ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards
AYR booked their place in the final of the Scottish Cup after achieving a second win over Melrose in successive weekends with an end-loaded performance that allowed the Millbrae men to wipe out an early 12-point deficit and then dominate the remainder of the match.
If you had been producing one of those on-screen pie charts that television loves to display during matches then the first-half territory diagram would have shown only a minor segment in pink and the rest in black and yellow.
Ayr, however, effected a major momentum shift that took them to victory. “We weren’t in the game for the first half hour. We were pinned down in our own 22m area. Melrose came flying out as we knew they would because they’re a very good team.” said the Ayr coach, Peter Murchie.
He added: “The pleasing thing is that the guys turned the momentum of the game. Early on it wasn’t working for us. There was an issue in terms of our energy level. They were just out-energising us. What we showed in the last five minutes of the first half and in the second half is that when we play the way we want to, we can create opportunities.”
If Ayr’s ability to increase their effort was a factor, then so too was the sin-binning of the Melrose wing Michael Muelace-Julyan for slapping down a pass as he attempted an interception. “When we were down to 14 men we lost two tries. They scored just before half-time and then six minutes into the second half,” observed Rob Chrystie, the Melrose coach.
He added: “At the end of the day it was a one-try game. You never know we could have sneaked it. We’ve got up to 11 guys out injured but we’re not using that as an excuse. The good thing is that there are boys who are stepping up. And hopefully a lot of the young guys are going to drive us forward in the future. It’s been a long season on the back of two long seasons before. You can see that in the squad. They’re a bit burst.”
Despite Melrose’s early land grab the home side took 22 minutes before making their first strike, helped by the sin-binning of the visitors’ lock Lars Morrice but mainly from good initial work by Craig Jackson. Yet the try was almost comical as prop Conor Young ploughed through several defenders for the opening score, converted by Jackson.
A grubber kick by Jackson almost brought a score in the right-hand corner, but in the scramble to defend Ayr conceded the lineout, from which Melrose used their forwards to punch holes in the opposition defence and when the ball was spun wide Jackson laid on an accurate pass to give full-back Donald Crawford enough room to squeeze in for his side’s second try.
Having had to defend for most of the first half, Ayr finally found their form to hit back on the stroke of half time. The penalty award after Muelace-Julyan had been binned allowed Ayr to kick to the corner.
Ayr initially drove the ensuing lineout to suck in several Melrose defenders, and when the ball was spread wide Frazier Climo found space to run in his side’s first try, which he himself converted to leave the visitors trailing 7-12 at the break
If Ayr had been slow starters in the first half they certainly turned on the boosters after the interval, claiming a penalty try following two pile-driver scrums close to the Melrose line and then taking control of the aerial battle to put further pressure on the Greenyards men.
That pressure quickly told as Ayr made ground with powerful ball-carrying from their big back-row men and then clever work by the backs that ended with Paddy Kelly delivering an inside pass to Kyle Rowe for the wing to score an unconverted try.
An evasive run by Ian Sim that left Climo in its wake provided encouragement for Melrose, but against an Ayr side that was putting a stranglehold on the game the home side could make little progress. Even when Melrose found a little bit extra in the final few minutes to put pressure on Ayr the visitors still had all the answers, leaving the Millbrae men deserved winners and contemplating a league/cup double.
Melrose: D Crawford; I Sim, P Anderson, G Wood, M Muelace-Julyan; C Jackson, S Hutchison; G Shiells, R Anderson, C Young, C Crookshanks, J Head, R Knott, G Runciman©, I Moody. Subs: R Ferguson, B McLean, T Brown, H Morris, P Eccles, A Jardine, T Klein.
Ayr: G Anderson; R Nairn, P Kelly, D McCluskey, K Rowe; F Climo, H Warr; R Sayce, R Smith, S Longwell, D Corbenici, L Morrice, B Macpherson, T Spinks, P McCallum©. Subs: C Reece, A McGuire, A North, J Robertson, J Preston, E McLaren, J Bova.
Referee: K Allen
Melrose: Tries: Young, Crawford. Con: Jackson.
Ayr: Tries: Climo, Pen Try, Rowe. Con: Climo.
Scoring sequence (Melrose first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 12-5; 12-7 (h-t) 12-14; 12-19.
Yellow cards –
Man of the Match: Frazier Climo’s kicking game helped shift the momentum in favour of Ayr. Moreover the Ayr stand-off distributed intelligently to give his outside backs some practice in ball-handling skills.
Talking point: Ayr put themselves in position for a league/cup double but to take the full honours they have to deliver. They certainly have the personnel to fulfil their ambition. April will decide their destiny.