DAVID BARNES @ Meggetland
ANOTHER week, another convincing victory, as the Ayr bandwagon continues to build momentum playing a simple but effective brand of rugby, based on speed, accuracy and aggression. They have good ball players right across the board, and each of them is buying into the approach which has been fostered by Peter Murchie since his arrival as head coach during the summer.
“He’s given them shape and cohesion,” reflected Peter Wright, the surprisingly upbeat coach of the vanquished team, afterwards. “It’s pretty simple, they just smash you between the 15s and when your defence gets sucked in they put it along the backs.
“They are the best team in the league, it’s as simple as that,” he added. “They’ve got physicality and firepower everywhere. Their guys are big, but they are also good rugby players – they run hard and direct, they offload well in contact, and they’ve got some young boys in their pack who are just getting better and better.”
While any loss is hard to take, Wright made it clear that his overriding frustration after this match was not with the result but the fact that his team made it easier for Ayr than it needed to be through a series of lapses at key moments.
“We’re not disappointed overall compared to last week when we won,” he said. “We are disappointed in the manner we gave away tries: two in the first half in particular off poor kicks. Then we score a try at the start of the second half, but we knock-on from the kick-off and from the resulting scrum they build pressure and ultimately score. I’m not saying they wouldn’t have scored anyway, but we’re giving away field position and opportunities pretty softly to a team who are dangerous in possession.
“Having said that, I’m pleased that we stuck in, we battled away, we got three tries, and we pushed hard to get that fourth one but didn’t have quite enough firepower left.
The result leaves Boroughmuir languishing in sixth place in the table, six points adrift of the play-off places, but it is still early days and the three big matches looming over the horizon against Stirling away, Heriot’s at home and Melrose away could change everything.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Wright. “We’ve won three games without playing particularly well, and now we’ve lost but played slightly better. Can we win the league? You like to think you can get in the top four, then you look at the firepower these guys have and wonder: can you beat them? Well, I think we can in a one-off game.”
As for Murchie, it is simply a case of keeping the players focussed – which is, perhaps, easier said than done.
“We played pretty well today, we had the right mind-set,” he said. “Defensively, it was, again, one of our better performances. We knew the way Boroughmuir were going to play coming into the game – they have a number of guys who are dangerous players – so we did a bit of work on that, and our guys made their tackles. Set-piece was good as well, and we took our chances in attack.
“We just try to pressure the ball in all areas – whether it is line-out or scrum we make them have to work for absolutely everything. In attack, we’re trying to play a particular way, and at the moment we are all on the same page, so it is something we need to keep developing and pushing on.”
Ayr have been fortunate in terms of injuries with captain Pete McCallum the only significant absentee through this first half-dozen matches, and the pro player release has also been favourable.
“That continuity is huge,” agreed Murchie. “But we’ve got a number of guys in the second team who are chomping at the bit to get an opportunity, and there’s guys on the bench who keep on coming on and doing well, so we have a bit of depth.”
Ayr opened their account when Paddy Kelly and Kyle Rowe combined up the left touchline to send Stafford McDowall over, with Frazier Climo adding the tricky touchline conversion; but Boroughmuir bounced straight back through captain Johnny Matthews grounding the ball from a line-out move which came back towards the hooker on the touchline.
McDowall got both his and his team’s second on 17 minutes, when Climo opened things up after several phases of tight, driving play with a long miss-pass, and the centre sent Boroughmuir’s frantically scrambling defence off on a wild goose chase with a deft dummy before strolling in unchallenged.
Boroughmuir had plenty of the game during this first 40, and looked dangerous in flashes, but they allowed themselves to be turned over at a few crucial moments, and their shaky line-out – without Callum Atkinson, who pulled out with an injury before kick-off – also let Ayr off the hook a few times.
Ultimately, the home team had to work very hard for every yard they got during this period, while Ayr found it rather easier when they got on the front foot, as was demonstrated when Grant Anderson nipped over on the left with five minutes of the first half remaining, and again when solid scrum ball under the posts allowed Climo to set off on an arcing run to the line for the bonus point score in the last play before the break.
A huge tackle by replacement Senitiki Nayolo on Gregor Henry turned over the ball for Boroughmuir at the start of the second half, and set the tone for an excellent passage of play which culminated in Jordan Edmunds picking up from a tackle situation to power past one defender then round the final man to score.
Boroughmuir had given themselves a lifeline, but within three minutes they had failed to deal with the restart, conceded a scrum penalty, and ultimately conceded a try in the corner to Robbie Nairn. With half an hour still to go, you could feel all the tension deflate out of this match.
Ayr captain Blair Macpherson crossed for his sixth try of the season; but to Boroughmuir’s credit they kept plugging away, and with Ayr’s David Corbenici in the sin-bin for a tip-tackle on Jack Hamilton, the hosts got their reward when Matthews scored his second try by downing the ball from a driven line-out.
In a frantic push for a bonus point, Boroughmuir threw the ball around fearlessly during the last five minutes, but it was all just a bit loose and Ayr’s well-drilled and aggressive defence was able to swallow up each wave of attack.
Boroughmuir: R Arthur; R Kerr, W Wardlaw, G Cannie, J Edmunds; T Weersma, J Hamilton; R Dunbar, J Matthews, R Montgomery, T Drennan, W Inglis, A Mncube, C Keddie, R Drummond. Subs: J Steele, D Marfo, S Nayalo, M Johnstone, G Parker.
Ayr: G Anderson; D McCluskey, P Kelly, S McDowall, K Rowe; F Climo, D Armstrong; J Bhatti, R Smith, S Longwell, D Corbenici, M Sykes, T Spinks, G Henry, B Macpherson. Subs: P MacArthur, E McLaren, a North, O Smith, R Nairn.
Referee: M Adamson
Boroughmuir: Tries: Matthews 2, Edmunds; Con: Weersma.
Ayr: Tries: McDowall 2, Anderson, Climo, Nairn, Macpherson; Cons: Climo 3.
Scoring sequence (Boroughuir first): 0-5; 0-7; 5-7; 5-12; 5-14; 5-19; 5-21; 5-26 (h-t) 10-26; 10-31; 10-36
Yellow cards –
Man-of-the-Match: Two well-taken early tries from Stafford McDowall set Ayr on course to what ended up being a pretty routine victory. Big, powerful, a good ball player and an old head on young shoulders, he will be a worthy addition to the pro ranks – perhaps sooner rather than later.
Talking point: It is quite simple: who is going to stop Ayr?