Ayr sealed their place in the BT Cup final with a controlled, composed victory against Glasgow Hawks on a sunny day at Millbrae.
Before kick-off, both teams and supporters held a minute's applause in appreciation of former Ayr club captain Kirk Murdoch, who passed away recently.
Ayr were straight into the thick of the action, stand-off Frazier Climo having an early but unsuccessful kick at goal. He would get another chance soon after.
Winger Danny McCluskey was busy from the off, chasing a loose ball to the line but being unable to take it over. Like Climo, another chance was just around the corner. The stand-off spotted his awaiting winger and perfectly kicked cross-field for McCluskey to pluck out of the air and dot down for the first try. Climo added the extras from the touchline. 7-0.
Ayr were full of energy and impetus, props George Hunter and Steven Longwell leading the way in the loose. Captain Pete McCallum and hooker Lewis Anderson teamed up to move play deep into Hawks' half before Climo stepped up to the tee again. He nailed the penalty. 10-0.
The visitors claimed some possession, hurrying out of their own half, but Ayr scrum-half David Armstrong scurried after their attacker and dragged him down.
Hawks got themselves into a good attacking position but one of their passes found the hands of Ayr flanker Will Bordill and he hared away, kicking on. Richard Dalgleish - temporarily on for McCluskey, who needed a stitch or two in the medical room - chased after the ball and ushered it, and the Hawks player who had scooped it up, into touch.
The Old Anniesland side were sturdy at the scrum, the set piece launching their powerful centres Brendan McGroarty and Jack Steele into attack. Their opposite numbers Ross Curle and Archie Russell had them well wrapped up though.
Ayr sprang for the line again through Bordill and Russell but the ball was knocked on.
Hawks' full-back Hagen Schulte and second row Greg Peterson led them out of their own half but they knocked on too.
McCallum broke from the back of the ensuing scrum, with flanker Blair Macpherson and second rows Craig Stevenson and Scott Sutherland in support. Hawks gave away a penalty and Climo went for the posts and was successful. 13-0.
Ayr were turning the screw, Sutherland poaching line-out ball and McCallum steering a dominate scrum. The visitors couldn't get a handle on the game at all. They defended their hearts out as Ayr battered them in attack, but they couldn't stop Russell getting the ball away to Grant Anderson, and the full-back went over for the try. Climo couldn't convert. 18-0.
Hawks' winger Kerr Gossman took a trip to mid-field, dodging his way round Ayr defenders before number eight Tommy Spinks had a go, but Stevenson and Sutherland stopped him in his tracks.
Scrums were exchanged, and Ayr strayed offside, giving Hawks an opportunity to attack their try-line for the first time. But they were held up just before the break.
Ayr started the second half still in dominant mode, Sutherland again stealing Hawks' line-out ball. Climo was on poaching form too, but from his own team-mate. Curle had homed in on a Hawks kick before Climo swooped in and nabbed it, much to the centre's baffled amusement.
Hawks regrouped and got on the scoreboard thanks to a penalty by stand-off Josh Henderson. 18-3.
Their flanker Stephen Leckey made a superb break but it came to nothing. Gossman had another go but again Armstrong came to the rescue for Ayr.
Grant Anderson got himself under a high ball and raced away, with Lewis Anderson and Climo in support. Sutherland and Macpherson blasted into the Hawks defence after a penalty line-out, before Hawks were pinged again and Climo took the kick at goal. 21-3.
Russell took his leave, with Stafford McDowall replacing him and getting stuck into defence with Craig Gossman. The diminutive winger drew gasps from the crowd with a juddering tackle on someone twice his size, as is his wont. His brother was on the receiving end moments later, and was then flattened by Stevenson.
Ayr turned over and Hunter steamrollered his way through the red shirts, before Armstrong kicked on. Hawks gathered and cleared, giving Ayr the line-out, and from there, McCluskey shot up the middle of the pitch and found Climo who barged over the line and converted his own try. 28-3.
Hawks were determined to get a try, but in the end, it was Ayr's illegal play that handed it to them, referee Sam Grove-White performing the jog of doom to the posts to signal a penalty try. David Young, only just on for Lewis Anderson, was sin-binned in the process. Henderson summarily converted. 28-10.
Djustice Sears-Duru took to the field for Hunter, with Dalgleish reappearing, this time for Gossman, just as McDowall fired into the Hawks defence. Moments later, Dalgleish would propel himself up the wing but neither he nor McDowall got near the try-line.
Hawks infringed at the line-out twice in quick succession, and the second from Spinks - pulling down Sutherland in the air - saw him yellow-carded. They made amends at Ayr's line-out, stealing the ball, but they just couldn't do anything with it.
Ayr emptied the replacements' bench, Adam Prentice, Gregor Henry and Harry Warr joining the fray, the latter for man of the match Climo, meaning Armstrong moved out to stand-off and Warr went to scrum-half.
Things were getting scrappy, but Hawks had one last go, getting over the line only to be held up by Ayr as the final whistle went.
Ayr now play Melrose in the BT Cup final at BT Murrayfield on Saturday 22nd April. They will, however, return to Millbrae next Saturday (1st April) to face Glasgow Hawks once again in the BT Premiership play-off semi-finals.
Final score: Ayr 28 Glasgow Hawks 10.
Slaters Menswear man of the match: Frazier Climo.
- Elena Hogarth.
More photos to follow.