The final game of 2016 brought disappointment for Ayr and their travelling fans as Melrose came out on top at the Greenyards to tighten their grip on the BT Premiership.
There were some early jitters for the home team, that confident, superior facade slipping slightly as they missed an early kick for touch after a penalty and later knocked on in the tackle.
Ayr were solid in the scrum, the front row of George Hunter, Pat MacArthur and Adam Prentice holding their own. From that first set-piece, Ayr flew off into attack, scrum-half David Armstrong dummying nicely before releasing Richard Dalgleish. The rangy winger couldn't escape the black and yellow defence.
Ayr flanker Will Bordill was shown a yellow card for a late tackle on Melrose's flashy stand-off Craig Jackson, but the home team couldn't capitalise on their man-advantage. Armstrong and captain Pete McCallum led Ayr's heroic defensive effort as Melrose pressed for the try-line, and they ended up knocking on.
Melrose's line-out was wobbling slightly but they managed to hunker down at the scrum and put Ayr under pressure with centre Danny McCluskey taking Bordill's place in the back row. But they couldn't shove Ayr right off the ball and Armstrong cleared.
Twice in succession Ayr second row Blair Macpherson turned over the home team, his second effort letting full-back Grant Anderson loose, with Hunter, stand-off Ross Curle, second row Robert McAlpine and Glasgow Warriors' flanker Adam Ashe - on his long-awaited return from injury - in support.
Curle put Ayr into the lead with a successful penalty. 0-3.
Jackson replied. 3-3.
Ayr had another attacking opportunity, but Melrose were just beginning to amp up the aggression and turned over. Full-back Fraser Thomson thought he was away but MacArthur had him pinned.
Ayr were working hard to get out of their own half and threaten Melrose, McCallum, McCluskey, McAlpine and Archie Russell trying to break through that tough Borders defence, but they just couldn't.
A quick tap-and-go launched Melrose's Austin Lockington up the wing and he was unstoppable. Jackson nailed the conversion. 10-3.
Ayr turned Melrose over, with Armstrong quickly firing the ball across the field for Hunter, MacArthur, Curle and Russell to try and breach the defence but there was a lengthy stoppage while Melrose's flanker Neil Irvine Hess was attended to by both medical teams. He was eventually stretchered off the field to warm applause from the fans, and we wish him a speedy recovery from his injury.
Curle lined up a penalty but it was unsuccessful.
Ayr showed their might at the scrum again, but Melrose still had plenty of attacking opportunities as the first half drew to a close. Lockington and prop Jamie Bhatti were marauding around but Ashe and Armstrong halted them.
Melrose gave away a penalty and Ayr took the line-out and drove. Armstrong, McCluskey, Hunter and Curle all went for the line, with MacArthur, Bordill and Russell going for it too, but Melrose turned over and cleared.
Jackson extended Melrose's lead just after the resumption. 13-3.
They were all over Ayr like a rash. McCluskey and winger Cameron Taylor hit some brilliant lines but Melrose smothered them.
The home team found themselves offside, and the resulting line-out allowed Armstrong and Taylor to make for the whitewash before Melrose blotted their copybook with another infringement.
Ayr's line-out worked well all afternoon and it gave them another attacking opportunity but Melrose's defence was immense. Ayr stayed calm, replacement James Malcolm grabbing a shaky pass to get the ball to Curle and Russell, who flew into the Melrose tacklers.
Hunter, Taylor, Macpherson and McCallum stayed strong in the face of the defensive barrage and it was the captain who eventually fought his way through for the try, Curle converting. 13-10.
Ayr showed real intent in their pursuit of a second try, McCluskey catapulting himself into attack, and Armstrong later flying on to a pass from Hunter at the line-out to try and get Curle and McCallum to the try-line.
But it wasn't enough against the tight, controlled Melrose. They were up and away into Ayr's half in no time. The men in pink and black regained possession, but they conceded a penalty for holding on.
Melrose took the line-out and were headed for another score when Bordill was yellow-carded for a second time for a professional foul. Two yellows make a red and Ayr's misery was compounded when Melrose hooker Russell Anderson got the try, which man-of-the-match Jackson converted. 20-10.
Down to fourteen men for the rest of the game, Ayr went on the attack, Armstrong, Malcolm and replacements Jamie Bova and Djustice Sears-Duru pushing on into Melrose's twenty-two. The ball was chipped for McCluskey to chase but it bobbled away from him.
Melrose, cheered on by their polite fans, could sniff the victory and bossed their way back into Ayr's half. The visitors went to thirteen men when Curle was sin-binned for a no-arms tackle, and only a meteorite landing on the Greenyards could have prevented Ruairi McLeod from scoring. Jackson completed his slick, showy performance by summarily converting. 27-10.
Time was up. Melrose celebrated their continued league supremacy and Ayr rued missed opportunities. The BT Premiership returns on Saturday 14th January, when Ayr welcome Boroughmuir to Millbrae.
Final score: Melrose 27 Ayr 10.
- Elena Hogarth.