Ayr Ladies put in a calm, mature performance to overcome Melrose Ladies under the floodlights at Marr College and reach the semi-finals of the Sarah Beaney Cup for the first time.
On paper, it looked like the BT Premiership visitors should have eased to the next round of the national cup, facing a team from the league below. But the ladies in pink and black were ready for the challenge posed by the big hitters from the Borders.
The early exchanges were all Melrose, as they took the ball with pace and were helped by several penalties given away by the hosts. But, as with Ayr Ladies, they were slightly caught unawares by the artificial surface in Troon, their kicks bouncing too far.
With a few weeks to prepare for this clash after it was postponed at the start of January, the ladies in pink and black had clearly been focussing on their set pieces, as they were sturdy at the scrum and confident at the line-out.
But they kept leaking penalties, although Melrose couldn't capitalise, a kick at goal hitting the crossbar.
They got into gear in attack, captain Laura Turner leading the way and flanker Rachael Mulholland charging through the defence. A few handling errors - to be expected on such a dreich day - from both sides crept in.
When Melrose strayed off-side, Ayr quickly took the penalty, with full-back Samantha Morrison heading for the try-line, backed up by Mulholland. They couldn't get over, but fired the ball through the backs until centre Kelsey Swift dotted down. The conversion was too wide an angle for stand-off Catherine Shennan. 5-0.
Melrose were desperate to get into the game, but Ayr's defence was strong, with second rows Phoebe McDowall and Ashleigh Nelson and prop Louise McLauchlan putting in huge tackles.
With no way through the pink and black wall, the visitors took the chance to get on the scoreboard with a sweetly struck drop goal. 5-3.
Ayr got the ball moving again, with great hands by Shennan, Nelson, centre Linsey Bunten, hooker Lisa Croniken, scrum-half Emily Irving and wingers Lauren McBride and Erin McSorley. Melrose showed their pedigree, though, poaching back possession.
Croniken found herself in the sin bin for a professional foul and Melrose's classy backs created a converted try. 5-10.
Melrose - and the artificial pitch - put Morrison under pressure, but she made some great catches throughout the match. It was one such take just before half-time that got Ayr out of their own half and allowed Irving to race away for a try, which Shennan converted. 12-10.
Ayr didn't tire in the second half, their scrum remaining strong, and players looking fresh in the drizzle. Flanker Lynsey Turner made several darting runs in Melrose's half.
With one of the ladies from the Greenyards yellow-carded, Ayr took their chance and it was Scotland international Irving who found her way over, scoring at the base of the post. Shennan duly converted. 19-10.
Melrose closed the gap with a penalty moments later. 19-13.
Ayr weren't about to defend their lead, but increase it. Number eight Lynda Morgan led the way, with Irving, McDowall and Lynsey Turner in support. They punished Melrose at the scrum and Morgan charged for the line. Shennan couldn't convert. 24-13.
Some enormous tackles by the visitors stopped Ayr momentarily, but they were back up at the try-line again, Shennan, Mulholland and Irving trying to find a way through.
There was a blow for Ayr as Irving was attended to and then carried from the pitch with a lower leg injury. She brought a real cutting edge to the game, and her team-mates carried on that vein.
Another knock for Ayr was the loss of captain Turner to the sin bin for a professional foul and it was a tense final ten minutes as they finished the match with only fourteen players.
Replacement back Connie Griffiths put in a sterling effort in attack, but a try by Melrose was inevitable. It went unconverted. 24-18.
With no pitch-side clock at the school playing fields, neither team knew how much time was left. But the visitors continued to work hard to salvage a game that had been wrested away from them by the tenacious and spirited Ayr Ladies.
The hosts pinned them in their own half, so despite some good possession, they couldn't get any further points.
There was a bit of confusion at the end, as the referee's whistle - no doubt sodden after eighty minutes of non-stop rain - was barely audible to the large crowd of supporters on the sidelines. But the players heard it and celebrated a great achievement for everyone involved.
Final score: Ayr Ladies 24 Melrose 18.
- Elena Hogarth.