpled in a heap to nip over in the corner for a try by winger Grant Somerville.  Dods missed the conversion.  18-12.

There was a huge cheer of appreciation as Armstrong left the field after a blistering performance which saw him here, there and everywhere.  His replacement, recent Glasgow Warriors signing Murray McConnell, was greeted with much enthusiasm too and he set about tidying up a match that was getting messy.

Both teams seemed to have run themselves ragged in the first half and the opening minutes of the second and were now making mistakes.  Luckily Ayr stand-off Danny McCluskey, who had an equally impressive game as his half-back partner Armstrong, was there to scoop up a loose pass from Gala and fire it to Kerr Gossman who fought his way up the wing and sent Anderson over for a much-needed try at fifty-five minutes.  Curle nabbed the conversion.  25-12.

It might have seemed like there was daylight, especially when Dods missed another penalty, but Gala can never be easily dismissed.  They pressed on and only some crazy-looking defensive efforts from Curle and a bear-hug of a tackle from Kerr Gossman stopped them scoring.

A dazed-looking Macpherson, who had thrown himself around the pitch, was led away by the medical team at the end of the third quarter and Ayr found themselves in trouble with the referee at the scrum.  Neil Paterson eventually performed the trot of doom to the posts to award Gala a penalty try, which Dods converted.  25-19.

Ayr had another good trundling drive but McConnell couldn't get his pass away to McCluskey.  No matter though as they got themselves a penalty which Curle kicked.  28-19.

With a good ten minutes left on the clock, Ayr and their fans knew they couldn't relax.  They were the ones to give away a penalty next, allowing Gala a line-out and then a scrum which let George Graham make for the try-line.  It was Josh Irvine who crossed for the score.  Dods missed the conversion.  28-24.

It was a very tense final seven minutes, but Ayr put in some good work at the line-out thanks to McAlpine and second row partner Scott Sutherland, who also proved themselves useful in the loose.

Yet more scrapping broke out after McConnell shoved a Gala attacker into touch and the referee had a conference with his assistants before deciding to take no action against either side. 

Gala had the majority of the possession in the final minutes and the crowd was on the edge of their seats and as it looked like it was just a matter of time before they pressed for a try.  But Ayr stayed patient and thankfully turned it over before Anderson happily booted the ball in the direction of the Burns Birthplace Museum and the referee blew the whistle for full-time.

Final score: Ayr 28 Gala 24.

- Elena Hogarth.

All photos by Rob Hardie of Touchline Images.

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