Ayr stuck it out against a determined Gala on a sunny day at Millbrae on Saturday in the BT Premiership.
Gala got the first points on the board thanks to a penalty by stand-off Gregor Hunter. 0-3.
The visitors attacked through speedy second row Rob Louw but they gave away a penalty. Ayr took the line-out, and the ball was fired from lock Craig Stevenson to scrum-half Harry Warr to centre Danny McCluskey. A long pass found full-back and captain Grant Anderson and he barged over in the corner. Stand-off Frazier Climo couldn't convert from the touchline. 5-3.
Ayr battered their way into Gala's half via number eight Blair Macpherson and second row Rob McAlpine. A little kick was gathered by the maroons and taken on by prop Matt Carryer, who dummied beautifully. But Ayr turned over and Warr found touch with a great kick.
A couple of line-outs for Gala followed and possession changed hands before visiting winger Craig Robertson burst through the defence and sprinted away for a fine try. Hunter converted from out wide. 5-10.
Ayr had periods of attack, with Climo, Warr, centre Archie Russell and winger Craig Gossman making forays, but they were thwarted at times by their own unforced errors, as well as that tough Borders defence.
Neither side was able to string together sustained phases though; as soon as Ayr turned over, Gala turned over, and when they broke away, Warr, making an assured debut, ripped the ball from maroon hands only for the referee to bring things to halt after spotting a knock-on.
It was frustrating for the crowd (a large contingent catching some rays on the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum side of the park) and they held their breaths as Chris Dean made a terrific break for Gala. He was enveloped by Anderson and Gossman.
Ayr stole Gala's line-out and launched themselves at the whitewash through Russell and flankers Gregor Henry and Will Bordill. But Gala's Robertson turned over and shot off. He couldn't get anywhere and a couple of penalties for his side were fruitless, including a long-range kick at goal by Hunter.
There was hope for Ayr as Climo glided through a myriad of defenders and sauntered away. Russell headed for the line but was dragged down just short.
D'arcy Rae replaced Steven Longwell at prop and David Armstrong came on for Warr, who unfortunately left the field with an ankle injury.
After a solid Ayr scrum, Macpherson and hooker James Malcolm pressed for the line, but a pass for Gossman found his face rather than his hands. They had the advantage though and took another couple of scrums. The try-line remained unreachable.
The home team was helped by Gala's Dean landing himself in the sin bin for repeated professional fouls and Ayr drove from the line-out, Henry burrowing over for a try. Climo couldn't convert. 10-10.
The second half began with Ross Curle replacing Jamie Bova, and McCluskey moving out to the wing, and Lee Scott coming off the bench for Stevenson.
Handling mishaps afflicted both teams, but Ayr held the ball and their nerve long enough for Bordill to put his head down and drive over the line for a try. Again, it wasn't an easy conversion for Climo and his kick hit the post. 15-10.
Gala full-back Graham Speirs was off like a rocket and was headed for the line unopposed until Armstrong came flying up behind him and dragged him into touch.
He repeated the feat a few minutes later and Ayr regained possession but the ball went loose, Robertson made a grab for it and marched away to the try-line. Hunter summarily converted. 15-17.
Climo had the chance to nudge Ayr back in front with a penalty but his kick again hit the post.
Armstrong, McCluskey and prop George Hunter got Ayr into the Gala half, but those pesky knocks-on bothered both sides.
Ayr were patient though; they could scent a try but instead of desperately trying to force their way over, they calmly kept the ball moving through the hands until a gap appeared and Malcolm scored. It went unconverted. 20-17.
Longwell returned for Hunter, and instantly charged into the Gala defence, Russell backing him up, with Henry and McAlpine giving it a go too. Curle was almost on to an interception but only got his fingertips to the ball and it bobbled away from him.
Hooker David Young showed his adaptability by replacing Henry on the flank and getting stuck into the scrum.
It had sometimes been a laboured performance by both teams, but Ayr made their next try look easy. The ball simply sailed from hand to hand to hand until McCluskey cruised to the try-line and Climo converted. 27-17.
Russell looked like matching his erstwhile centre partner's feat, but neither he nor Macpherson - casually swatting Gala defenders aside like irksome midges - could make it.
The visitors from Netherdale typify that Borders never-say-die attitude and with the minutes ticking down, they marauded into Ayr's half and replacement back Craig Dods got the try, which Hunter converted. 27-24.
A heart-stopping minute followed as Gala endeavoured to get that winning score but thumping tackles from Scott, amongst others, stopped them in their tracks as full-time beckoned.
Final score: Ayr 27 Gala 24.
Slaters Menswear man of the match: David Armstrong.
- Elena Hogarth.
Photos courtesy of George McMillan.