It was a misty and bitterly cold day at Bridgehaugh on Saturday and the game didn't really heat up until the last quarter when Ayr pulled away from Stirling County.
A large crowd had turned up to on cheer on the home team (a good number of the Millbrae faithful had made the trip up to Stirling too), possibly lured out on a winter's day to catch a glimpse of former All Black and current Glasgow Warrior Corey Flynn, who started at hooker for County.
The fans were treated to some early ambitious play, with Ayr winger Craig Gossman and his opposite number Logan Trotter showing a bit of fancy footwork, and Trotter's team-mates' handling was just as fancy. The alarm bells may have been sounding for Ayr were it not for the doughty tackles of scrum-half David Armstrong and prop Steven Longwell.
Stirling put the Ayr scrum under pressure but captain and number eight Pete McCallum managed to break from the back, finding Armstrong. His long pass was caught by Gossman, who welcomed Flynn to BT Premiership rugby by dancing round him with an effortless side-step.
Stand-off Frazier Climo made a half-break and Armstrong tried a half-cross-field kick for Gossman to chase but he couldn't get to it.
County had possession but the ball went loose, Climo was suddenly on it, and centre Danny McCluskey flew on to the offload and straight through the home defence for a fine try. Climo converted. 0-7.
Ayr centre Archie Russell and flankers Will Bordill and Blair Macpherson were kept busy all afternoon, closing down any Stirling attack, and they stopped the home team getting near the try-line in the first quarter, as hard as they fought.
Little mistakes were creeping in by both teams, with kicks either too far or not far enough and knocks-on from cold hands.
Ayr's line-out was working well though, hooker Lewis Anderson finding second rows Robert McAlpine and Scott Sutherland every time. From one such set-piece, Macpherson, McAlpine and then Climo all headed for the line but County had them wrapped up.
Points did come Ayr's way, with a Climo penalty. 0-10.
Richard Dalgleish replaced an injured Gossman, and he launched himself straight into defence along with fellow winger Jamie Bova, Macpherson, Russell and McCluskey. But they couldn't stop Trotter flying away for a try in the corner, excellently converted by full-back Jonny Hope. 7-10.
Ayr nearly replied just before half-time, McCluskey leaping around like a ballet dancer before prop George Hunter raced through the white, red and black shirts. He had McCallum in support but Ayr were pinged for holding on.
The visitors had an energetic start to the second half, Armstrong breaking, with McAlpine, Bordill, Longwell and Climo in support. The ball was lost and County took off, only to be bundled into touch by Bova and McCluskey.
Stirling were determined to get more points and - a short break up the wing by Lewis Anderson notwithstanding - had all the possession for what seemed like an age.
Even a charge-down by McCallum couldn't stop them and replacement Andrew Grant-Suttie scored, Hope again converting. 14-10.
The home team were away again, but Russell, McCallum, Macpherson and replacement back Stafford McDowall reined them in. The latter two then turned up in attack after an Ayr line-out, blasting through the County defence before Hunter muscled over for a try, converted by Climo. 14-17.
With fifteen minutes to go, the game moved up a gear. Replacements Adam Prentice, Craig Stevenson and Robbie Smith threw themselves into defence with Dalgleish and the Andersons, Lewis and Grant.
Armstrong broke away from a solid Ayr scrum and chipped on before Grant Anderson tried the same on the opposite side of the pitch moments later. Constant pressure in Stirling's twenty-two led by a galloping Sutherland with McAlpine, McCallum and Armstrong in support got the ball out to Dalgleish and he went over for a try. It was a wide angle for the conversion and Climo couldn't get it. 14-22.
Ayr were now on the hunt for the bonus point-securing fourth try with just three minutes to go. Another sturdy scrum and yet more good work from McCallum, Armstrong and Climo got them going in the right direction.
McDowall suddenly burst forth from mid-field and charged off, passing to Grant Anderson for the full-back to go over for the try. Climo converted. 14-29.
The clock ticking past eighty minutes, County had one last hurrah, scrum-half Matt Donaldson scurrying away. But he couldn't get away from Bova, and the whistle was blown, sending the fans and the players off to seek some warmth in the clubhouse.
It might be an equally chilly day in Aberdeen next week when Ayr play Grammar in the BT Cup third round at Rubislaw, kicking off at 1.30pm.
Final score: Stirling County 14 Ayr 29
- Elena Hogarth.