ALAN LORIMER @ The Greenyards
AYR rebuffed any lingering criticism in the wake of some recent reverses by moving to the summit of the Tennent’s Premiership after a four-try bonus point win over the reigning champions Melrose in this top-of-the-table clash at The Greenyards.
“We’ve had a few difficult weeks and pretty well everyone had written us off,” admitted the Ayr coach, Peter Murchie. “We came here very determined. The boys worked so hard when they didn’t have the ball. We tried to play in the right areas and took our chances when they came.”
In truly awful conditions of severe cold and increasingly heavy rain the match was made even more difficult by the twilight conditions at The Greenyards which became almost total darkness by the final whistle. Even so, both sides were able to move the ball but it was Ayr who did so with much more accuracy and significantly with less handling errors.
Ayr’s greater threat behind the scrum was very much down to a masterful performance from Frazier Climo, who always seemed to make the right decision. Moreover, the Kiwi stand-off proved useful with the boot, kicking three conversions and two penalty goals in contrast to Melrose’s kickers who missed out on six points.
But it was the Ayr pack that won the game, their ability to limit the Melrose maul and indeed to use that weapon themselves, being a telling part of the game.
For Melrose, this was a reality check and especially so after their romp against Edinburgh Accies seven days earlier. The home pack was unable to front up sufficiently to dominate the game and behind the scrum their handling was inaccurate.
“Too many individual mistakes and when you do that against a team that’s desperate you get punished,” conceded Rob Chrystie, the Melrose coach. “Credit to Ayr, they’ve been in a dark place in the last couple of weeks and they deserved their win.”
Today’s Match Reports:
Melrose strike first
After ten minutes of quality rugby during which both sides showed good organisation in defence and an ability to move the ball skilfully, Melrose had the first chance of points but instead of kicking at goal Craig Jackson planted the ball in the corner.
Several phases later, the hosts cashed in, when from a rolling maul, with Richard Ferguson, who had replaced the injured Russell Anderson, claiming the try. The conversion attempt by Struan Hutchsion drifted wide.
There was no inaccuracy at the other end as Climo punished Melrose for straying offside with a penalty goal. Then the same man was on target again after Melrose had collapsed a maul, and Ayr moved into a one-point lead.
The visitors had moved the ball well in the wider channels and profited when Danny McCluskey escaped down the left touchline. The centre then opted to kick, putting the Melrose full back Fraser Thomson in trouble on his own goal line without support.
Three Ayr players surrounded Thomson and when Paddy Dewhirst ripped the ball clear, the Ayr wing merely had to drop over the line for the try, giving the visitors an 11-5 advantage.
Ayr completed a largely dominant first half display with a try and conversion by Climo after a series of short range forward drives to put the Millbrae men into a useful 18-5 interval lead.
Climo rules the roost
Melrose brought on Edinburgh professional George Taylor at the start of the second half and it did not take long for the strong running centre to make an impression, his powerful break creating a try for fellow midfielder Patrick Anderson. Jackson, taking over the kicking duties from the substituted Hutchison, missed with his conversion kick.
From a penalty-created line-out, Ayr replied decisively, their driving maul resulting in a try for Pat MacArthur. From the touchline Climo converted to increase his side’s lead to 25-10 .
Stung by the 15 point margin that had opened up, Melrose found renewed energy and were able to respond, this time a well-aimed cross kick from Jackson landing kindly for replacement wing Iain Sim who had the strength to cross the line.
Jackson’s missed conversion was yet another nail in the Melrose coffin and their day of misfortune was emphasised when a spilled pass gave Ayr sub Grant Anderson the ball. The former Scotland sevens player made ground before the ball was put through two pairs of hands for Climo to score his second try and claim his team’s bonus point, the stand-off’s conversion sealing a decisive win .
Melrose: F Thomson; B Colvine, P Anderson, C Jackson, R McCann; S Hutchison, M McAndrew; G Shiels, R Anderson, R McLeod, A Runciman, C Young, N Irvine-Hess, G Runciman, I Moody. Subs: R Ferguson, C Wilde, G Taylor, D Colvine, I Sim.
Ayr: S Lyle; P Dewhirst, P Kelly, D McCluskey, K Rowe; F Climo, H Warr; R Sayce, P MacArthur, S Longwell, A North, L Morrice, D Corbenici, P McCallum, B Macpherson. Subs: A McGuire, B Paterson, W Van Dijk, A Rademaker, G Anderson.
Referee: L Linton
Melrose: Tries Ferguson, P Anderson, Sim.
Ayr: Tries Dewhirst, Climo 2, MacArthur; Cons Climo 3; Pens: Climo 2.
Scoring Sequence (Melrose first): 5-0; 5-3; 5-6; 5-11; 5-16; 5-18 (h-t) 10-18; 10-23; 10-25; 15-25; 15-30; 15-32.
Man-of-the-Match: With 22 of the Ayr points to his credit and having exerted a controlling influence on the game Frazier Climo was the stand-out player on view.
Talking point: Ayr’s return to the top of the Premiership now makes the championship a whole lot more interesting. The win at The Greenyards will give Ayr a renewed confidence in their bid to wrest the title from Melrose. For Melrose, this was a sobering game but expect the Borderers to react positively. As a club, Melrose, on a grim, grey day, will have been reminded yet again that lights are an essential part of playing rugby in winter.