GARY HEATLY @ Myreisde
AYR battled hard for this away victory at Myreside in terrible conditions and, in doing so, clinched third in the BT Premiership table. This result means their play-of semi-final match will be away to Currie Chieftains in March 24. Watsonians finish fourth and will be away to Melroose in their last four tie on the same day.
With the rain lashing down for the full 80 minutes in Edinburgh, Ayr managed the conditions better and their pack got the upper hand early on as they built a 14-0 lead, and although Watsonians battled back to 17-17 during the second half, the visitors scored another 10 points to make sure of a deserved win.
“I have been involved with Ayr for a long time as a player and a coach and I am always proud of the guys, but this performance deserves a bit of special praise,” said victorious assistant coach Glen Tippett. “The conditions were very tough, but we adapted to them quickly, battled hard and played the kind of rugby that was needed.”
“All week in training we had spoken about getting off to a good start because Watsonians are a momentum team and you can’t give them a sniff,” he continued. “We knew before the game that we would have an away semi-final and strangely our away form has been better than at home this season. There is now a couple of weeks until the Currie game and we will get ready for that.”
For Ayr, the front-row put in a power of work while stand-off Scott Lyle showed good qualities on a tough day for running rugby.
Watsonians were well served by returning hooker Sean Crombie and scrum-half Ali Harris, but they did not start with the intensity needed in a game of this magnitude and shot themselves in the foot with two yellow cards which had them down to 13 at one point.
“Ayr were the more robust, clinical team in this game and they deserve to head away with the victory,” said home head coach Stevie Lawrie “You can’t give a team like that a 14 point lead and be chasing things. We did get better, but there is a lot to work on as a squad heading into the play-offs and the BT Cup semi-final.”
“Both of those games are against Melrose, the best team in the country, so we know what is needed to try and compete with them.”
Centre Frazier Climo scored a converted try in the seventh minute after great work from Lyle and captain Grant Anderson.Both Lyle and Anderson put in nice chip kicks in the build-up, showing skill that belied the conditions. Lyle converted.
The lead stretched to 14-0 soon after when second-row Jonathan Agnew went over for try number two. This one was more down to forward grunt and it was effective. Lyle again added the extras.
Michael Allen’s converted try gave Watsonians points on the board to reduce things to 14-7. That came in the 16th minute after a nice flip pass from captain Craig Borthwick and good link-up from winger Ewan Miller. Harris converted.
Watsonians then made it very hard for themselves when both Borthwick and Allen were sin-binned. In the 25th minute Borthwick, the second-row, appeared to lead with a shoulder in a tackle on scrum-half David Armstrong, and two minutes later a deliberate knock-on by Irishman Allen saw him join his team mate on the naughty step.
During the time when they had a numerical advantage Lyle kicked a penalty, but Ayr could not add any more points. And Harris then kicked a penalty for the hosts, now back to 15 men, to make it 17-10 to Ayr at half-time.
Watsonians started looking a bit more like the team that has been on a great run of late after the interval. A converted Crombie try levelled things up in the 48th minute and they were right back in things.
There was a lot of scrums, re-set scrums and forward play and the two packs deserve credit for continuing to tough it out as conditions worsened.
It was Ayr who managed to find an extra gear with Club XV prop Steven Longwell credited with their third try in the 56th minute, with Lyle adding that conversion and a penalty in the 65th minute, which ensured the points headed back to Milllbrae.
Let’s hope for better weather on March 24 for what should be two cracking semi-finals and spare a thought for Ayr winger Craig Gossman – it was his 100th appearance in the pink and black, but he hardly touched the ball in an attritional affair.
Watsonians: A Chalmers; R Steele, M Allen, D Innes, E Miller; R Hutton, A Harris; N Fraser, S Combie, K Whyte, E Dods, C Borthwick, J Miller, G Nelson, M Fedo. Subs: D Miller, N Borel, A O’Neil, W Thomson, M Bertram.
Ayr: G Anderson; J Bova, J Armstrong, F Climo, C Gossman; S Lyle, D Armstrong; R Hislop, L Anderson, S Longwell, J Agnew, R McAlpine, G Hunter, G Stokes, B Macpherson. Subs: S Collier, M Badenhorst, C Reece, H Warr, J Pinkerton.
Referee: B Blain.
Watsonians: Tries: Allen, Crombie; Pen: Harris; Cons: Harris 2.
Ayr: Tries: Climo, Agnew, Longwell; Pen: Lyle 2; Cons: Lyle 3.
Scoring sequence (Watsonians first): 0-5; 0-7; 0-12; 0-14; 5-14; 7-14; 7-17; 10-17 (h-t) 15-17; 17-17; 17-22; 17-24; 17-27.
Yellow cards –
Watsonians: Borthwick, Allen
Man-of-the-Match: It was a real battle up front and the dark arts of the scrum were needed for the full 80 minutes. Ayr prop Robin Hislop, playing loosehead, was on top form and deserves the award.
Talking point: These two teams will want to dust themselves down after this one. The conditions were not great, but the way Ayr adapted and the fact they have players due back from injury means they are slightly better places than Watsonians in the build-up to the semi-final ties.