It was another bad day at the office as Ayr let a 19-3 lead slip and saw a second-half resurgence by Melrose snuff out any chance of a first home victory of the 2015/16 BT Premiership.
The Millbrae men got off to a terrific start, with full-back Cameron Taylor and prop Javan Sebastian making their way into Melrose's half with ease. The visitors were quick when they did have ball in hand, especially full-back Fraser Thomson and winger Nyle Godsmark, but they gave away a penalty. Ayr took the line-out, winger Richard Dalgleish flew up the middle of the park and off-loaded perfectly to Frazier Climo, who raced over the line for a superb try on his first appearance in a pink and black shirt in a number of years. Unfortunately, he couldn't convert his own score. 5-0.
Melrose were certainly up for the challenge and thought they had driven over for a try only to knock on. The following period of play was marked out by an inordinate amount of line-outs as each side searched for territory. Ayr got pinned in their own half, though; Melrose were pushing on into their twenty-two and would have got further had it not been for an excellent tackle by winger Haddon McPherson which forced a turnover.
Out of their own half, Ayr stole Melrose's line-out and number eight Graham Fisken charged off with centre Robbie Fergusson in support. A couple of kicks back and forth worked in Ayr's favour and Fergusson and McPherson dashed up the wing, with prop Steven Longwell and flanker Pete McCallum putting in some fancy footwork too. But the Melrose defence was ferocious and Ayr were penalised for holding on.
Ayr found themselves down to fourteen men when flanker Andrew Dunlop found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and was sent to the sin bin. Melrose centre Joe Helps got his team on the scoreboard with a successful penalty kick. 5-3.
The crowd was getting antsy with just two points in it, and it seemed the players were too, with mistakes from both teams. Second row Scott Sutherland settled the nerves with a solid take at the line-out and Ayr drove on. A lovely flick pass from Climo to Dalgleish drew the oohs and aahs from the supporters but the nice move was brought to an end by a knock-on.
Dalgleish was on spirited form in the first half and a kick bounced perfectly for him on the wing, but he drifted into touch.
Another Ayr attack was disrupted by a deliberate knock-on from Melrose, but seconds later, scrum-half Alistair Price took the ball from the line-out, sold a beautiful dummy and shot through a gap in the defence for try. Climo converted. 12-3.
The second half began in spectacular fashion with replacement prop George Hunter leading the attack. His strong running along with fantastic handling from hooker Fergus Scott let Fergusson scramble over the line for try number three, which Climo converted. 19-3.
But Melrose slowly clawed their way back into the game, with another penalty by Helps pushing up their score. 19-6.
Climo had a shot at goal too, but the flags didn't go up.
Dalgleish looked like he was about to get on the score sheet as he muscled his way to the try-line, but with two defenders about to pounce, he hacked on. Alas, he couldn't get to his own kick.
Fergusson then stepped up to the tee, with Climo on the sidelines. Despite the crowd cheering, this kick didn't go over either.
Climo's replacement Archie Russell, Price, Dalgliesh and McPherson orchestrated a promising-looking attack, but the ball bobbled off the pitch, and another kick-and-chase up the wing was grounded by the Melrose defence.
Second row Rob McAlpine and centre Danny McCluskey showed a deft touch in the loose, whilst replacement back row Blair Macpherson put on a display of brute force to barge his way through the defence, Melrose flanker Grant Runciman being dragged along the ground behind him.
But mistakes from Ayr were creeping in and combined with Melrose's forward strength gave the visitors the upper hand. A powerful drive from the line-out saw number eight Graeme Dodds go over for a try. Replacement back Richard Taylor couldn't convert. 19-11.
Ayr's defence was then caught napping and Thomson motored up the wing for a fine try in the corner. Taylor again missed the conversion. 19-16.
Price was injured trying to prevent the score and Climo had to be brought back on, with Cameron Taylor switching to scrum-half and Fergusson moving to full-back.
Ayr worked hard to regain possession, with replacement front row players James Malcolm and D'arcy Rae doing well, but the home team kicked it away. Melrose's marauding backs took full advantage of Ayr's obvious indecision and winger Sam Pecqueur ran off to the try-line. Taylor converted. 19-23.
There was one last chance for Ayr as they got into Melrose's half but the line-out was overthrown and although they retrieved it, it was too little too late and a knock-on a few phases later brought to an end what should have been a winning afternoon.
Final score: Ayr 19 Melrose 23.
- Elena Hogarth.
Photos by George McMillan.