Ayr beat west coast rivals Glasgow Hawks in an odd match at Millbrae on Saturday to stay top of the BT Premiership.
As the dark descended, the floodlights came on and the stand filled with expectant fans, things looked all set for a cracker of a match, but not a point was scored in the first half. It was still full of incident though.
Ayr had the early possession and opportunities, thanks to some charging runs from hooker Fergus Scott and centre Ross Curle. Winger Richard Dalgleish got the crowd on their feet with a few minutes on the clock when a Hawks attempted clearance kick was charged down and he chased it to the line. Unfortunately, the visitors got to it first. It was a fleeting appearance for Dalgleish, who was replaced by Kerr Gossman.
Hawks gained possession thanks to a penalty against Ayr, but the kick for touch didn't get them out of their own half and the line-out throw went too far, landing in the hands of Ayr flanker Andrew Dunlop. It was swiftly fired through the backs but was knocked on.
Hawks had the first kick at goal after another Ayr infringement, but stand-off George Horne missed with five minutes on the clock. Two minutes later and he lined up another, which hit the post.
Ayr's scrum-half David Armstrong had a good day under the high ball, and second row Scott Sutherland was on form, finding gaps in Hawks' tough defence. He unleashed winger Robbie Fergusson for a break up the touchline, but the visitors' were ready with some ferocious tackles.
Although Ayr had the majority of the possession, they couldn't get anywhere, even with Armstrong taking a quick line-out to set former Hawks players Craig and Kerr Gossman loose. They made some ground, but another knock-on handed a scrum to the visitors.
Hawks winger Tom Steven looked like their most threatening back but he found himself in the sin bin on the twenty minute mark after a late tackle on Ayr captain Dean Kelbrick. Centre Kelbrick is another former Hawks player who joined Ayr three seasons ago and he had a not so friendly reminder of his old club as Steven slammed into him with his shoulder. The match was quickly forgotten about as Ayr physio Helen McManus attended to the pole-axed Kelbrick and both teams took matters into their own hands. Referee Lloyd Linton and his assistants calmed everyone down, and with Kelbrick back on his feet and Steven on the sidelines, play continued.
A superb kick for the line-out from Curle got Ayr deep into Hawks' half but the throw was not straight, and the home side lost their advantage by infringing at the resulting scrum.
They camped out in Hawks' half though and regained possession, Craig Gossman, Armstrong and Kerr Gossman combining to almost send Curle over for a try, had he not slipped chasing the ball. Hawks gathered, but Kerr Gossman charged down the clearance, allowing Scott and second row Rob McAlpine to make for the tryline. McAlpine was over but knocked on before grounding the ball.
Hawks had a few knocks-on too, as the ball and the pitch got a bit greasy in the autumn evening. Despite good work from stand-off Danny McCluskey, Curle and props George Hunter and D'arcy Rae, Ayr couldn't hold on to the ball either.
With Steven back on, Hawks pushed into Ayr's half and it was only some very tough Ayr defence, led by number eight Blair Macpherson, Dunlop and flanker Callum Templeton that prevented them getting past the five-metre line.
The two sides continued to cancel each other out and the first half came to a conclusion with another yellow card for Hawks, this time lock Andy Kirkland finding himself dismissed for handling in the ruck.
Ayr took to the pitch for the second half with focus and purpose, driving from a line-out and releasing Kerr Gossman to dance his way through the defence to get into Hawks' twenty-two. Curle, putting in another virtuoso performance, appeared from nowhere to fly on to a pass and just touch down under the posts for a try which he converted, with forty-three seconds on the clock. 7-0.
Curle made another break, with the move carried on by Templeton, Horne clinging on to his jersey and being dragged along the mud behind him. Hawks found themselves off-side and Curle easily kicked the penalty. 10-0.
Knocks-on and forward passes followed, but Craig Gossman livened things up with a fifty-metre run from his own half.
Hawks sharpened up their attack too, but strong tackles from Fergusson and Curle, who seemed to be everywhere at once, quelled any try-scoring ambitions.
It wasn't until the final quarter that Hawks registered any points. Ayr were pinged at the scrum for not binding and Horne duly took the kick. 10-3.
A few minutes later and Ayr again infringed at the scrum. Replacement back Jack Steele stepped up for the long-range penalty and struck it beautifully. 10-6.
It was Ayr's turn to have someone sent to the naughty step, with Templeton yellow carded.
The final ten minutes seemed to go on for ever. Hawks got their tails up after Steele's kick and displayed some slick attacking moves, but Ayr turned them over and Kerr Gossman was again zig-zagging his way through the defence. Older brother Craig, Armstrong and Kelbrick also looked good with ball in hand.
When Hawks did turn over, they kicked away possession and later knocked on, allowing Ayr back into their half, where Armstrong and replacement prop Stuart Fenwick pressed on. The home side were patient and when McCluskey couldn't get the ball away to Craig Gossman, they simply waited for another chance.
Fenwick and Armstrong mopped up a spill at a Hawks line-out in their own twenty-two and made for the line but couldn't cross it.
Again, they bided their time in Hawks' half and after some toing and froing, Armstrong, replacement flanker Graham Fisken and Craig Gossman took play ever closer to the tryline. A line-out in a prime position let McAlpine crash over in the misty gloom for a much-needed try. Curle couldn't manage the wide penalty. 15-6.
A few minutes later and Curle had another kick at goal, this time a penalty, which he got. 18-6.
Time was up and Ayr headed back to the clubhouse glad to have got through a very tricky encounter with their old foes.
Final score: Ayr 18 Glasgow Hawks 6
- Elena Hogarth.