Sunday, 3 April 2016

Ayr 48 Melrose 10

Ayr marched into the BT Premiership final with a resounding victory over Melrose at a drizzly Millbrae on Saturday, thrilling their home crowd with five tries.

It was a tentative start from the Alloway side as they tried to attack on the less-than-firm surface and ended up losing possession, despite jinking runs from stand-off Frazier Climo and centre Ross Curle. Winger Craig Gossman was almost away, but a black and yellow defender just caught him by the shirt.

Ayr's forwards were getting stuck into the tackles, with second row Scott Sutherland leading the way, backed up by the front row of George Hunter, David Young and Javan Sebastian. Number eight Pete McCallum and flanker Will Bordill were swarming too, Melrose too busy keeping an eye on them and not on the ball.

The first scrum was solid, Ayr managing well on the slippery turf, and although they launched themselves into attack, the ball somehow landed on the sidelines.
Ayr stayed calm though, and a quick line-out by scrum-half David Armstrong let loose winger Junior Bulumakau, with Hunter and centre Danny McCluskey in support.

The home team were doing well at the regular line-out too, stealing Melrose's before securing their own from a penalty. This time, when they got near the line, there was no chucking it out. A slow trundle would reap rewards, and it was second row Rob McAlpine who scored the opening try. Climo converted. 7-0.

Climo quickly extended the lead with a long-range penalty. It hit the post and bobbled over the crossbar. 10-0.

Melrose seemed slightly off kilter, slicing kicks and making handling errors, but stand-off Tom Galbraith was dangerous all day and he galloped away, shrugging off defenders until Climo brought him down.

Melrose had the chance of points with a penalty but centre Joe Helps' kick was unsuccessful.

They forced their way into Ayr's half and two further penalties gave them successive line-outs in Ayr's twenty-two but they lost possession and Ayr cleared. From that, they had another line-out, but as they made for the try-line, there was a knock-on.
Ayr were getting a good shove on at Melrose's scrum and after making their way out of their own half, Climo landed another penalty. 13-0.

Melrose had a decent period of possession but sturdy work in defence by McCluskey, Bulumakau and particularly Gossman meant it came to nothing.

Ayr's diminutive left winger put in one of his trademark crunching tackles on a player twice his size, causing a knock-on. From the scrum, McCallum set off with Young in support before Curle kicked. Melrose tried to return the favour, but Climo was on them in a flash, charging down and hacking on. It looked like the ball was going too far, but he reached it just in time to touch down for a terrific try. He couldn't convert his own score, the ball bouncing off the upright. 18-0.

His next kick was successful, another penalty just before half-time. 21-0.

Melrose got on the scoreboard shortly after the resumption, replacement Richard Mill getting a penalty. 21-3.
It's a fool who counts Melrose out, especially with a final at stake, and Ayr weren't content to defend their lead and run the risk of letting them creep back in. Attack, they seemed to decide, was the best form of defence.

Another Melrose knock-on gave them a scrum in their own half, and Armstrong, McCluskey, Climo and Curle went from side to side, trying to find a way through the black and yellow wall. They needed a line-out, from a penalty, to launch another trundling drive, and this time it was Bordill who went over for the try, with Climo converting. 28-3.

If Ayr were gaining confidence in the increasingly dreich conditions - flick passes from Sutherland an indicator of their growing buoyancy - then Melrose were losing theirs, bumping into each other.

It was a physical encounter, as always, and both teams used their benches, Andrew Dunlop on for a hobbling McAlpine and leaping into action straightaway. Armstrong had a lively day too, bursting through the Melrose defence to pass neatly to Bulumakau. The Scotland 7s player found McCallum, who practically wrapped himself round the post protector to get the try. Climo converted. 38-3.
It wasn't all plain sailing for the men in pink and black as they gave away penalties in their own half and Melrose gladly took advantage, replacement Ruaridh Knott bundling over for a try converted by Mill. 38-10.

McCluskey made way for Archie Russell, who quickly threw himself into defence as Melrose were keen on another score. It was Ayr who got the points though, Climo adding a penalty. 41-10.

Haddon McPherson replaced Bulumakau, after the latter had chased an Armstrong chip but just couldn't get to it, and prop Gordon Sykes emerged from retirement - again - to come on for Sebastian, with Richard Dalgleish taking Gossman's place.

Ayr were lurking in the corner, sniffing out a score but had to wait as Melrose replacement Ewan McQuillan was sin-binned for a professional foul.
The Millbrae men were determined to get another try, flanker Blair Macpherson doing his usual blasting runs with full-back Grant Anderson ever yelling encouragement. But they couldn't get out of their own half.

Melrose got their hands on the ball and were firing it left to right when Curle suddenly found himself clutching it. A split second is all the Ayr captain needs and he was off like a rocket. There were Melrose defenders in place but they didn't stand a chance. He was going to score a try and he was going to enjoy it, as did the crowd, who got on their feet to applaud not just him but the whole squad for such a vigorous performance. It was a very wide angled conversion, but man of the match Climo managed it with ease. 48-10.

The last of Ayr's substitutes trotted on, Stuart Fenwick for Young and Craig Stevenson for Sutherland. There was further traffic to the sidelines as McCallum found himself on the receiving end of a yellow card.

Melrose had one final foray into Ayr's half but another knock-on did for them. The referee blew the whistle for full-time and to send Ayr into the BT Premiership final against Heriot's at Millbrae on Saturday 23rd April.

Final score: Ayr 48 Melrose 10.

- Elena Hogarth.

Photos courtesy of George McMillan.

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