Ayr Rugby Football Club

 

On the biggest day of the season so far Ayr took the scalp of defending champions Melrose with a 38-17 victory on Saturday.

 

A bout branded 'clash of the titans', both sides took to the Millbrae pitch undefeated this season and with all four try-bonus points in the bag. Those in attendance awaited kick-off with eager eyes, knowing they were in for an enthralling 80 minutes of action.

Peter Murchie's men shot out of the traps quicker than the visitors and looked to get points on the board instantly. Within minutes a two-on-one opened up on the wing for Tommy Spinks to feed Grant Anderson. Anderson darted clear before finding Rory Hughes who looked dangerous but the ref blew for crossing.

Ayr's attacking prowess was rewarded on the nine minute mark when a high tackle on Gregor Henry gave Climo a chance to draw first blood but his penalty drifted wide.

It would still be Ayr to score first, but the try came via a Melrose blunder instead of an Ayr attack. Pinned back on their own try line, Melrose tried to exit but a pass into the dead ball area didn't find a pair of hands and Grant Anderson was quickest to pounce. Climo duly delivered with a two-point conversion.

Following the try both sides started to exchange blows like a pair of heavyweights. The world might have been robbed of Tyson v Foreman but Ayr-Melrose has built a reputation over the past few seasons for being 'box office' and the Millbrae crowd were certainly enjoying the premiership's front-runners going toe-to-toe.    

One battle within the war proved to be Baggot v Climo and both fly half's were not disappointing on the big day. Both with an extensive array of tricks in their locker, the next ten minutes became a fight for territory and tactical kicking supplied a masterclass in pitch management. 

For Melrose, a breakthrough came in the 28th minute. With Ayr down a man due to Rory Hughes seeing yellow for a dangerous tackle, Baggot was able to walk in out wide with the home defence thoroughly strained. Craig Jackson's conversion slipped wide.

It was Ayr's ten who responded. Climo was able to slot a routine penalty minutes later after a stampeding Marshall Sykes broke through the line and into kicking range. With 35 minutes played Ayr led 10-5. 

Ayr looked like they had extended their lead two minutes later. Tommy Spinks, who's carrying was slowly corroding a strong Melrose defence, shot up the wing to start a counter attack. They ball was eventually shipped to the other wing and a 'Hail Mary' pass from Stafford McDowall put Anderson in for a score before the ref deemed it forward. 

For Melrose it was a chance to clear their lines but they could only postpone the Ayr score. On the stroke of half-time it was Climo again who put Melrose to the sword. A crafty move from Kyle Rowe freed Grant Anderson who was able to dance around the Melrose defenders before feeding the supporting Climo who was too quick to be caught. His try and conversion made it a 17-5 game at half-time.

Ayr had some well earned breathing space coming out of the break but everyone knew this fixture would go down to the wire and Melrose were able to strike fast to heighten the home side's nerves. Youngster Patrick Anderson, who was a handful for Ayr defences in the first half, was able to find space out wide and cut the deficit. Jackson's conversion made it a five point game.

The game was starting to open up and a tentative first 40 minutes had been replaced with free-flowing high stakes rugby. After a lengthy break in play due to injury Ayr were able to get back on the score sheet courtesy of Fosroc Scottish Rugby Academy Stage Three player Stafford McDowall. The centre had an overlap out wide but didn't need it as he faked the pass hoodwinking his opposite number and cantered in. Climo's conversion made it 24-12.

With Murchie unloading the bench to finish off the fixture Pat MacArthur took to the pitch as an Ayr player for the first time in over a decade after an illustrious professional career with the Warriors. 

With twenty minutes left to play an onslaught from Melrose was starting to chip away at an almost impenetrable Ayr defence. Heroic tackling was keeping them off of the try line but the crowd could sense a try was coming. Resources were further strained when captain on the day Blair Macpherson was pinged for entering a ruck from the side metres out and was sent to the bin. Melrose capitalised instantly with Bruce Colvine burrowing over. Jackson was unable to hit the mark from the tee keeping the difference at seven. 

As the game moved into its dying embers the tension around Millbrae was palpable and with Melrose on the verge of their first defeat of the season they were throwing everything at their opponents. The increased intensity backfired for the Border's side with Ayr able to punish slack defence and grab two scores in quick succession to take the result out of sight.

The first came from skipper Macpherson, who wasted no time to score on his return from the sin bin.

The second was a thing of beauty.

Man-on-form Kyle Rowe leaped into the sky like a salmon to seamlessly retrieve an Armstrong box kick and break up the field. The scrambling cover tackle was able to prevent him from getting his eighth try in five games but couldn't stop the supporting Gregor Henry from grabbing the offload and running home. Climo's conversion took his personal tally on the day to 18 and concluded the scoring at 38-17.

Tommy Spink's was named Slaters Menswear Player of the Match after a tenacious 80 minutes in the back row.

The second XV were as equally heroic in their 39-21 victory over Melrose Storm. The win marked their first over the Storm since 2013- ending a ten-game drought. Alfie North was named Man of the Match.  

Photo: George McMillian