STUART RUTHERFORD @ Goldenacre
IN a game that had all the hallmarks of classic, it was Ayr who came out on top after a last gasp try sealed victory in the replay of last season’s play-off final.
This highly built up contest began in a ferocious manner; both sides were clearly up for the task at hand and it was evident there was no love lost between these two mammoth packs. Both fly-halves scoped each other out in the preliminary proceedings, almost like two middleweight boxers throwing jabs in the early rounds of a box office bout. It was Heriots’ Alex Hagart, however, who struck first, nailing a tricky penalty after 15 minutes to put the home side ahead.
This early advantage seemed to spur on the capital side, who soon extended their lead. From a scrum inside their own 22, scrum-half Andrew Simmers broke clear before laying it off to full-back Gavin Parker. A tidy scissors pass then unleashed winger Andy Maclean who sprinted 30 metres before being struck down in the visitor’s 22. In the following ruck, Ayr fullback Grant Anderson was penalised and yellow-carded for killing the ball, and Hagart struck again to double the advantage.
It wasn’t long, however, before the visitor’s found themselves on the score-sheet and it was the impressive Ayr stand-off, Frazier Climo, who chipped over his first penalty of the day to leave the match delicately balanced at 6-3.
There was definitely a feeling of tension in this clash and it seemed at times like neither side wanted to try anything too expansive in fear of making a mistake, however, after 36 minutes it was Heriot’s who made the first blunder to gift Ayr the opening try. After winning a lineout in their own half, John Semple attempted to throw a miss-one pass to Parker. The pass was too floated and it sat up perfectly for opposing winger Craig Gossman to collect and simply canter under the posts. Climo converted to put the men from Millbrae 6-10 up.
It seemed as though Ayr would be retreating to the changing rooms with a half-time lead but this was not to be, and it was Semple who made amends for his glaring error only minutes before. After several phases down the left hand touchline, the Heriot’s inside-centre made a clever break before popping to Parker, who touched down in the corner, much to the delight of the home support. Hagart missed the conversion but it was still the home side who left the pitch with a 11-10 half-time lead.
The second half picked up where the first had left off, with neither side willing to give an inch. There were bruising tackles coming in from both sets of packs and it was evident that it was going to take something special to win this game. After both sides had enjoyed long spells of possession, it was Ayr who finally took the lead after Climo hit two back-to-back penalties .
Heriot’s coach Phil Smith decided to make a change and brought on Edinburgh Rugby pro Cornell DuPreez. The South African’s introduction clearly boosted the home pack and on 70 minutes the Edinburgh side took the lead. After intricate passing in midfield, lock Callum Marshall, a summer addition from Selkirk, made a leggy break and offloaded to Hagart, who breezed under the posts. The fly-half converted his own try to make it 18-16.
The partisan home crowd were in jubilant mood and it seemed as though they would be heading home with the spoils. That was until Ayr crashed the party right at the death. The visitors worked their way deep into Heriot’s territory and after several pick-and-go’s, George Hunter made the decisive break before feeding scrum-half David Armstrong, who went over to clinch a breath-taking victory for the visitors.
“This isn’t revenge. We nipped that one in the bud after last season. We didn’t play very well at all and the feeling is bitter relief after that one. We’ve got into the habit of digging in but the boys know we are going to have to play a lot better if were going to win tight games like that,” said Climo.
“There was some key decisions and moments where the guys just did the wrong thing. We can try and dress it up but its the truth. There was an opportunity to win the game, which is huge, because last week we didn’t [have that opportunity]. Some of the play today was fantastic so we’re not panicking. We’re still trying to build a team here and I think that will show in the coming weeks,” mused Smith.
Heriots: G Parker; A McLean, J Laird, J Semple, J Webster; A Hagart; M McCallum, M Liness, S Cessford, C Marshall, C Smith, G Turner, J McLean, S Dewar. Subs: R Mitchell, M Bouab, C DuPreez, R Carmichael (c), H Boisseau.
Ayr: G Anderson; J Bova, A Russell, R Curle, C Gossman; F Climo, D Armstrong; G Hunter, D Young, S Longwell, C Stevenson, R McAlpine, B Macpherson, W Bordill, P McCallum (c). Subs: L Anderson, A Prentice, L Scott, C Taylor, D McCluskey.
Heriots: Tries: Gavin Parker, Hagart; Cons: Hagart (1); Pens: Hagart (2).
Ayr: Tries: Gossman, Armstrong Cons: Climo (2) Pens Climo (3).
Referee: Keith Allen
Man-of-the-Match: Ayr fly-half Frazier Climo controlled proceedings from the first whistle. His kicking was the difference in this tightly contested encounter.
Talking point: Heriot’s used to be the masters of exploiting silly mistakes but their challenge now is to stop leaving themselves open to being on the receiving end.
Image courtesy of Scottish Rugby/SNS Group