Glasgow Hawks 5
DAVID BARNES @ Balgray
THIS is now officially Ayr’s best start to a season during the Premiership era, with another bonus point victory making it eight on the bounce for the Millbrae men. But it wasn’t as easy as the final score-line suggests. Hawks really made the league leaders work for every point they scored, and home head coach Finlay Gillies said afterwards that his side will take confidence from that ahead of taking on Stirling County at Bridgehaugh as this league campaign reaches the halfway stage.
“I thought we were brave as brass,” said Gillies. “On another day, I think we could have won that game – I don’t think I am being mental saying that – but there was a couple of big decisions that I am really surprised that we chose.
“We turned down a kickable penalty early on, and I think we had four or five chances to attack during the game and on three or four of those occasions we lost the ball within a few phases – that’s not going to get you a win against Ayr.
“We knew they would want to take us on physically, so we talked this week about fronting up to that, and I think in that respect we were more than a match for them,” he continued. “I asked the boys just to give over their bodies for 80-minutes, and that’s what some of them did – they put everything they had into it – and that should give us real confidence going into Stirling next week.
“We’re getting better,” he concluded. “We picked up two good results away to Hawick and Edinburgh Accies, which gave us confidence. And this, believe it or not, will give us confidence. It gives me confidence to go to Stirling next week and say: ‘Let’s go – let’s take the shackles off and have a real war with these guys – and see what we’ve got’.”
That early chance of three points Gillies referenced was from a scrum penalty, with captain Gary Strain – who happens to be a prop – opting for another set-piece, and it backfired when Ayr’s highly-rated pack got their own back.
The visitors looked a good bet to take the lead when Stafford McDowall burst through the Hawks line then fed Paddy Kelly, who angled his run back in towards the posts, and it took an excellent piece of recovery work from Bobby Beattie to salvage the situation for the home side. It was a temporary reprieve, and Robbie Nairn went over in the corner off slick hands from the back of a scrum a few moments later.
Nairn’s powerful kick return put Ayr right back on the front foot, and after Blair Macpherson had been squeezed into touch in the left-hand corner, the visitors got their reward for a sustained period of pressure when Steven Longwell rumbled over.
Hawks full-back James Couper was sin-binned for a tip-tackle on Jamie Bova, and Ayr capitalised when Robbie Nairn powered over for his second (and his team’s third) try with less than half an hour played.
As Couper returned to the action after his ten-minutes on the naughty step, he passed team-mate Strain going the other way. The Hawks skipper had been shown yellow for illegally preventing Ayr scrum-half David Armstrong from getting the ball away from the base of a ruck.
Hawks’ ferocious defence around the edge was impressive, but it was leaving them exposed out wide, and Grant Anderson took advantage on 34-minutes when he waltzed home virtually unchallenged for the bonus point try. Frazier Climo slotted the conversion, which was – remarkably given the New Zealanders usual dead-eye accuracy – his first successful shot at goal.
When Murray Godsman completely misjudged a high ball and Nairn collected it on the first bounce, it looked certain that the Warriors winger would run in the first try of the second half from 60-yards, but Glen Faulds did exceptionally well to get across from the opposite wing to make the try-saving tackle. Unfortunately for Faulds, and for Hawks, he injured his shoulder in the process, and was replaced by Liam Brims.
A few minutes later, replacement Ayr centre Ollie Smith thought he had scored after a brilliant shimmy, but was pulled back for crossing; and with 15-minutes to go, Jamie Bova went over unchallenged on the left, but it was chalked off for a forward pass by Kelly. Hawks had spent almost all of the intervening period defending inside their own 22 and deserve huge credit for their refusal to buckle, but the pressure eventually told when Kelly scored on an arching run with nine minutes left on the clock.
There were one or two minor sorties into opposition territory for Hawks during this second period, with half-backs Ross Thompson and Kaleem Baretto both looking dangerous on meagre rations. When Cammy Symes rode a tackle and darted in from 20-yards for a consolation score, it was he least the home team deserved, for their courage more than anything else.
“The conditions weren’t great, again,” reflected Ayr head coach Peter Murchie, afterwards. “We did what we needed to do. We were fairly in control in the first half, and in the second half we started to get a bit frustrated and that led to us being a little bit sloppy. You have to give Hawks credit, they fronted up in terms of their work around the fringes, and they made it difficult for us.
“If you come away from home and get five points then you have to be happy. We’ve got stuff to work on, but it is good to get another result. We need to keep pushing forward, because all the other teams are getting better.”
Glasgow Hawks: J Couper; G Faulds, R Beattie, C Symes, M Godsman; R Thompson, P Boyer; G Strain, P Cairncross, L Skinner, C Thomson, F Hastie, S Dow, M Smith, B Flockhart. Subs: J Gemmell, D York, G Adams. K Barreto, L Brims.
Ayr: G Anderson; R Nairn, P Kelly, S McDowall, J Bova; F Climo, D Armstrong; R Sayce, R Smith, S Longwell, M Sykes, A North, D Corbenci, G Henry, B Macpherson. Subs: A McGuire, E McLaren, C Reece, H Warr, O Smith.
Referee: Finlay Brown
Glasgow Hawks: Try: Symes.
Ayr: Try: Nairn 2, Longwell, Anderson, Kelly; Con: Climo 2
Scoring sequence (Glasgow Hawks first): 0-5; 0-10; 0-10; 0-15; 0-20; 0-22 (h-t) 0-22; 0-29; 5-29
Yellow cards –
Hawks: Couper, Strain.
Man-of-the-Match: Robbie Nairn should probably get it for his hard running and two well-taken tries, but sport isn’t just about winners and glory – so Hawks second-row Fraser Hastie gets the nod on this occasion for selflessly putting his body on the line again and again on a day when it was really about attitude and performance rather than the result for his side.
Talking point: Despite watching his team lose five tries to one, Hawks head coach Fin Gillies was feeling confident looking ahead – will that enthusiasm last through next Saturday when his team face a Stirling County side with a point to prove?