Sunday, 24 April 2016

Ayr 26 Heriot's 29

There was massive disappointment on Saturday at Millbrae as Heriot's beat Ayr in the BT Premiership play-off final.

On the back of their BT Cup win last week, Heriot's were determined to get the double. From the off, they were in a marauding mood and very quickly scored a try through flanker Struan Dewar. Full-back John Semple's conversion attempt hit the post. 0-5.

Ayr's stand-off Frazier Climo tried to get his troops going, with winger Junior Bulumakau, full-back Grant Anderson and centre and captain Ross Curle in support, but the ball went loose, only for Heriot's to fumble it once in their possession.

Ayr reclaimed it and it seemed to go through the hands of every forward, with Climo appearing alongside them to call the shots, but Heriot's were penalised and Ayr took the line-out.

Second row Rob McAlpine secured the ball and Ayr settled into a controlled driving maul until Bulumakau could get away. His beautiful flicked pass found Anderson and he used all of his strength to score in the corner. The angle for the conversion was so wide that Climo was amongst the spectators on the sidelines for his run-up. It was a perfectly judged kick though. 7-5.
Ayr lost Anderson after a Heriot's defender slid into him as he was scoring and accidentally caught him on the head. He was replaced by Haddon McPherson, with winger Craig Gossman moving to full-back.

The hosts began to leak penalties as Heriot's put them under pressure but they couldn't capitalise, knocking on at the line-out. The visitors' scrum, however, was another story, shored up the starting front row of Martin Bouab, Michael Liness and Struan Cessford, and then the hugely influential presence of Edinburgh hooker Neil Cochrane.

A Heriot's kick landed in the bread basket for Ayr scrum-half David Armstrong, who fought his way through the defence to release centre Danny McCluskey. He found Gossman who slipped the tackles and shot off on a spectacular break. Curle was in support and motored over for the score. Another fantastic strike by Climo curled the ball over the crossbar. 14-5.

Curle looked like he would be in for another after energetic work in the loose by flanker Will Bordill, hooker James Malcolm and prop George Hunter, but the speedy centre ran out of space.

Heriot's sturdy number eight Jason Hill was always going to be one of the danger men and when he wasn't bundling up Ayr attackers, he was on the hoof himself, and he would have got away were it not for the attentions of Armstrong.

Hill almost got himself on the score sheet moments later when he flung himself over the line but Ayr him held up. It was winger Charlie Simpson who got the try, flying over in the far corner. Even though he had a bit of trouble grounding, the score was given and Semple's perfect conversion seemed to sail through the air in the slow motion. 14-12.
Heriot's had the final say of the first half when Cochrane bulldozed his way over for an unconverted try. 14-17.

The tension was beginning to tell at the resumption, with both teams making errors, but Ayr seemed to be taking charge, number eight Pete McCallum making his now trademark galloping breaks from the back of the scrum and Malcolm and second row Scott Sutherland getting stuck into attack too.

A lovely inside pass from Armstrong to Bulumakau let the Scotland 7s cap race away with Macpherson and McCluskey in support, but they were well wrapped up by Heriot's.

An overthrow at the line-out by the Goldenacre side let prop Javan Sebastian, on his last appearance for Ayr before returning home to Wales, blast his way up the pitch. Bulumakau, Hunter, McCluskey and Climo took it on but again there was no space for them to do any damage.

They took their chances at a line-out from a penalty and Macpherson used all his bulk to muscle his way over for a try. This time, Climo couldn't convert. 19-17.

Bulumakau had had an industrious afternoon and limped off to be replaced by Richard Dalgleish.
The game ebbed and flowed for a short period, before Curle suddenly emerged with the ball in his hands from a wall of blue and white shirts and streaked away for a pulsating interception try. Climo converted from in front of the posts. 26-17.

Heriot's centre Cameron Ferguson has the dancing feet to match Curle but not the hands and his fine break was spoiled when he dropped the ball. It went backwards and was retrieved by stand-off Gregor McNeish, who might be a bit sure today after being floored by Gossman. He still managed to get the ball away and it was Simpson again who displayed tremendous speed to claim the try. Semple couldn't convert, with McPherson and Dalgleish almost charging down the kick. 26-22.

There was warm applause from the packed stand and touchlines as flanker Andrew Dunlop took to the field for his final appearance for Ayr after nearly ten years at the club. He'll certainly be missed on and off the field.

He got stuck straight into the action with fellow substitute D'arcy Rae, as Heriot's mopped up a misfiring Ayr line-out and moments later got themselves a penalty. It all went downhill for Ayr from there, as several metres away from the line, McCallum was penalised for illegally preventing a possible score, finding himself in the sin bin. The referee did the dreaded trot to the posts, with arm in the air and whistle in mouth to award a penalty try. Semple converted. 26-29.
Just a minute or two left on the wonky Millbrae clock, and it was do or die for Ayr. McCluskey, Gossman and Curle combined well to get into Heriot's half. But those big, wily forwards from the capital somehow turned over.

Ayr couldn't regain possession and Heriot's booted the ball off the pitch to spark wild celebrations as they got their names on the trophy after their exemplary never-say-die attitude took them from third place in the standings to league winners.

For Ayr, they top the league with fourteen wins from eighteen, ten try-bonus points and a points difference of 240. It's still been a great season, with memorable wins and spectacular tries, and they'll be back in four months' time to do it all over again.
- Elena Hogarth.

Photos courtesy of George McMillan.

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