Currie Chieftains 14
STEPHEN BRUNSDON @ Millbrae
CURRIE CHIEFTAINS made amends for two narrow defeats earlier in the season and boosted their BT Premiership play-off chances by grinding out this hard-earned victory.
It was the first fixture in a fortnight for both sides as poor weather forced multiple cancellations last weekend.
Currie, bolstered by the inclusion of professionals Adam Hastings and Richie Vernon – playing his first competitive match back after an Achilles injury – enjoyed the lions’ share of territory and possession for the bulk of the opening 40 minutes, but were unable to assert a similar dominance on the scoreboard.
The impact of Hastings and Vernon, along with scrum-half Charlie Shiel, who has recently been involved in the Edinburgh set-up, was not lost of Chieftains head coach Ben Cairns.
“Charlie’s not even a pro yet, but you would think he was by the way he played today. It’s good to see him get back to playing rugby to be honest,” he said.
“But when you look at the nine and ten combination we had today with Adam, that wouldn’t be too far off the future Scotland squad. They are two of the best in the game at this level.”
Having fallen behind to an early George Stokes try, the visitors withstood mounting pressure at scrum time to bag two tries of their own to lead 14-7 at the half-time break.
Shiel scampered over from the base of a ruck to grab an opportunistic first score for his side, after several close efforts prior. Then captain Robbie Nelson crashed over from close-range on the brink of half-time to extend the visiting team’s advantage over an ill-disciplined Ayr outfit, who lost Grant Anderson and Steven Longwell to the sin-bin for professional fouls.
Currie twice spurned chances to kick for the posts, with Hastings trusting his pack to put the hosts to the sword. That confidence was eventually rewarded with Nelson’s score.
For their part, Ayr began the match strongly and wasted little time in getting the first try of the encounter. Fly-half Scott Lyle and centre Stafford McDowall initially caused all manner of problems for the Currie defence; and Lyle made the most of Currie’s indiscipline by pinning the visitors deep in their own 22 with a probing kick.
Stokes then latched onto the back of an unstoppable rolling maul from the resulting line-out to cross over for the score. Lyle compounded Currie’s misery with a superb touchline conversion.
Callum Forrester’s men thereafter looked a shadow of their former selves as inaccuracies began to unravel their early momentum.
“It’s hugely disappointing to lose, we’ve played an awful lot worse this year and won,” lamented Forrester. “Today I felt we were extremely dominant up-front, in the set-piece and the scrum. We put ourselves in the right areas but unfortunately there were just too many errors to win the game.”
The home side were starved of any significant ball for the remainder of the half and anything they did have was largely squandered by careless knock-ons and those two yellow cards.
Anderson was handed 10 minutes in the bin for a deliberate knock-on to halt a Chieftains attack shortly before the scores were levelled. Barely five minutes had passed before prop Longwell was also yellow carded for hands in the ruck.
Having been camped in the Ayr half for most of the time their opponents were at numerical advantage, the Chieftains were perhaps slightly frustrated that they could only muster two scores.
When the tables turned at the start of the second half, Ayr couldn’t translate pressure into points. Back up to 15-men, their scrum yielded their fifth and sixth penalties of the afternoon, but they managed just one try in a scrappy and tense second half.
Hooker Robbie Smith was the beneficiary of an impressive Ayr maul which rumbled over the Chieftains’ line. The scores would have been even had Lyle’s conversion attempt not agonisingly ricocheted off the uprights.
Ayr had plenty of chance to steal an unlikely victory. Paddy Dewhirst’s burst through the Chieftains defence with 10 minutes to go looked to have won the game for Ayr, but his offload to the on-rushing Stokes was intercepted by Nelson.
The Chieftains have now moved ahead of Ayr to third in the BT Premiership standings but know they will need to take maximum points when they make they take on west Edinburgh rivals Boroughmuir on 6th January to maintain their charge for a home play-off spot.
Ayr: G Anderson; S Graham, P Dewhirst, S McDowall, C Gossman; S Lyle, L Young; R Hislop, R Smith, S Longwell; B Macpherson, R McAlpine, T Spinks, G Stokes, P McCallum. Subs used: L Anderson, R Grant, S Sutherland, J Agnew, J Bova.
Currie: J Forbes; R Smith, M Hooks, R Nelson, B Robbins; A Hastings, C Shiel; J Cox, G Carson, A McWilliam; M Vernel, V Wright, R Davies, T Gordon, R Vernon. Subs used: C Mackintosh, D Ferguson, H Bain, S McGinley, C Gray.
Ayr: Tries: Stokes, Smith; Cons: Lyle.
Currie: Tries: Shiel, Nelson; Cons: Forbes 2.
Scoring sequence (Ayr first): 5-0; 7-0; 7-5; 7-7; 7-12; 7-14 (h-t) 12-14.
Yellow cards –
Ayr: G. Anderson, S Longwell
Referee: S Grove-White
Man-of-the-Match: He didn’t score any of the Chieftains’ points, but Glasgow Warrior Adam Hastings brilliantly pulled the strings to ensure Currie came out on top. His out-of-hand kicking was accurate, and he extinguished any hopes Ayr had of a comeback with a huge clearance from his own 22 as the hosts looked to score.
Talking point: Ayr were by far the more dominant side in the set-piece, their pack causing a myriad of issues for the Chieftains throughout. But the home side were architects of their own downfall: too many dropped balls, some careless and aimless kicking from hand, and a lack of discipline at key moments in the first half ultimately cost them a game they could, and perhaps should, have won.