COLIN RENTON @ BT Murrayfield
ON a day of tight finishes, the BT Cup lived up to what had gone before, with the destination of the trophy decided by the final action of a tense encounter that fizzed and crackled but never quite managed to reproduce the quality of the Tennent’s Premiership decider between the same two teams three weeks earlier. In the event, it was Ayr who added the Cup to their league success after Frazier Climo calmly landed an injury time penalty from wide on the right.
Ayr committed an uncharacteristically high number of basic errors, largely as a result of Heriot’s having addressed the shortcomings of the previous encounter. So, it says much for the character of them that they still clawed their way to victory.
The Millbrae men started well and struck after four minutes, although there was some doubt over the validity of the score. The men in pink and black stretched the Heriot’s defence and threw the ball out wide where Kyle Rowe gathered and raced towards the line. Charlie Simpson looked to have bundled the young winger into touch just before grounding the ball, but the referee awarded the score.
Heriot’s cut the gap to two points when Ross Jones clipped over a penalty. But Ayr were soon back on the offensive and another spell on the front foot yielded a scrum five metres out. And after several pick-and-go efforts, it was hooker Robbie Smith – in his final appearance for the cub before joining Bedford Blues – who blasted his way over. Climo added the extras.
Heriot’s had not yet had a chance to showcase their pace behind the scrum, but when they finally did so it reaped rewards. Jack Blain raced through and drew the last man before freeing Simpson with a beautifully judged pass. The full-back darted over for a score, converted by Jones, that cut the gap to two points.
Jones was off target with his next penalty effort but by half-time the Edinburgh side had seized the advantage. A slick breakout and smart handling saw the ball travel out to Struan Dewar, who athletically rounded the last defender to touch down in the corner.
Jones extended the lead when he booted a three-pointer five minutes after the restart, and Heriot’s stretched away with a moment of brilliance from Simpson. His exquisite reverse-pass wrong-footed the Ayr defence and gave Blain a chance to race over for a third Heriot’s try. Jones steered the kick between the uprights to establish a 13 point advantage.
It was crucial for Ayr to be next on the score sheet, and they had an opportunity to do so with a penalty banged into touch within sight of the opposition line. But, after the ensuing line-out, Jason Hill pounced on a loose ball to avert the danger
When Ayr did click, it was impressive. And they did so to great effect with 14 minutes to play. A line-out drive shunted Heriot’s backwards and Stafford McDowall took the recycled ball then attacked at pace and fed Robbie Nairn, who freed Climo to scuttle over then add the conversion to bring the deficit to within a score.
And a tense finale was assured when McDowall sprinted down the left flank and squeezed in at the corner with five minutes left to play. Climo’s conversion attempt fell just short, leaving the Heriot’s lead at a solitary point.
The next Heriot’s attack yielded a penalty. Jones kicked for touch and, after securing the line-out they committed an offence that allowed Ayr to mount a final attack.
That led to another penalty 30 metres out and wide on the left, handing Climo the chance to become the match winner. And, displaying nerves of steel, he fired the kick between the posts from wide on the left – which is his wrong side – to snatch the victory and secure the double.
“I’ve been kicking them alright, just fading them a bit to the right. I just had to straighten this one up. When I kicked it, I had a pretty good feeling that it was the one,” said Climo.
And, of his team’s all-round showing, Climo added: “We just couldn’t get any momentum with the ball, to be fair. This team’s got a lot of character. We’ve had a few games this season when we have come back when no one really would have given us much of a chance. We’ve got a massive amount of belief.”
Understandably, the overriding emotion in the Heriot’s changing room was despondency. “It’s probably the lowest it’s been in my seven years at the club,” said coach Phil Smith, who nevertheless found reasons to be positive, not least the way his players had stepped up after losing the Premiership final.
“When we reflect back we’ll think they didn’t leave much out there and I thought they scored some wonderful tries,” he added. “As a game it was pretty good and we feel we contributed a lot.
Ayr: G Anderson; D McCluskey, P Kelly, S McDowall, K Rowe; F Climo, H Warr; R Sayce, R Smith, S Longwell, D Corbenici, L Morrice, B Macpherson, T Spinks, P McCallum©. Subs: A McGuire, C Miller, A North, C Reece, J Preston, O Smith, R Nairn.
Heriot’s: C Simpson; R McMichael, R Jones, R Kay, J Blain; S Edwards , A Simmers, J Scott. M Liness, S Cessford, C Marshall, A Sinclair , I Wilson©, J McLean, S Dewar. Subs: A Johnstone, S Mustard, R Leishman, M Hughes, J Hill, A Ball, R Carmichael.
Referee: K Allen
Ayr: Tries; Rowe, Smith, Climo, McDowall, Cons; Climo 2, Pen; Clmo
Heriot’s: Tries; Simpson, Dewar, Blain, Cons; Jones 2, Pens; Jones 2
Scoring sequence (Ayr first): 5-0; 5-3; 10-3; 12-3; 12-8; 12-10; 12-15 (h-t) 12-18; 12-23; 12-25; 17-25; 19-25; 24-25; 27-25.
Man-of-the-Match: Charlie Simpson was the top man for Heriot’s, but when it came to the business end of a tense encounter, Frazier Climo, who had also sparked the Ayr fightback, was the calmest man at Murrayfield.