DAVID BARNES @ Millbrae
A GRIMLY compelling affair. Heriot’s recovered from a shaky start to establish a stranglehold on this contest through a powerful and utterly focussed forward display, assisted by a textbook demonstration of how to manage treacherous weather conditions from their inside backs.
The highlights package of this match might not last long, but for those with an appreciation of rugby in the raw, it will be a masterpiece.
“You can dress it up all you want but it was just a mature performance and we played the conditions better,” said victorious head coach Phil Smith. “Funnily enough, before the game the boys were quite calm, and quite often that isn’t the case when you come down here because we are uptight about taking on Ayr at Ayr. So, we were calm before the game, we were calm at half-time, and we just got things right.
“The set-piece was strong, we played in the right areas and we did the right things at the right time.”
Ayr struck first, after just four minutes, when Heriot’s failed to deal with a delicate Danny McCluskey dink behind and Paddy Dewhirst pounced on the loose ball to score. Frazier Climo added the conversion, but that was as good as it got for the home team.
A Ross Jones penalty cut the gap to four points as the visiting pack slowly but surely built up a head of steam, to set up camp on the Ayr line throughout the second quarter, and Ayr’s increasingly fraught defence gave away a succession of penalties until referee Keith Allen finally lost patience and sent Blair Macpherson to the sin-bin. Heriot’s then kicked to the corner and Michael Liness got the ball down from a driven line-out to give his side a one point lead at the break.
Premiership Match Reports:
Heriot’s fumbled the long kick-off to gift Ayr an attacking scrum ten yards from the try-line at the start of the second half, but the hosts couldn’t capitalise on the opportunity against some ferocious Heriot’s defence, with a double tackle from Stuart Edwards and Martin Hughes which sent Scotland internationalist Alex Dunbar back-pedalling five yards being a stand-out moment.
Heriot’s were soon back on top, and they stretched their lead to eight points when Liness grounded from another powerful line-out drive, and this time Jones nailed the touchline conversion.
Ayr see yellow
Steven Longwell became the second Ayr player to be sent to the sin-bin for collapsing another irresistible Heriot’s drive, as the visiting team continued to turn the screw through their now fully dominant pack. To Ayr’s credit, they battled heroically to keep their line intact during that thunderous assault, and the visitors had to make do with a Jones penalty.
All the while, the weather was deteriorating – but Heriot’s knew exactly what they were here to do, and they kept focussed on that task with unwavering discipline. Liness scored again with eight minutes to go from yet another line-out drive, and the only question now left unanswered was whether the four-try bonus point could be secured.
In the end, Heriot’s had to make do with just four league points from the match. Smith joked afterwards that he was slightly frustrated by that, but he knows it wasn’t a bad day at the office.
Meanwhile, his opposite number, Peter Murchie, cut a dejected figure after seeing his team drop off the top of the table for the first time since the opening weekend of the season. The Millbrae men are now three points behind Melrose, although they are still six clear of Heriot’s in third place.
“We started off pretty well, played like we had planned to, but ultimately weren’t clinical enough in terms of keeping the pressure on,” said the Ayr coach. “With all the knock-ons and penalties, we put ourselves under serious pressure inside our own 22, and constantly defending against driving line-outs and scrums drains you – and we didn’t get a decision today either.
“There were times when our driving line-out absolutely destroyed them and we’re not getting a decision, then they’re driving the line-out and the arm comes right out.
“Did they do a job on us in the end? Yes. But sometimes our forwards were going forward at a rate of knots, and we haven’t got anything off the back of it.
“We need to be better across the board. I’m not shying away from it, we need to play better.”
Ayr: G Anderson; P Dewhirst, D McCluskey, A Dunbar, K Rowe; F Climo, H Warr; B Paterson, R Smith, S Longwell, A North, L Morrice, D Corbenici, P McCallum©, B Macpherson. Subs: A McGuire, R Sayce, W Van Dijk, S Lyle, P Kelly.
Heriot’s: C Simpson; R McMichael, R Jones, R Kay, C Robertson; S Edwards, A Simmers; M Bouab, M Liness, S Cessford, C Jupp, A Sinclair, I Wilson©, J McLean, R Leishman. Subs: A Johnstone, J Scott, M Hughes, C Marshall, D Steele.
Referee: Keith Allen
Ayr: Tries: Dewhirst; Con: Climo.
Heriot’s: Try: Liness 3; Con: Jones 2; Pen: Jones 2
Scoring sequence (Ayr first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-3; 7-8 (h-t) 7-13; 7-15; 7-18; 7-23; 5-25
Yellow cards –
Ayr: Macpherson, Longwell.
Man-of-the-Match: Three tries from hooker Michael Liness as part of a monumental forward effort from Heriot’s makes it an easy choice this week.
Talking point: There was something about Heriots’ demeanour before, during and after this game which suggested that there is a quiet confidence within the squad as we move into the business end of the season. There was a long huddle on the pitch post-match involving players, coaches and travelling committee which indicated a really unified sense of purpose. Ayr, meanwhile, have lost three out of their last five league matches, and have slipped off the top of the table – next week’s trip to The Greenyards could be make or break.