Sunday, 27 March 2016

Ayr 13 Melrose 20

There was disappointment on Saturday as Melrose beat Ayr in the BT Cup semi-finals on a rainy afternoon in front of a full house at Millbrae.

Although there had been pre-match drizzle, the wet weather had subsided and early on it looked like the two teams might attempt some form of running rugby, but the first points on the board came from a Joe Helps penalty for Melrose. 0-3.

Ayr knew they were in for a tough afternoon, and number eight Pete McCallum, centre Danny McCluskey, stand-off Frazier Climo, hooker David Young and flanker Will Bordill put in the hard graft with tackles. There was some impressive play by scrum-half David Armstrong as he acrobatically juggled to keep the ball in play.

There were lots of kicks and line-outs and turnovers and knocks-on as expected on such a soggy surface and although it was absorbing to watch in terms of tension, it wasn't pretty at times.

Ayr worked their way steadily to Melrose's five-metre line thanks to a dummy by Climo, but captain Ross Curle's chip for the line was gathered by the visitors. They couldn't clear, however, Armstrong taking the kick well. Full-back Grant Anderson and second row Rob McAlpine were let loose before the ball got to the hands of winger Craig Gossman. He danced along the touchline for a try. Climo had a horribly angled conversion, but it sailed over. 7-3.

Curle was trying to make some magic happen and he ran on to a long pass from winger Richard Dalgleish and set off to gasps from the crowd but couldn't get through that sturdy Borders defence.

Climo had the chance to extend Ayr's lead but his penalty hit the post. Melrose gathered but couldn't clear, the kick caught by flanker Blair Macpherson, with prop D'arcy Rae taking it on and bashing through the black and yellow shirts. Climo had a second chance and took it. 10-3.

The rain was now battering down but Melrose centre George Taylor set off on an excursion that went dangerously close to Ayr's line, Armstrong sprinting through the mud to stop him just in time. As Melrose camped out within millimetres of the whitewash, Bordill infringed and found himself in the sin bin.

Ayr couldn't cope without him at the scrum and the referee awarded a penalty try, converted by Helps. 10-10.

Prop George Hunter, Rae and Macpherson tried to get Ayr moving, and Armstrong flicked a gorgeous pass to Gossman on the touchline; he released Curle, but the captain could only pass it to the opposition.

Possession went back and forth as the half drew to a close, and Melrose impressed with their intrepid attempts to run the ball. Armstrong, who, along with second row Scott Sutherland, seemed to be everywhere all afternoon, shut them down.
Climo had another shot at goal just after the resumption but it went wide. Moments later, after some zig-zagging through the defence by Armstrong, he had another go and got it. 13-10.

Ayr brought on fresh legs in the form of prop Javan Sebastian and winger Junior Bulumakau, who both carried well.

The home team couldn't take advantage of the visitors' indiscipline and ill-advised comments to the referee that saw them marched back ten metres. Bordill went for the line but was pinged for holding on.

Ayr began to exert pressure but it mattered not as Curle ended up in the sin bin for a tackle lacking in arms. Melrose went for the posts after a lengthy discussion about which ball to use and unfortunately Helps missed. Just like Climo, another opportunity presented itself and he took it. 13-13.

It looked like extra time loomed, especially when Helps missed another kick at goal. But this Melrose team can never be counted out. After what seemed like an eternity of them lurking on Ayr's five-metre line, prop Nick Beavon barged over for a try under the posts. Helps converted. 13-20.

There was no coming back for Ayr, try as they might. A few minutes remained on the clock but they got pinned in their own half. A final knock-on brought the final whistle and Melrose celebrated reaching another cup final. But before then, they will return to Millbrae next week for the BT Premiership semi-final and what will surely be another closely contested match.

Final score: Ayr 13 Melrose 20.

- Elena Hogarth.

Photos by George McMillan.

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