DAVID BARNES @ Millbrae
THE final score-line does not do the winning team justice. It was near constant one-way traffic until Ayr finally took their foot off the accelerator during the final 20 minutes – by which point they were 25 points ahead and the game was done. A combination of Frazier Climo’s control at stand-off and a ferocious, well-organised defence had Hawks rocking on their heels from the opening minutes, and although the visitors were held up over the line twice they were never really in this contest.
“Everything went our way in the first half in terms of how we wanted to play the game and the areas we wanted to play it in. Frazier is worth his weight in gold in terms of putting us in the right areas,” acknowledged Ayr coach Calum Forrester afterwards.
Hawks looked frazzled by Ayr’s intensity. Their scrum started well but faded as the game went on, while their line-out was a disaster-zone at times – most notably towards the end of the first half when they coughed up the ball three times in promising positions on their own throw.
When the visitors did manage to get their hands on the ball, there was a real lack of direction. Hawks were a joy to watch earlier in the season when they attacked in wave upon purposeful wave, but here they were hesitant and lacked accuracy.
“We have no complaints today. We were second best to everything and you can’t beat Ayr without a line-out – if you can’t start a set play then you can’t execute anything. And we can’t continually look to Kerr Gossman to step his way past six or seven people to get us out of trouble – we have to manufacture our own chances,” said Hawks coach Finlay Gillies.
“If you were to watch my sessions on Tuesday and Thursday nights then you’d see that they are nothing like that one-up rugby and zig-zaggy stuff that you saw out there. I have never done that, but I think we were rocked by the intensity of their defence. They are a good team – well organised and well drilled.”
Ayr grabbed the lead in the sixth minute when Climo sent up an inch-perfect cross-field kick to put Danny McCluskey over in the corner, and the Kiwi stan-off then added the conversion and two penalties to give his side a commanding 13-0 lead.
Hawks had barely made it out their own half and when they did manage to get their hands on the ball they tended to shift possession mindlessly across the park until somebody got isolated or a knock-on occurred.
Ayr’s scrum managed to get a nudge on in the 25th to earn a penalty, which Climo sent to the corner. The forwards couldn’t quite rumble it over, but when the ball was sent wide a huge overlap was exposed for Grant Anderson scoot in unchallenged.
Hawks finally managed to get some field position during the dying moments of the first half and Steven Findlay was held up over the line. Josh Henderson got the visitors off the mark at the start of the second half with a penalty, and then a break-out launched by Tommy Spinks and carried on by Greg Peterson and Stephen Leckie threatened to ignite the visiting team’s attacking game – but Henderson inexplicably kicked the ball long and it bounced harmlessly over the dead-ball line.
Climo stepped up to send home another three points after a Hawks offside in the 51st minute, then on the hour mark he finished off a scintillating move which began when Ayr won good line-out ball off the top near the halfway line and McCluskey burst onto a flat pass from David Armstrong to rip through a pedestrian midfield defence. The lively winger was eventually pulled down under the shadow of the posts but managed to recycle the quickly for his stand-off to dance over.
Hawks were awarded a penalty ry when Ayr’s replacement hooker Dave Young was yellow-carded for collapsing a line-out drive as it marched interminably towards Ayr’s line. That might have added a hint of respectability to the final score-line, but the reality is that they
Hawks must return to Millbrae next Saturday when the chance to appear in this year’s BT Premiership Grand Final is at stake. After this loss, and two heavy defeats to the same opposition during the regular league season, the Anniesland men will be in no doubt about the size of the task that faces them – but Gillies was doing his level best to remain positive.
“The good thing is that we are still kind of a secret to Ayr. They still don’t know what we are going to do because we haven’t done it against them yet. Ayr could defend one-up rugby all day and we are not going to break them down like that, so we have certain scenarios and certain patterns which we want to execute – but we can’t do that unless we start winning attacking line-outs,” he said.
For Ayr, the biggest danger is surely losing their focus against a team they have now enjoyed three emphatic victories over. Forrester will not tire of reminding his players this week that Hawks can play better than this, and they could well have one or two of their rising stars – such as hooker Cammy Fenton, back-rowers Bruce Flockhart, Matt Fagerson and Matt Smith, scrum-half George Horne and centre Paddy Kelly – back in the mix next weekend.
“We’ve played them three times and beaten them three times, but to beat any side four times in a season is a huge ask and we’ll be back to square one on Tuesday. It is just about continuing to build. The players have got a great attitude and they are in a good place, so we’ll take that into our preparation for another huge game,” concluded the Ayr coach.
Ayr: G Anderson; D McCluskey, A Russell, R Curle, C Gossman; F Climo, D Armstrong; G Hunter, L Anderson, S Longwell, C Stevenson, S Sutherland, B MacPherson, W Bordill, P McCallum©. Subs: D Young, D Sears-Duru, A Prentice, G Henry, H Warr, S McDowall, R Dalgleish.
Hawks: H Schulte; J Bulumakau, B McGroarty, J Steele, K Gossman; J Henderson, A Lowry; S Findlay©, G Stewart, G Strain, G Peterson, A Kirkland, R Miller, S Leckey, T Spinks. Subs: S Rodgers, C Barnes, A Linton, T Uainivi, E Oag, S Yacoubian, D Milne.
Referee: Sam Gove-White
Ayr: Tries: McCluskey, Anderson, Climo; Con: Climo 2; Pen: Climo 3
Hawks: Try: Penalty Try; Pen: Henderson
Scoring Sequence (Ayr first): 5-0; 7-0; 10-0; 13-0; 18-0 (h-t) 18-3; 21-3; 26-3; 28-3; 28-8; 28-10.
Yellow Cards –
Ayr: Young (62 mins)
Hawks: Spinks (71 mins)
Man-of-the-Match: Ayr won this game because Frazier Climow ensured that they played the game on the front foot in the right areas of the park … and his 18 points were pretty helpful, too!
Talking Point: Can the ever-optimistic Finlay Gillies persuade his team that they have it within themselves to turn around three have defeats against Ayr this season when the two sides meet again in the BT Premiership play-off semi-final next Saturday?