Currie Chieftains 17
DAVID BARNES @ Millbrae
AFTER soaking up a fairly relentless onslaught during much of the first half, Ayr landed an important counter-punch with a try just before the break, and then hammered home their advantage with 40-minutes of smart, purposeful and accurate rugby to secure a well-deserved bonus point win and prove that their new look team has the makings of serious title contenders.
“It was a good game. Currie had us under a lot of pressure during that first half, we didn’t have much possession, so we had a lot of tackling to do, and we really stuck in with that and made it very difficult for them,” said Peter Murchie, Ayr’s delighted head coach, afterwards. “The scoring a try just before half time – given all the possession they had – was a big psychological boost.
“We knew we hadn’t really fired any shots in terms of our own attacking game for a number of reasons, but we fixed those issues at half-time and in the second half I thought we were excellent in terms of manging the game well, playing in the right areas and executing well in attack. Our discipline was a lot better this week as well.”
“There has been a lot of guys moved on, but I guess that gave me coming in new as head coach a chance to start fresh with the team. We have changed a lot of the things we are doing, and the guys have bought into it,” he concluded.
Ayr were the livelier out of the blocks and took the lead inside the first five minutes when Paddy Kelly hit the line hard, bounced Robbie Nelson, then pumped his legs through two more defenders before stretching over the line. But Chieftains responded almost immediately with Fraser Watt burrowing over. Gregor Hunter’s conversion scraped home despite Robbie Nairn managing to partially charge the kick down.
The visitors had the lion’s share of possession and territory – aided by Ayr’s inability to secure their own line-out ball – for the next 25 minutes, with winger Steven Hamilton, stand-off Hunter and scrum-half Charlie Shiel succeeding in prising open half gaps, but not managing to escape the home team’s scramble defence.
Ayr had a chance to restore their lead when Hamilton was yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on which killed an overlap on the right. The resultant penalty was despatched to the corner, but another line-out overthrow allowed 14-man Currie to break back upfield, and the visitors took the lead through a Hunter three-pointer after Ayr were ruled to have killed the ball at a ruck on their own line.
With Scotland Under-20 prospect Euan McLaren on at tight-head prop, Ayr started to put Chieftains through the grinder at scrum time, and a simple but perfectly executed move from the back of a set-piece just before the break saw Kyle Rowe streak home unchallenged after working a scissors with scrum-half David Armstrong.
Ayr struck first after the resumption with hooker Robbie Smith latching onto a Chieftains line-out overthrow, and Steven Longwell making a giant dent in the middle of the park, before David Corbenici squeezed between Mike Vernel and Graeme Carson on his way to the line.
Blair Macpherson’s rampage up field straight from the restart put Ayr right back on the front foot, and Climo slotted a penalty to make amends for the easier conversion he had fluffed two minutes earlier.
Chieftains were now 12 points adrift, and as Smith again latched onto an overthrow to launch another attack it looked like they were in real trouble. But they managed to survive that onslaught, and then Joe Reynolds stepped inside his man to launch a counter-attack for the visitors which looked like it might end with a score at the other end – only for Scott McGinley to lose control of the ball as he closed in on the line.
That proved to be Currie’s last stand. Ayr secured the bonus point when sharp interplay on the right sent Kelly over for his second try of the afternoon. There was still 20-minutes to go.
The visitors did get a breakaway consolation score when Danny McCluskey couldn’t quite hold onto Climo’s loose pass, and Nelson hacked ahead then capitalised when Climo failed to tidy up the mess.
Rhys Davies became the second Chieftains player to be sent to the naughty step for a high tackle on Climo with ten minutes to go, and the stand-off exacted full revenge by sending home the penalty to finish the scoring for the day.
“It was a pretty frustrating game,” concluded Chieftains head coach Ben Cairns. “The way the first half went, we should have been up at the turnaround instead of 14-10 down. The story of the game is that they took their chances miles better than we took ours. We probably had a similar number of occasions in the 22 over the 80 minutes, but they converted theirs better. And when we didn’t convert our chances, we also made it very easy for them to exit.
“There were a few big moments in the game when we just didn’t do well enough. Things like conceding a try after half-time and then allowing their number eight run back to the halfway line by missing tackles. That is not good enough.
“Basically, it comes down to us not quite being there mentally – in terms of our clarity in what we are trying to do and getting our execution right. And in terms of our toughness and fronting up a bit more. I’ve told the boys that is unacceptable. We’ve prepped well enough to be good to go today, and we’ve let ourselves down.”
Ayr: G Anderson; R Nairn, P Kelly, D McCluskey, K Rowe; F Climo, D Armstrong, R Sayce, R Smith, S Longwell, D Corbenici, M Sykes, T Spinks, G Henry, B Macpherson. Subs: A McGuire,E McLaren, A Davidson, A Rademaker, R Hughes.
Currie Chieftains: J Forbes; B Robbins, J Reynolds, R Nelson, S Hamilton; G Hunter, C Shiel;R Patterson, G Carson, F Watt, S Ainslie, M Vernel, R Davies, T Gordon, S McGinley. Subs: C Wilson, A McWilliam, M Kelly, R Frostwick, A Hall.
Referee: Ben Blain
Ayr: Try: Kelly 2, Rowe, Corbinici; Con: Climo 2; Pen: Climo 2.
Currie Chieftains: Try: Watt, Nelson; Con: Hunter 2; Pen: Hunter.
Scoring sequence (Ayr first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 7-7; 7-10; 12-10; 14-10 (h-t) 19-10; 22-10; 27-10; 27-15; 27-17; 30-17
Yellow cards –
Currie Chieftains: Hamilton, Davies
Man-of-the-Match: Started at tight-head, moved to loose-head, Steven Longwell played 78 minutes with unwavering enthusiasm in both the tight and the loose.
Talking point: A pretty impressive all-round performance for the Millbrae men, apart from the line-out, which malfunctioned badly in the first half and left them defending for long periods. Do they need to simplify it?