from Elena Hogarth @ Millbrae and Alan Lorimer @ Riverside Park
A LAST minute try from Robin Hislop, which was converted by Scott Lyle, clinched a 26-22 victory for Ayr over Currie Chieftains at Millbrae tonight [Friday], to book a quarter-final slot for the west coast outfit at the end of a tense encounter played in atrocious weather conditions.
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The visitors had come flying out of the blocks and raced into a 15-point lead, with a penalty from Jamie Forbes and tries for flanker Thomas Gordon from a driven line-out and winger Ruaraidh Smith after a 40-yard sprint. Ayr bounced back when Grant Anderson collected a Lyle cross-field kick and jinked in for the score, and then home hooker Lewis Anderson powered over in the corner to reduce the gap to just three points at the break.
When half-time arrived, both teams were temporarily down to 14 men because open-side flankers George Stokes of Ayr and Gordon of Chieftains had been sent to the sin-bin following a scuffle.
When the action re-commenced, Jonathon Agnew dived through a pile of bodies to put Ayr ahead, but the Chieftains recaptured the initiative with a penalty try. In a tense finale, Ayr showed incredible nerve and patience to build the pressure and finally clinch the victory after numerous pick-and-goes, with man-of-the-match Hislop rumbling over for the game’s decisive score.
“I’m delighted with our defensive efforts. I thought we were playing quite well, even at 0-15, and showed good character to come back from that. Our young players, especially scrum-half Lewis Young on his 1st XV debut, did really well,” said victorious home coach Calum Forrester.
In contrast – and not surprisingly – opposite number Ben Cairns was close to inconsolable after such a painful defeat.
“We’re gutted. This is the most disappointed I’ve seen the boys this season. The bare facts are that if you’re 15-0 up in that weather, you shouldn’t lose the game. We were scrummed off our own ball and our set-pieces were not consistent,” said the Chieftains coach.
Meanwhile, across in the Borders, Cup holders and current league leaders Melrose moved into the next round by defeating Jed-Forest 35-17 at Riverside in a match that at times recalled traditional Borders rivalry.
Despite having crushed nearly every other Premiership side and having averaged 43 points per match in the championship, Melrose had to work hard to overcome their national league opponents.
“I thought they played some outstanding rugby and added loads to the game.” said Melrose coach, Rob Chrystie, who conceded that the current break in Premiership rugby has been welcome.
“To be honest, we needed a bit of a break to recharge. We had a hard pre-season and tough Premiership matches. That was a hard game against Jed. The big thing is that we’re into the next round,” suggested Chrystie.
For Jed, this was a chance to test themselves against the best in the Premiership. In the event the Riverside men showed that they have what it takes to challenge stronger sides.
“I thought we scrummed really well. The line-outs in the first half weren’t great but I thought we competed. Melrose kicked to the corner a lot and struggled to get over the line. They’re good at that kind of rugby,” said Jed coach, Ross Goodfellow.
“When we had the ball, I thought we were dangerous. We’ve still got six guys to come in and they’re all good players. We’re looking to get promoted and we want to go on and win that league. We’ve got a bit of work to do in catching Accies. We play them at home in December. But we’ll have a stronger squad by then,” added the bullish Goodfellow.
Melrose scored four tries through Grant Shiels, Bruce Colvine, Ruaridh Knott and Craig Jackson, while Jackson also kicked three conversions and three penalties. Jed’s points came from Darren Gillespie, Gregor Young and Calum Young, with Ewan Scott kicking one conversion.