Sunday, 26 October 2014

Ayr 35 Melrose 17

The BT Premiership is shaping up to have more drama than an entire series of Downton Abbey.

Whilst ITV's Sunday night ratings winner is happy to let its plots plod along like a snail going uphill, Scotland's club rugby scene has twists and turns aplenty, with Ayr and Melrose two of the main characters pushing along the storylines at pace.

After last week's disheartening loss to Heriot's, it was hoped the men in pink and black would bounce back once they stepped on to their home turf against Melrose, and did they.  Barely had the whistle gone when the back row of Callum Templeton, Will Bordill and Blair Macpherson were throwing themselves around like men possessed.

Melrose were also in on the act, but took things too far when flanker Peter Eccles put in a high tackle on outside centre Ross Curle.  A few minutes later and Melrose got another ticking off, giving Curle his first chance at goal, with he duly took.  3-0.

The two sides each had a line-out and it was Ayr's which was the platform for the first try.  The ball flew through the hands of captain Dean Kelbrick and stand-off Danny McCluskey before being fired back to Kelbrick, who crossed the whitewash with eight minutes on the clock.  Curle converted.  10-0.

Two minutes later, and the home side was flying again.  A huge kick from scrum-half David Armstrong was deftly caught by Bordill and he set off full-back Craig Gossman, who found Curle and he was over the line before anyone knew what had happened.  He easily converted his own score.  17-0.

Melrose didn't let their heads go down, and a beautiful dummy from number eight Graham Dodds allowed him to make metres, but he was isolated and the Borderers knocked on a couple of phases later.

A squint line-out throw didn't help the visitors and Ayr were ready to pounce.  Gossman put his opposite number Fraser Thomson under pressure with a kick which, despite the Melrose man claiming it, ended up in Ayr hands.  Macpherson, second row Scott Sutherland, hooker Stuart Fenwick and McCluskey all had a go at getting over the line, but the latter was illegally prevented by winger George Taylor and he was sent to the sin bin at sixteen minutes.

This resulted in an easy penalty in front of the posts for Curle.  20-0.

There was hardly time for the players, never mind the crowd, to catch their breath and Ayr were off again.  Templeton stole a Melrose line-out and a few minutes later, used one of his big paws to casually pat aside winger Callum Anderson and outstrip the Melrose defence to sprint over for Ayr's third try.  Curle converted.  27-0.

The match then took an odd turn as it went from the ceaseless excitement of the first quarter to a period of at least ten minutes messing about at the scrum in Ayr's half.  The referee was not happy with the home side and prop George Hunter found himself yellow carded.

Melrose took advantage and wily prop Nick Beavon transferred his tricks from the scrum to open play and grabbed a try.   Joe Helps converted.  27-7.

Ayr moved play back in Melrose's half and after a couple of line-outs, a pile-up in the corner ensued.  The ball somehow spilled out and was tidied up by Ayr winger Richard Dalgleish.  Despite the best efforts of Curle, McCluskey and Kelbrick, they couldn't get over the line.

Melrose's line-out throw was again not straight, but they kept their composure and Thomson launched a promising-looking attack, with stand-off Austin Lockington in support.  He couldn't escape the clutches of the marauding Bordill, who clung on to his shirt. 

The visitors wouldn't be stopped though, and young flanker Neil Irvine Hess charged up the wing for a well-earned try.  It was unconverted.  27-12.

The torrential rain at the start of the second half quelled the excitement and both sides trundled back and forth for a few minutes before anything really happened.

Melrose looked threatening, stealing an Ayr line-out and Lockington was again charging around.  But they couldn't stop Hunter, who leapt on a kick charged down by second row Rob McAlpine at the back of a scrum, nicely caught the ball and sped over the line for the bonus-point try at forty-eight minutes.  Curle missed the conversion.  32-12.

Macpherson was putting in some big tackles and gaining Ayr a turnover but they were getting on the wrong side of the referee, sparking some hisses of dissatisfaction from the crowd. 

There was more disappointment at fifty-three minutes when Dodds crossed for an unconverted try for Melrose.  32-17.

Those were the last points for the visitors, although they didn't give up trying.  Thomson again led the way, but he was unceremoniously set on his backside by Gossman whenever he tried to breach the Ayr defence.

Dalgleish and his fellow winger Robbie Fergusson were also quick to snuff out any attacks, and Fergusson thought he was in for a try at one point only to be called back for a knock-on.

Replacement scrum-half Murray McConnell was buzzing around as usual, trying to cause havoc and his neat little kick almost did, but for Thomson managing to ground the ball before substitute Kerr Gossman could get to it. 

It was a good day all round for the bench, with James Malcolm, Fraser Watt and Andrew Dunlop making valuable contributions.

Melrose were either tiring or getting tired of being over-run and shut down, because the errors were ever-more prevalent.  They missed their kick for the corner when Ayr had infringed in their own half, booting the ball in the direction of the Burns Monument instead of the Brig a Doon Hotel.  They then knocked on when trying to catch Ayr's drop-out. 

Despite nice hands from Sutherland and Templeton, Ayr knocked on twice too.  Frustration spilled out on a couple of occasions, with the front rows squaring up to each other before the scrum was even set.

The match finished with Curle teeing up a penalty, despite grumblings from the crowd who were keen to see another try.  But the hard work had been done and Curle quickly slotted the kick before the whistle went.  35-17.

There's sure to be more dramatic goings-on next week when Ayr head to Netherdale to take on Gala, but for now they'll be delighted with a good win which puts them second in the BT Premiership table.

Final score: Ayr 35 Melrose 17.

- Elena Hogarth.

Man of the match Danny McCluskey receiving his bottle of Famous Grouse from head coach Calum Forrester.  Danny is sponsored by Boyd Digital.

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