Sunday, 22 November 2015

Melrose 35 Ayr 24

It was a freezing cold Greenyards that welcomed Ayr on Saturday and a scorching hot Melrose that ran in four tries to beat the BT Premiership leaders.

The hosts started as they meant to go on, with full-back Fraser Thomson ripping through the Ayr defence to fly in for a try with barely a minute on the clock.  Joe Helps converted.  7-0.

A raft of last-minute injuries saw six changes to Ayr's squad, with prop George Hunter again playing in the second row.  There were welcome returns to action for winger Kerr Gossman and replacement lock Callum Templeton, who has been on the sidelines for several months with an ankle injury.

A chip and chase from centre Ross Curle and winger Cameron Taylor livened things up for the visitors, and after some hard work in the loose from number eight Pete McCallum and flanker Blair Macpherson, stand-off Frazier Climo got Ayr on the score board with a penalty.  7-3.

Climo brought them within a point moments later with another successful kick at goal.  7-6.

Melrose sent their restart straight out and then failed to bind properly at the resulting scrum on the half-way line.  This let Ayr kick for touch and make for the line.  Scrum-half David Armstrong led the way, with Climo, Macpherson, McCallum, centre Danny McCluskey, hooker Lewis Anderson and Gossman trying to reach with whitewash before Curle crashed over only to be held up.  Another penalty by Climo sailed over the crossbar shortly after.  7-9.

Melrose were on the prowl and speedy winger Sam Pecqueur was nearly over in the corner.  Helps nudged them back in front with a penalty.  10-9.

Pecqueur did get his try - the first of two - when he slipped through three tackles.  Helps' conversion was wide.  15-9.

Ayr were dealt a blow when Climo had to leave the field with an eye injury.  He was replaced by Archie Russell, with Curle moving to stand-off.

Helps' penalty was the only other score before half-time.  18-9.

Melrose put Ayr's defence under enormous pressure at the start of the second half.  Centre Andrew Nagle would have been away for a try were it not for a forward pass.

Ayr's line-out wobbled but the scrum was sturdy for the most part.  Melrose delighted their home fans with a long, slow, determined drive out of their own half that led to a penalty, but Ayr managed to turn over and clear thanks to some tough work by flanker Graham Fisken and second row Andrew Dunlop.

McCallum, Ayr's danger man in so many of the previous games, was heavily marked in the first half, but Melrose eased their grip on him after the resumption and it was his scintillating break after a perfect pass from Armstrong that got Ayr into Melrose's twenty-two.  Terrific support from Dunlop almost saw him reach the line, but it was hooker Anderson who crashed over.  Curle superbly struck the conversion from the touchline.  18-16.

But there was no respite for the visitors.  The home backs were churning up the hallowed Greenyards turf with their fast feet and Pecqueur was over again, Helps adding the extras.  25-16.

Ayr wouldn't lie down though, Macpherson claiming the restart and letting full-back Grant Anderson loose to muscle his way up the wing for the try.  Curle couldn't get the conversion.  25-21.

Silly infringements were cancelling out Ayr's good work and Helps punished them with the boot.  28-21.

Another swift break by McCallum got Ayr into the opposition half and Curle struck back with a penalty.  28-24.

It seemed like the visitors were going to stage a comeback, especially when Melrose duffed their penalty kick for the line-out and Ayr bossed the ensuing scrum.  The ball was quickly fired through the backs and into the hands of Taylor, who shot off only to be dragged into touch.

It went from bad to worse with McCallum sin-binned and Melrose flanker Grant Runciman barging over for a try.  Helps converted.  35-24.
There was still time on the clock for Ayr to search for the losing bonus point, but they couldn't get past the determined Melrose defence.

It was a disappointing afternoon for Ayr and their travelling fans, but they still lead the BT Premiership by five points, with Heriot's in second after their huge win against Selkirk, and Melrose just two points behind in third.  There's all to play for as the league moves to its conclusion and Ayr will be firmly set on returning to winning ways when they welcome Gala to Millbrae next week.

- Elena Hogarth.

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