LEWIS STUART @ Millbrae
THE race for top spot in the Premiership is wide open again after Ayr suffered their first defeat of the season in a match where they were given a lesson in the importance of finishing.
Both sides blew openings but Ayr were guilty of making a mess of many, many more and paid the price as the visitors stormed away with the first half and had enough in the tank to survive through the home side’s fightback.
It was not all good news for the city of Edinburgh, however. Damien Hoyland, the Edinburgh pro winger, drafted to Watsonians as he made his comeback from injury, hobbled off in the first half. Judging from the amount of pain he seemed to be in, he looks set for another lengthy period on the sidelines.
He had shown a few flashes in the time he was on the field but in a chaotic first half, when both teams seemed determined to throw the ball around as though it was an end-of-season sevens event, he did not see as much ball as he would have liked before he hurt himself in a tackle.
“The boys showed character,” said Steve Lawrie, the Watsonians coach. “It was not perfect but they scored some nice tries. It was quite loose in the first half with both teams making errors as they tried to throw the ball about.
“It was an important game for us in terms of the league and things like that. People pay and want to watch exciting rugby and that was certainly that. That is what the Premiership’s advantage is, it is not too structured, people miss the odd tackle and want to play with intent.
“We certainly wanted to come to Millbrae and play rugby and I feel we did that. We also had a big defensive set. People will look at it and say they should have finished their chances but I will look at it and say we showed really good dog and effort in defence. It was spirited.
“We have not played well against top four teams until now so it was pleasing to come here, show maturity and close the game out. We were sitting on three tries and had the ambition to go for a fourth but it was important to respect Millbrae and accept that just winning was an important task.”
It had not taken his side long go get on the scoreboard, Charlie McKill, the lock, powering over after only four minutes to set the tone for the first half with Lee Millar, the fly half, converting and adding two penalties before Ayr got a serious go at using the ball.
The home side did eventually manage to hold onto the ball long enough to win a penalty and threatened to catch the visitors when Steven Longwell, the tighthead prop, charged straight through all would-be tacklers on a 40-yard bullocking run to the line. Quick-fire tries from Josh Rowlands and Rufus McLean, the Watsonians full-back and wing, both the result of slick backs play, put Watsonians in charge at the break, though.
The second half was a radically different affair. Gone was the harum-scarum rugby of the opening 40 minutes as Ayr took charge and Watsonians defended with determination. They had numerous openings and plenty of times when they had men over but they ignored too many overlaps and dropped the ball too often when they did try to exploit the space.
In the end Frazier Climo, the fly-half, managed to force his way over and added a conversion and penalty to bring his side within range but they could not close the gap further. It was Watsonians who ended on the home line hunting the bonus point try. After being held up over the line twice, they eventually settled for just winning.
“We got what we deserved, we were way off it in the first half,” said Peter Murchie, the home coach, “Second half we were better but did not take our chances. You have to credit Watsonians, their scramble defence was excellent.”
Ayr: G Anderson; O Smith, D McCluskey, S Lyle, K Rowe; F Climo, D Armstrong; R Sayce, A McGuire, S Longwell, D Corbenici, A North, T Spinks, G Henry, B MacPherson(C). Replacements used: S Collier, E McLaren, C Reece, H Warr, J Bova.
Watsonians: J Rowland; D Hoyland, A Guthrie, DJ Innes, R McLean; L Millar, M Scott; G Jackson, R Graham, D Ferguson, C McKill, C Borthwick, G Nelson, C Boyle, M Fedo. Replacements used: F Renwick, F Hobbs, E Fox, R Steele, H Fisher.
Referee: Keith Allen
Ayr: Tries: Longwell, Climo; Cons: Climo 2; Pens: Climo 2.
Watsonians: Tries: McKill, Rowlands, McLean; Cons: Millar 2; Pens: Millar 2.
Scoring sequence (Ayr first): 0-7,0-10, 0-13, 3-13, 10-13, 10-20, 10-25 (h-t), 17-25, 20-25.
Man-of-the-match: The result hinged on Watsonians’ defence and nobody worked harder than number eight Michael Fedo.
Talking point: Both sides had spells in charge but nobody can butcher as many openings as Ayr did and expect to beat quality opposition.