Ayr Rugby Football Club
It was at times an extraordinary match between Stirling County and Ayr in the third round of the BT Cup at Bridgehaugh.
With a call-off last week due to a waterlogged pitch and late confirmation that it would go ahead this weekend, plus Ayr having several key personnel involved in Scotland Club XV and Scotland U20s games, there was an odd atmosphere to the fixture before it had even kicked off.

All the uncertainty seemed to initially affect the visitors, naturally, even if they did have three of their six absentees available in the end.

Despite some snaffling at the first line-out and breaks by flanker Graham Fisken, scrum-half David Armstrong and winger Craig Gossman, they knocked on.

From Stirling's scrum, the hosts shot off and there was no-one at home for Ayr.  Glasgow Warriors centre Sam Johnson streaked away for a try.  Winger Jonny Hope's conversion attempt hit the post.  5-0.

The first of Ayr's casualties was helped from the field, Cameron Taylor limping away to be replaced by centre Ross Curle, fresh from a full eighty minutes as captain of the Scotland Club XV the night before.

Johnson wasn't the only Warrior in the County ranks. New Scotstoun signing Jarrod Firth started at prop and he had a welcome to Scottish rugby that he wouldn't have been expecting when diminutive winger Craig Gossman slammed him to the ground.

Scott Sutherland was escorted to the sidelines with a lower limb injury, and Rob McAlpine - another club internationalist - came off the bench.

Ayr got on the scoreboard thanks to a Frazier Climo penalty.  5-3.

Tempers frayed as the scrum broke up and home hooker Cameron Fenton leapt on prop Javan Sebastian, pinning him to the ground.  Further foul play followed and the referee and his assistants had a short conference before deciding to red card Fenton.

Ayr showed patience in County's twenty-two until Sebastian plunged over for a try.  Climo converted.  5-10.

Stirling kept positive, with number eight Vaka Manu causing all sorts of trouble in the loose.  Ayr centres Danny McCluskey and Richard Dalgleish put in some tough tackles along with Curle but the visitors gave away a penalty.  Hope duly kicked it over.  8-10.

Ayr didn't help themselves by infringing again, holding on this time.  Stirling went for the line-out, allowing speedy full-back Dylan Taikato-Simpson to race off to the try-line.  He didn't make it, but moments later, Hope did, converting his own score.  15-10.

It was scrappy from both sides, with kicks going too far and not far enough.  Ayr full-back Grant Anderson was in his usual steamroller mode, but County managed to turn over.  They were struggling at the set pieces though, their line-out going awry without Fenton.

Ayr's hooker David Young was largely accurate with his throws throughout the afternoon, and McAlpine and Craig Stevenson - the 2nd XV captain on his 1st XV debut - did well in the air.

Ayr had a chance for more points just before half-time but the penalty attempt by Climo was short.

Injuries were mounting up, and County's Hope, who had been having a great game, was seen getting a piggy-back from the field just after the resumption.  Ayr then lost Fisken to a knee injury, although he managed to walk to the sidelines.  He was replaced by Craig Brown.

Handling hit a low for both teams and there were several scrums after knocks-on.  Ayr held firm and flanker Blair Macpherson blasted his way out of his own half.  But they were leaking penalties.  Stand-off Shaun Treweek took over kicking duty.  18-10.

Fourteen-men County had done valiantly in defence for so long, but couldn't keep out Ayr indefinitely.  Armstrong skipped through flailing Stirling bodies before Ayr got a penalty.  From the ensuing line-out, Pete McCallum repeated his try-scoring success from the night before at the club international and got over the line.  Climo converted.  18-17.

Still, the hosts kept their heads up, marauding through Ayr's defence, but it was the handling again that scuppered them.

Ayr fired the ball through the hands of Armstrong, McAlpine and prop Steven Longwell but could get nowhere.  They had a penalty though and got their nose in front when Climo's kick sailed over the cross bar.  18-20.

There were more twists and turns ahead though as Gossman found himself in the sin bin after a misjudged attempt to challenge in the air.

County pressed for Ayr's try-line but strong defence by Curle and Anderson stopped them.  They tried again from another penalty line-out and although they got over, it was disallowed when the assistant referee alerted the referee to a misdemeanor in the run-up to it.  Stirling lock Ed Howgate joined Gossman in the bin.

Even with thirteen players, Stirling would not be bowed.  McCallum and Longwell tried to break away but County threw themselves into defence.

They couldn't catch Climo though.  A beautiful pass from McCallum just on the half-way line let the stand-off loose and he sped away up the wing for a spectacular try.  He left himself a difficult angle to kick the conversion from and he couldn't make it.  18-25.

Everyone began to tire, unsurprisingly, and turned to kicking.  Climo perfectly judged his kick for touch, just on Stirling's five-metre line.  It appeared County had secured the line-out but McAlpine turned bulldozer and before the small crowd knew what had happened, Stevenson had scored a try in the corner.  Climo didn't miss the conversion this time.  18-32.

County, again, found a way through Ayr's defence but Armstrong scurried back to put in a last gasp tackle before they could get to the line.

Ayr gave away a penalty but Stirling over-threw at the line-out.  They did the same moments later when Anderson was sin-binned for a high tackle.

The game disintegrated in the final few minutes, with penalties given away and tired players making mistakes.  Brown charged down a Stirling kick but Ayr could do nothing with it.  Gossman chased a chip all the way to the try-line but couldn't scoop up the ball with Stirling finding something in the reserve tank to swarm round him.

The final whistle went and Ayr were glad to have got through such a tough game against such a determined County side.  They now play GHK in the quarter-finals at Millbrae on Saturday 5th March.

Final score: Stirling County 18 Ayr 32.


Ayr:
15. Grant Anderson (c); 14. Cameron Taylor, 13. Richard Dalgleish, 12. Danny McCluskey, 11. Craig Gossman; 10. Frazier Climo, 9. David Armstrong; 1. Steven Longwell, 2. David Young, 3. Javan Sebastian; 4. Craig Stevenson, 5. Scott Sutherland; 6. Blair Macpherson, 7. Graham Fisken, 8. Pete McCallum.

Replacements:
16. Stuart Fenwick, 17. D'arcy Rae, 18. Rob McAlpine, 19. Jack Preston, 20. Ross Curle.