AYR captain Pete McCallum says that the players must look at their own individual contributions to the collective cause when trying to explain the chronic inconsistency which has haunted them this season. Last season’s cup finalists crashed out of the competition at the quarter-final stage this weekend against a hungrier and more opportunistic Hawick opposition.
“We certainly didn’t read too much into Hawick’s result against Watsonians last weekend when they had a lot of boys away – we didn’t take the challenge of going down there lightly – but we did switch off at key moments and we paid the price,” said McCallum.
“We had a lot of pressure in the first 30 minutes and could have scored a couple of tries but we made some bad decisions at key moments to give the ball away, then got punished for some poor defence at the edge of a ruck, and all of a sudden they were right back in it.”
“There was a couple of big momentum swings at key points in the game, and Hawick don’t need much of an invitation to really take advantage. They’ve had a tough couple of years and they know all about what is required to battle for every point in a tight contest.”
“All we can do is go away and take a look at ourselves individually and come back together on Tuesday ready to refocus and put things right when we face Hawick, again, at Millbrae next weekend.”
“Man for man, we are one of the strongest sides in the league, but that doesn’t mean anything unless we show that in the way we perform. And it can’t be just one-off games, it has to be week-on-week, because there is too much competition in this league now for any team to think they can perform below their best and get away with it.”
With a strong wind at their backs, Ayr started positively, taking an early lead through a Scott Lyle penalty and then launching an exciting attack up the middle of the park through Danny McCluskey and Grant Anderson off good line-out ball.
A penalty kicked to the corner showed Ayr’s determination to secure an early strangle-hold on the match, but the line-out drive was forced into touch, and Ayr made do with a second Lyle penalty a few minutes later after some good spoiling work from prop Steven Longwell.
Hawick show their mettle
But it wasn’t all one-way traffic, and after establishing field position with an 80-metre counter-attack, the hosts edged their way into the lead with a try from Dalton Redpath converted by Lee Armstrong.
McCallum and Hawick captain Bruce McNeil were sent to the sin-bin at the same time following a vigorous – but not particularly vicious – exchange of views just before half-time.
A wind-assisted Gary Munro penalty from inside his own half after seven minutes of the second period pushed Hawick into a 10-6 lead; but Ayr responded with their second try of the afternoon, this time scored by hooker Lewis Anderson after a powerful driving maul and cheeky snipe round he edge from scrum-half David Armstrong. Lyle added the conversion to make it 10-13.
Now it was Hawick’s turn to respond, with Ross Combe finishing off a great handling move, and Armstrong kicking the conversion to make it 17-13 to the hosts with 20-minutes to go.
Ayr tried to pile on the pressure during the final quarter, but a combination of some slack handling and ferocious home defending meant they couldn’t claw the points they needed back.
And it was Hawick, instead, who finished off the scoring with Munro slotting another long-range penalty, this time after a scrum infringement.
“We should have been better and we need to be better for next week which is going to be a huge game for both clubs,” said Ayr head coach Calum Forrester.
“We are out of the cup now and that is very disappointing, but fair play to Hawick: they deserved the win,” he added. “From our point of view, we have two huge games left in the league [against Hawick at home next Saturday and Watsonians away on 3rd March] to get ourselves in a position to have a chance in the play-offs – every game we play between now and the end of the season is going to be like a cup final. There is no room for any more slip-ups.”