THE scoreline scarcely did the victors justice. They dominated every aspect of this match, and proved that last week’s BT Cup semi-final defeat to the same opposition at the same venue was nothing more than an uncharacteristic wobble.
While a league and cup double would have been nice, they have made little secret of the fact that the former is the prize that they really want.
Heriot’s will arrive at Millbrae in three weeks’ time on the hunt for both. They will be on a high after another exhilarating (and controversial) late win in the other play-off semi-final against Currie, but they will know that they will have to up the ante if they are to come out on top against the most consistently excellent club side in Scotland this season.
Ayr are powerful and well-drilled, and after a few disappointments against the same opposition in the recent past, they were also an utterly focussed rugby unit in this game. They have their eye on the big prize, and they did not take their foot off the accelerator for a single second, despite the match being effectively over as a meaningful contest well before half-time.
“The build-up was completely different this week from last week. The players have been outstanding all week in terms of taking a lead on how we have prepared, and I was really pleased with how we executed our game-plan. We really put the pressure on Melrose and forcing them into making errors,” said Ayr coach Calum Forrester.
“I think we were perhaps in our shells last week. We made a lot of errors that were quite uncharacteristic of us – a few guys had an off day which wouldn’t normally be the case – so this week was about raising our individual performances and we did that from one to fifteen.”
“We knew that they had won the last four games [between the two teams] and in three of those games we had been winning with ten minutes to go, so it was great to get that 80 minute performance today.”
Melrose may have finished fourteen points behind their opponent during the regular league season, but they had every right to enter this game brimming with confidence after last week’s 20-13 victory (which was their fourth success on the bounce against the Millbrae men).
There was, however, a distinct lack of composure about the Borderers early on. They may have dominated possession during the first ten minutes, but some aimless kicking and slack basic skills meant they could not break out of their own half.
Ayr, on the other hand, were ruthless when they got a chance, with Rob McApline burrowing over from close range to give the hosts the lead in the 14th minute, and Frazier Climo getting in on the act with the conversion and a long-range penalty almost immediately after the restart, which went in off the right post.
Melrose desperately needed a spark of inspiration to calm their nerves and shift the momentum, and Tom Galbraith did his level best to provide that with an electrifying break from deep just short of the twenty minutes mark. A couple of quick phases would surely have been enough to fully split Ayr’s already ragged defensive line, but the home team were canny enough to defuse the situation. They may have conceded a kickable penalty in the process, but that was a price they were willing to pay – and it didn’t even come to that because Joe Helps badly miscued his shot at goal.
More profligacy followed when they visitors twice kicked penalties to the corner and lost two line-outs on the opposition line. Ayr had Melrose’s scrum on the rack, and that yielded another penalty for Climo on the half-hour mark.
Climo then piled on the misery for Melrose when he charged down what should have been a routine clearance kick for the hapless Nyle Godsmark, and then won the footrace to ground the ball just before it bounced over the dead ball line. The kiwi stand-off hit the post with the conversion, but that didn’t even register as a road-bump for the now rampant hosts.
Ewan McQuillin had been sent on at tight-head prop in an attempt to secure Melrose’s disintegrating scrum, but the situation seemed beyond rescuing, with Climo kicking a second penalty on the stroke of half-time to make it 21-0 after another hopelessly one-sided set-piece.
A deliberate knock-on in the first minute of the second half allowed Mill to kick three points for Melrose, but Ayr marched straight back up-field, kicked a penalty to the corner, caught the line-out, and rumbled over the whitewash for Will Bordill to score try number three.
It all looked so easy, and Ayr’s next score was even slicker, with Scott Sutherland collecting the ball at the line-out, David Armstrong sweeping round the tail, Junior Bulumakau charging on with plenty power and pace, before Pete McCallum appeared on his left shoulder to cruise under the posts unchallenged
Melrose had nothing left to play for but pride, and they deserve credit for picking themselves off the deck to battle out the last fifteen minutes. They even grabbed a consolation score through Ruaridh Knott. But they still had to endure one more painful body blow when captain Ross Curle intercepted inside his own 22 and ran the length to score in the corner.
Ayr: Try: McApline, Climo, Bordill, McCallum, Curle; Con: Climo 4; Pen: Climo 5.
Melrose: Pen: Mill; Try: Knott; Con: Mill.
Ayr: G Anderson; J Bulumakau, R Curle, D McCluskey, C Gossman; F Climo, D Armstrong; G Hunter, D Young, J Sebastian, R McAlpine, S Sutherland, B Macpherson, W Bordill, P McCallum.
Subs used: A Dunlop, H McPherson, R Dalglish, A Russell, G Sykes, C Stevenson. S Fenwick.
Melrose: N Godsmark; B Colvine, G Taylor, J Helps, S Pecquer; T Galbraith, M MacAndrew; J Bhatti, R Ferguson, N Beavon (E McQuillin 30), J Head, L Carmichael, N Irvine Hess, G Runciman, G Dodds.
Subs used: E McQuillin, G Turner. R Mill, A Miller, R McLeod, R Knott, D Colvine.
Man-of-the-match: Frazier Climo kicked excellently from hand and the deck, ran the backline expertly and put in a couple of monster tackles for good measure.