Trips to Netherdale are never short of incident, and a thick layer of mist blanketing the Borders ground only added to the drama as Ayr scored six tries to beat Gala in the BT Premiership.
It was a perfect start for the visitors as scrum-half David Armstrong retrieved the ball from the back of the scrum and scurried away up the wing, slipping through tackles to score in the corner. Stand-off Frazier Climo, unsurprisingly in the mist, couldn't convert. 0-5.
Ayr were leaking penalties though, and after a line-out from a kick to the corner for Gala came to nothing, their stand-off Gregor Hunter stepped up to the tee. The sticks were barely visible and he nudged it wide.
The ball was bizarrely punted around by both sides until Ayr had a line-out. With Glasgow Warriors and former Millbrae man (and current Ayr assistant coach) Pat MacArthur at hooker and assured work by second rows Ruaridh Mackenzie and Robert McAlpine, it was firing on all cylinders throughout the day.
Right winger Richard Dalgleish hit the ball at pace and weaved back in field to pass to number eight Pete McCallum, who sold a dummy before flicking the ball to centre Archie Russell, who found left winger Craig Gossman. He couldn't get to the line, and again Ayr gave away consecutive penalties.
Gala began to suffer from the same malady. Ayr took the line-out, drove for the line and were awarded the penalty try after Gala illegally prevented them from touching down, with Climo converting. 0-12.
With all these penalties, someone was bound to land in the sin bin, and it was Mackenzie for Ayr. Gala still couldn't capitalise on Ayr's repeated infringements, their kick to the corner going awry.
They had another chance after a high tackle by Ayr, but the visitors turned them over just after the line-out. Gala reclaimed possession only to kick it away and watch as the ball was gathered by Climo, who cantered through the tackles. He chipped on and centre Ross Curle scooped up the ball and scored. Climo's conversion hit the post. 0-17.
It got worse for the home team. Ayr poached their line-out ball before getting a penalty and taking a line-out of their own. They rumbled to the whitewash (the whole place was whitewashed at that point) and prop Steven Longwell got the ball down for the bonus-point try. Climo got the conversion. And all that after only twenty-five minutes. 0-24.
Ayr were on the hunt for more points, but Gala seemed to wake up with half-time looming, their scrum-half Connor Adams leading the charge. They fought their way into Ayr's half, and with the ball loose, hooker Matt Carryer pounced for a try. Hunter converted. 7-24.
The visitors started the final forty minutes the way they started the first, with a quick try. Mackenzie galloped through the maroon defence and replacement back Danny McCluskey gathered a Curle chip to race over the line. Climo added the extras. 7-31.
A twenty-four-point lead is nothing at Netherdale. Many a team, Ayr included, has seen a second-half resurgence from Gala and that was what happened. The mist lifted and so did the home side.
Winger Alex Northam made a beautiful break into Ayr's twenty-two. He kicked on, but it was Ayr's Dalgleish who grounded the ball.
Gala second row Rob Louw was yellow-carded, but that didn't dampen his team-mates' spirit. They were marauding about all over the place. In the end, they didn't need to cross the line as the referee adjudged Russell had illegally stopped Gala from scoring and awarded a penalty try, as well as sending the Ayr centre to the sidelines for ten minutes. Hunter converted for Gala. 14-31.
MacArthur was replaced by his fellow Warrior and one time Ayr hooker James Malcolm, who, along with his fellow substitutes, got stuck into action straightaway.
Ayr prop George Hunter and Mackenzie looked lively with ball in hand, but again those pesky penalties scuppered any opportunity for points. Gala's tails were up, and Hunter, flankers Will Bordill and Blair Macpherson and Djustice Sears-Duru (on for Longwell) had their hands full trying to contain them.
They couldn't contain replacement Craig Robertson as he powered up the wing for a try and Hunter converted superbly from out wide. 21-31.
With the dark descending and a cold wind blowing into the stand, that certainly perked up the loyal Gala fans. The cold seemed to be getting to the players too, as numb fingers fumbled passes.
Neither side was wavering in the tackle though, Ayr replacements Stafford McDowall and David Young felling Gala attackers with full-back Grant Anderson (at scrum-half for the most of the second half with Armstrong on the sidelines) following suit.
Ayr had to bide their time until they could secure possession with a turn-over just in their own half. Curle perfectly timed his offload to Gossman, who swerved through the defence and passed to McCallum, with the captain shooting off for a score behind the posts. Climo was off with a bloody face and Curle converted. 21-38.
There were just a few minutes left on the scoreboard clock - starting to look a bit fuzzy again with the mist reappearing - but Gala were undaunted. Swift passing allowed Northam to claim their bonus point try, which Hunter summarily converted. 28-38.
Could Gala come back? They were certainly going to give it a go, running the ball from their own twenty-two. But a forward pass didn't help. A knock-on by Ayr after the scrum gave them hope, but a thundering tackle by an Ayr player (lingering mist plus glaring floodlights plus winter darkness means your match reporter will not hazard a guess at whom) caused Gala to knock on too.
A few more seconds of toing and froing ensued before the referee brought the game to an end.
Final score: Gala 28 Ayr 38.
Over on the 2nd XV pitch (entirely obscured by mist, and without floodlights), Ayr beat Gala A 29-12, with tries by Craig Stevenson, Jamie Bova, Harry Warr and Paddy Dewhirst. The latter converted three and added a penalty. Lewis Anderson was the man of the match.
- Elena Hogarth.