LEWIS STUART @ Millbrae
AYR roared back into the Premiership with a hugely impressive 14-try demolition of GHK that emphatically showed they will be a force to be taken seriously when they take their place in the top flight next season.
It is not just the first XV either. The side has close links with the Bulls who have always been at or near the top of the Super Series, while the Women’s team play on Sunday to try to win the West Region Division One title.
This was a game the hosts were obviously anxious to win in style and, to the delight of coach Grant Anderson, they did just that despite GHK throwing everything they had into the game and not really breaking – even as the score built against them – until a red card finally ended their resistance.
“We have a target on our backs, everyone want to be the ones to beat us,” said Anderson, as he reflected on a game where almost everything had gone to plan. “Sometimes we get bit frustrated and start forcing things but when we put it all together and do our jobs we do get over the try-line.
“We have trained hard to improve and are pretty hard on mistakes at training. Accountability has been a big part of my coaching style and, though I haven’t said it to the players, I have been trying to prepare them for the Premiership since we came together on July 4th.”
In fact the only downside for Anderson was that his players didn’t quite get to the 100 point mark and he felt that they left a few tries out on the pitch. It says something about the standards that the team scored 14 tries in so many different ways and the coach could still find details they had got wrong.
Anderson has been at the heart of the team’s improvements while the junior ranks have fed the team with enough quality players to fuel the revival.”I want to step up further,” Anderson said. “I feel we have a squad with standards that can compete in the Premiership.
“We played a pre-season game against Musselburgh and I felt we were competitive and we will push on into next season feeling we can grow as a team and as a club.
“A lot has to do with having a pathway for young players, the ‘Millbrae Way’, so that everything is aligned with the Bulls and on to professional and international rugby as the target. The first and second XVs train with the Bulls, so there is a cohesion there.
“We cover a large area but this is a club that people want to be part of. People enjoy playing for it and being part of the culture. There is that driving force to be as good as we possibly can be.”
What is really impressive is that that this is a young side with only a couple of older heads to lead the way. The odds are that from a solid start, they will continue to improve.
They also handled the pressure of being desperate to get the win that would secure their promotion from National One. With such inexperience, the pressure, knowing they could wrap up promotion before Christmas, could have told but instead took off at a frantic pace.
Ayr took such an iron grip on the game so that with less than 10 minutes on the clock, they already had the result almost in the bag. The first try was simplicity itself: line-out, No 8 Peter McCallum punched it up the middle, and quick ball out to the backs where blindside wing Jamie Bova made the extra man before timing his pass to fellow wing Adam McGowan for the try.
Straight from the restart, the home side found space up the middle with flanker Rohan Pottie in support to take the ball on and feed Bova who juggled but managed to get it away to centre Harry Lynch for the score.
Not quite straight from the kick-off this time, but only a minute or so later, and Ayr were at it again, this time fly-half Danny McCluskey prodding the ball into space behind the defence for Bova to kick on and win the race for the ball for try number three with less than 10 minutes on the clock.
It had been just about a perfect start for the hosts and inevitably the one-way traffic couldn’t last as GHK muscled their way into the game, controlling possession and showing some clever handling as they laid siege to the home line. It had to pay off and though it took a while, fly-half Calum Busby put in a grubber to the line and flanker Tommy Spinks – and ex-Millbrae favourite – beat the turning defence to touch down.
Ayr hit back with a second try from Lynch in the centre after good work from Bova and McGowan near the left touchline but GHK again responded in kind. Spinks had the ball knocked from his hands when over the line but there was no stopping Paul Henderson, the prop, shortly afterwards when he drove over at the end of a series of pick and drives.
That only seemed to irritate Ayr, who claimed two more scores before the break. Pottie grabbed the first at the back of a maul on the visitors line before Ayr provided the move of the half with teenager Scott Watson breaking from his own 22 to almost go the length of the field with McGowan in support. The move broke down but when Ayr regained the ball they drove hard at the line until Caleb Rae, who had been getting his team on the front foot all half, again showed his strength as he powered over for his team’s sixth try.
The second half was more of the same with Angus North, the centre, getting the home team’s scoring under way with Bova going over again for his side’s eighth which took them past the 50 point mark, before Henderson was driven over from a maul to keep the GHK side of the scoreboard ticking over.
It didn’t really affect the pattern much. Ayr showed their firepower with another try from Cam Reece, the flanker, soon followed by Ben Frame, the scrum half, completing a flowing backs move.
In between, GHK had suffered a further blow when scrum-half Charlie Campbell was sent off, apparently for the use of a boot in a ruck, pretty much ending any hope they had of keeping the score down.
Further tries followed with McGowan’s spectacular length of the field dash the pick of them, while Ruairidh Arlie and Reece again added to the visitors’ misery.
It finished as a rout despite all that GHK put into the game and that alone will have Premiership coaches taking note when they come to plot next season’s campaign.
Ayr: S Watson; J Bova, H Lynch, A Normth, A McGowan; D McCluskey, B Frame; A Prentice, T Martin, C Rae, J Stafford, M Leatherbarrow, C Reece, R Pottie, P McCallum. Subs used: S Collier, B Cree, R Airlie, D Jymburn, F Williamson.
GHK: S Greig; A Anderson, L Miller, G McKidy, J Hume; C Busby, C Campbell; P Henderson, A Cooper, M Whyte, L Findlay, M Preston, T Spinks, H Bottomley, H Parker. Subs used: J Sumpter-MacHugh, P Poison, D Sim, R Wintergill, E Ferrier.
Referee: C Clark.
Ayr: Tries: McGowan 2, Lynch 2, Bova 2, Pottie, Rae, North, Reece 3, Frame, Airlie; Cons: Watson 12.
GHK: Spinks, Henderson 3; Con: Busby 2.
Scoring sequence (Ayr first): 5-0; 7-0; 12-0; 14-0; 19-0; 21-0; 21-5; 26-5; 26-10; 26-12; 31-12; 33-12; 38-12; 40-12 (h-t) 45-12; 47-12; 52-12; 54-12; 59-12; 61-12; 61-17; 61-19; 66-19; 68-19; 73-19; 78-19; 80-19; 85-19; 87-19; 92-19; 94-19; 94-24.
Red card –
GHK: Campbell (59 mins)
Player-of-the-Match: Realistically, it could go to just about any of the Ayr players with all of them contributing something, but when the match was still competitive, the player who kept getting his team on the front foot was prop Caleb Rae. He was making 15-20 yards with every carry and made life easy for his colleagues.
Talking point: There has been a lot of doom and gloom around Scottish rugby so it is a refreshing change to come to Ayr where just about everything you hear is about how well things are going. The team are back in the Premiership, the Bulls and the women’s team are also going well, while ambitious plans for redeveloping Millbrae promise a bright future.